Going the Full Griswold


A year or so ago I had to explain the whole concept of ‘the full Griswold' to a friend of advanced years and whose taste in movies tends more toward Turner Classics than National Lampoon; but once introduced to the concept, she agreed how very apt a description it is - and how what once was considered a teensy-weensy over the top Christmas decorations-wise is now almost the standard operating procedure. And what is really, really way over the top now is . . . well, something that usually winds up looking a bit like a busy Christmas-themed carnival and zoo parked on a small suburban front lawn: the inflatable snow-globes and wire-formed reindeer, the lights and garlands, the painted cut-outs, banners and wreaths, sparkly trains and a crèche or two. Oh, what a challenge we have set in suburbia, especially when neighbors have gotten into competitive serial holiday outdoor decorating through-out the year; the Christmas holiday season just brings this impulse to ultimate glorious flower.

Myself, I am occasionally nostalgic for the days when the standard was a couple strings of multicolored lights along the eaves and a wreath with a red ribbon on the door. If you really want to put on the dog, maybe some more wreaths in the front windows, or making them yourself out of pine or holly and adorned a la Colonial Williamsburg with fruits and nuts and things.

No, really - that was all that was required, back in the day; modest, tasteful and not all that much of a hassle for my father and brothers. An hour or so on the Sunday after Thanksgiving with a 12-foot ladder and an extension cord would do it, especially since our house was a single-story bungalow, and much of it couldn't be seen from the street anyway.

But in the last decade or two, exterior decorating for the Christmas holidays has gotten to a point of electrical complexity, an infinite variety of design elements, and increasing expectations that are all well beyond the capabilities of mortal man or woman. It seems that a lot of homeowners and businesses too - taken the option of throwing in the DIY towel and hiring professionals, just to keep level with the expectations of neighbors or competitors - and to minimize the risk of falling from a very tall ladder, or from the roof of a tall house with a very pitched roofline.

After a certain point - and at a certain age, if the pocket-book allows - this has tremendous appeal. Pay someone else to do the work; someone with the required safety gear and a very much taller ladder. Then one may confidently expect a polished and effortlessly superior Martha-Steward level of professional appearance - and no ugly things such as exploding Santas or a bushel-basket-sized ball of tangled strings of lights to blight the holiday . . . and someone will come and tidy it all away after New Years.

Then again, we can always go back to the single strand of lights and ornamented wreath on the front door days. Personally, I kind of like the examples at Colonial Williamsburg, or natural wreaths and garlands. If I were made of money, I'd spend some of it on that kind of decorating for the holidays. Is there anyone game for downsizing Christmas decorating expectations all the way around?

Thought not. Carry on, y'all. But be safe about it, ok?

Merry Christmas everyone, especially those overseas unable to spend time with their families! We support our Troops!

Photos by Randy Watson