I grew up about a mile from the Doylestown Station townhouse development where a battle over the color of Christmas lights is white-hot because some residents ran afoul of a homeowners' association ban on colored lights.
Forget the Occupy movement. The real economic divide in this country is over the choice of holiday lighting. And it's time for even the 1 percent to embrace their roots.
Years ago, inside our house on Mercer Avenue, we always decorated the tree with big, fat, colored lights. And it was the same for the shrubs out front. I'm talking about those oversize red, green, yellow, and blue lights where, when one went out, the entire string went dark. We also had colored candles in the windows, and even a wooden Santa staked in the front yard. To this day, I think that's what Christmas really looks like. Our neighbors would have agreed.
Our house was a three-bedroom, one-bath, on a quarter-acre, for which my parents paid $15,000 in 1961. Twenty feet separated our place from the Shutts on one side and the Wrigleys on the other.
Our bathroom had only a tub until we installed a shower during a small renovation when I was in the eighth grade. It was also a big deal when we had paneling installed in our basement. That extravagance was possible only because my father, a schoolteacher-turned-guidance counselor, was also working nights running the adult education program at the Bucks County Prison. He hired a work-release inmate, who happened to be a carpenter, to do the job.
In the driveway was the first new car my parents purchased, a 1966 Chevy Impala from Reedman's. They say my brother and I cried when they traded in an old gray Buick, but I don't remember.
We had few wants, but luxury does not describe our station in life.
Our situation changed when I was in high school. My mother, who had been a secretary, blossomed as a Realtor. She bought a lot and we built a new home. Funny thing. With the superior house came the statelier Christmas lights. The garish colorful bulbs were left on Mercer Avenue. On Spruce Street, we became a white-light family. Today, married and with four children of my own, the only Christmas lights our kids have ever known have been white. I am a bit embarrassed. Because I know my roots are colored. And I'm not alone.
It's a suburban phenomenon and emblematic of the America dream. It works something like this:
You grow up in a colored-light household where your parents work their tails off to get you an education. That education enables you to obtain a job that pays more than your parents earned. As a result, you live in a nicer house than the one in which you were raised, and shuttle your own kids in a more luxurious car than you were driven in as a child. Along the way, you decide that you are no longer a colored-light person. No, you have arrived. You are a white-light person!
Petite. Non-offensive. Uniform. White lights are decorations of power and prestige, suburban panache and urban glamour.
Of course, they're also boring.
Ah, heck, white lights are for posers and fakers. White lights are un-Christmas.
No wonder the residents of Doylestown Station are embracing their roots, and I applaud them. In fact, I plan to join them, assuming my wife will agree. Everyone should join them. So scour a big-box store near you. Find the colored lights. The gaudier the better. Then pull out a ladder and put them up. Everywhere.
The survival of Christmas - just like the ones we used to know - may depend upon it.