Over-decorating for the Holidays

(Originally published in the Chicago Tribune 10/15/96)

There is a serious issue in our community that needs to be addressed: Over-decorating for the holidays.

It used to be that you could put a pumpkin or two on your front porch, along with a couple of strategically placed ears of Indian corn, and that would suffice for the entire fall season. Replace those in December with a big red velvet bow on your front door and you were the Martha Stewart of your street.

That was then, this is now. And now means that unless you have 7-foot-tall dried corn stalks wired to your mailbox, bales of hay tossed about your front yard, ghostly wind socks billowing from your front door, and blinking jack-o-lanterns flashing on the evergreens, you will be the neighborhood pariah.


I have always enjoyed Halloween, but that’s not a reason to launch a massive outdoor decorating scheme.

On my street there are hay bales and corn stalks in nearly every yard. Even the trees are decorated with fake cobwebs. One family has a tradition of making a stuffed dummy of each family member, complete with college and university sweatshirts, perched on those ubiquitous bales of hay.

That’s just the beginning. There are tombstones with fake blood dripping down them on lawns, various stuffed monsters hanging from their necks from oak trees, and witches and black cats leaning against chimneys.

What really pains me, I guess, is that I barely have the time or energy to decorate the interior of my house, let alone tackle the great outdoors. I thought Mother Nature was doing a good job of that on her own.

Halloween is just the beginning of the over-decorating season. As soon as those raffia witches and gigantic plastic cauldrons are put away, it’s time to drag out your life-sized inflatable Pilgrim family to simulate the first Thanksgiving.

The fall festivities are just a warm-up for December. Again, I am behind the times. A string of lights on the two small evergreens that grace my front steps, a velvet bow with holly tied to the front door, and I have made my design statement. I would rather gaze at real trees covered with snow and icicles than a giant Rudolph with a blinking light for a nose.

There is almost a competitive edge to this trend in outdoor decorating. If one neighbor has a Styrofoam Mr. And Mrs. Santa with bobbing heads and arms, the next neighbor will have the same with thirteen robotic elves, and an illuminated candy cane house.

No one seems to know where to stop. There are too many decorating overachievers making a 10-million-watt tribute to bad taste.

Maybe there could be a 12-step program for type A outdoor decorators. “Hi, I’m Bill and every October 1 I turn my house into a replica of Dracula’s castle, complete with stereophonic sound effects piped out through speakers in my mailbox.”

What used to be confined to Thanksgiving and Christmas has rapidly been spreading to the rest of the year.

Enormous plastic Easter bunnies can now be seen grinning at you from front lawns. Trees are decorated with glow-in-the-dark eggs and fuzzy fake chicks with a computer chip to make them chirp.

But you’ll recognize my house this Halloween. There will be a lonely jack-o’-lantern on the front step, lovingly hand-carved, with a stubby candle set inside him for light. I find that the simplest traditions are impossible to improve upon.

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