Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Not every neighborhood has one, and I suppose there may be whole towns that don't. But I bet you've seen such a place: a Christmas house. It's one of those houses that get decorated each Christmas to an extreme degree. A tree Christmas house has enough Christmas lights to be seen from space, almost, enough animated Santas and inflatable snowmen to fill every square yard of lawn and rooftop. Listen! Can you hear the electronic chimes playing We Wish You a Merry Christmas? And will the owners really mind if an adult takes one of the candy canes they set out for visiting children?
One thing for sure: their electric bill must be enormous. I hope they're looking into the possibilities of solar power.
But that's okay, just for this brief season, because a Christmas house is a wonder and a marvel. When my friends the Murray twins lived on Speedway near Camino Seco, there was a Christmas house practically right around the corner from them. I used to visit it every year. In addition to the lights and the animated characters it included a toy frontier town and at least two electric trains. The owner dressed as Santa and handed out candy, and someone would come by in the evenings with a vintage fire engine fully decorated with lights and garland and presents. Some nights there were two fire engines. Eventually the display got so big it continued into and across the next door neighbor's yard. I'm not exaggerating. It really did.
Then one year I took my mom to see it, or maybe Shiori, my friend who was slowly dying of leukemia the Christmas I took her looking for holiday lights. The year I'm talking about, there were no lights at the Christmas house, at least, no more than a string or two. The house across the street, which always celebrated the season with a giant, lit cross in their yard, had also put up a large wooden sign. It began, "The Christmas House is dark..." and went on to explain that the owner's wife had died. The husband no longer had the heart to put in the hundreds of hours of work without her help and support.
That Christmas House was gone, but there are others. Tucson has a whole neighborhood, Winterhaven, where every house is expected to be decorated for the holidays. Not every home owner complies, but nearly all of them do, some with tremendous creativity. Two of my favorites were a Blue Christmas, with blue lights and Elvis singing, and a Hanukkah house with the fifteen foot high, lit dreidel.
Our own neighborhood usually has quite a few rather impressive displays, almost rivaling Winterhaven; but the real Christmas house of Terra Del Sol is a block and a half from my house, on Calle Herculo. It has a tree in the front yard that must be 100 feet tall or more, with lights that no longer quite reach the top. But that's just the beginning.
The fence is strung with lights, as is the front of the house. The rooftops of the house and garage are full, and so is the yard. The scale of the whole thing is astonishing. You can't really see it all at once, particularly not with a camera. To cram the tree into the shot you have to be too far away to see any detail.
But details there are. The place rewards a closer look. My favorite piece this year is Santa on a hammock. There's also an inflatable Santa in an inflatable race car.
That Christmas house around the corner is well worth driving to come see it, and many people do. But it's just a short walk for me, or a quick stop on the way home from the pizza place or the Chinese restaurant at 22nd and Kolb. This time of year, I frequently see cars stopped in front of the Christmas house, or at least slowed to a crawl.
One recent evening I took the dogs for a walk to the Christmas house. It was fun, but not conducive to good photography. It's hard to hold a camera perfectly still at dusk while holding onto two lashes attached to restless dogs. Still, I kind of like the effect of the unwanted movement on my imperfect photos!
No other house in the neighborhood can really compete with the decorations at the House with the Giant Tree, but there's another house across from it of which I'm rather fond. It's a more modest but nicely-laid-out display, with rows of lit candy canes and (this year) neon trees lining the driveway. The night I was out with the dogs, one of their three inflatable snowmen had somehow fallen over, just slightly marring their display. But it was intriguing, because it almost looked deliberate. I didn't manage to get a good shot of it, but the effect of the one snowman bent over a pile of rocks and wood and electrical stuff was that he seemed to be building a fire. And the other two snowpeople were warming themselves at it.