The Psych Central Report

Christmas Lighting Addiction

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
December 2004

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It is an age-old question that has haunted people since the first string of lights was strung in the 20th century. Why do some people seem to go a little crazy with the amount of lights and displays they put on their homes and lawns? What makes some people think that this is a good idea? This growing phenomenon has turned into a full-blown behavioral addiction for some.

To understand this behavior, it might help to look at some of the characteristics of people putting lights on their homes. This is almost exclusively an American phenomenon. It is found most often in the suburbs, the generic cookie-cutter homesteads of middle America. After all, there's not much point in putting one million lights on your home in the middle of nowhere where few people will see it.

Where Did Christmas Lights Come From Anyways?

Albert Sadacca was fifteen in 1917, when he first got the idea to make Christmas tree lights. A tragic fire in New York City involving Christmas tree candles inspired Albert to invent electric Christmas lights. The Sadacca family sold ornamental novelty items including novelty lights. Albert adapted some of the products into safe electric lights for Christmas trees. The first year only one hundred strings of white lights sold. The second year Sadacca used brightly colored bulbs and a multi-million dollar business took-off.

From a recent Associated Press article:

Tens of thousands of people also have found a way to skip all those hours out in the cold hanging lights - opting to hire private companies to deck their halls for anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands. One such company, Texas-based Christmas Decor, has grown from 300 customers to over 32,000 in the past eight years.

Dan Baldwin founded a company called Light-O-Rama two years ago after seeing the fuss people made about the display at his Garfield, N.J., home. "It's pretty much addictive," Baldwin said. "We have people who say, 'Don't tell my wife. Can you not put the price in the box when you send it?'"

Throughout the country, people upset over the noise, traffic and garbage that comes when people descend on their neighborhoods to view the displays have fought back in recent years.

In Little Rock, Ark., some residents were so upset about a display with 3 million lights - said to be visible from 80 miles away - that they got the state's supreme court to agree it was a public nuisance and order it scaled back.

In Monte Sereno, Calif., a couple whose huge display attracted thousands of passers-by angered neighbors and led the city council to require a permit for any exhibit lasting longer than three days. This year, the yard holds a 10-foot Grinch, its spiny finger pointing at the house of the neighbors who initiated the complaints.

The Root of the Problem

The root of the problem lies with a number of causes:

  1. Christmas lights in the U.S. are extremely inexpensive and come in large quantities.
  2. People get bored in their look-alike homes and what to bring attention to themselves, under the guise of celebrating the holidays.
  3. Some people are attention-seekers and this is a simple but still semi-anonymous way of getting a lot of local community attention involving little to no skill or abilities.

Certainly one can celebrate the holidays without putting one million gleaming lightbulbs on one's home. In fact, some small amount of lights on a home looks nice during the holiday season, whether it's the new-fashion icicle lights, or the older colored lights strung along the roofline or outlining windows. Holiday displays including mangers, wreaths, and candlelights in the windows add a touch of holiday cheer to an otherwise drab home.

Americans, though, like to take things to the extreme. They like extreme snow boarding, extreme makeovers, and extreme programming. It's no wonder that some have found an outlet of expression with Christmas lights. It is an extreme behavior of an otherwise normal expression of a celebration of the holidays.

Turning the Lights Off

Why should one stop if it isn't harming anybody? As the quote above shows, however, others are impacted by one person's decision to go whole-hog with their holiday lights. But there are other reasons to end these displays. The electricity cost is enormous to run a display of a million or more lights. Most Americans frown upon showy displays of excess for no reason, but seem to turn a blind eye when it involves these monstrous holiday light displays. "Oh, they're just celebrating Christmas!" they say, not realizing the irony behind suggesting that little baby Jesus would appreciate so many resources wasted in his name.

If you're one of these folks who can't live without their million-light holiday display, seek help. Imagine how much better your gift to the world would be if you donated your electricity costs to a local charity or homeless shelter. Leave the holiday lighting spectaculars to Radio City Music Hall or professional displays found in most communities done in formal gardens or the like. Let's try and get back to celebrating Christmas in a way that honors the heart of the tradition without turning it into some sort of glitzy and tacky sideshow of lighting horror.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy New Years to you All!


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Dec 2009
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A man can get discouraged many times, but he is not a failure until he begins to blame somebody else and stops trying.
~ John Burroughs