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Christmas in Los Angeles: Why Do Our Xmas Lights Suck so Bad?

This house in Hancock Park was the closest thing I could find in LA to a proper Christmas Yardgasm.
This house in Hancock Park was the closest thing I could find in LA to a proper Christmas Yardgasm.
Amanda Lewis

It's not always easy being a New York transplant in Los Angeles. I defend you a lot, LA, to everyone back home who hasn't eaten at your taco trucks, felt your gleaming afternoon sunshine or appreciated the sweeping vistas mid-hike through your urban mountains. But this holiday season I chose to stay West rather than risk another Snowpocalypse, and I can't say I'm pleased. WTF, LA: why are your Christmas lights so unbelievably lame?

I guess I appreciate the attempts made by those who line a shrubbery cluster with colored bulbs and those who affix an inflatable snowman onto a tiled roof. Forget those spiral "trees" that don't even resemble real trees, though. Those are a disgrace. But when I talk about a Christmas Yardgasm, I'm talking about private citizens who go above and beyond the holiday spirit, who welcome their annual opportunity to top the previous December's electricity bill, and who attract a steady stream of light-tourists from near and far, peering from their cars or parking down the street to walk and get a better look despite the bitter cold.

Every year, there's at least one Yardgasm every couple of towns up and down the East coast, one family or couple or old crank who raises the crazy and forges a Home-Depot-and-Michael's-fueled extravaganza of staid nutcrackers; glitzy sleighs carrying jolly old St. Nick; a white-haired Mrs. Claus looking grandmotherly beside a barber's pole labeled North; toy-hammering workshop elves and pointy-eared Disney characters in elf garb; snowmen and snowwomen; candles and candy canes; glowing reindeer, perhaps turning their heads from side to side, with that bright red nose leading a stationary gallop; mechanical carolers that emit tinny tunes on loop; and wise men approaching a live manger, with baby Jesus wailing over the electronic carolers and the sheep chewing on the costumed pant leg of a shivering, sheepish Joseph.

My family used to drive around on Christmas Eve -- after observing the traditional Jewish customs of Chinese food and the movies -- hunting for Yardgasms, shouting out "Righty right!" or "Lefty left!" when someone on that side of the car saw a particularly good one coming up. And yes, sure, maybe it's not kosher for even a reformed Jew to kvetch about a lack of spectacular Christmas lights in her city, especially when she has no intention of putting any up herself.

But Yardgasms aren't about Christianity. Even the cheesiest Nativity scenes seem to wink at Jesus' scorn for possessions while fighting the good ol' war on Christmas and celebrating America! Abundance! The compulsive materialism of the holiday season! Low art and hard work! That elusive ability to inspire laughter, generosity and joy in misanthropic monsters like myself!

I've been to a Yardgasm in Jersey where kids (and adults) could write letters to Santa, attach the red or green envelope to a clipboard, and turn an enormous crank attached to an elaborate pulley system to drop the note in Kris Kringle's mailbox. I've hopped over winding train sets to explore the backyard display cases of a holiday hoarder, featuring Santa-hatted animal miniatures, decades-old Christmas-themed Happy Meal giveaways, and assorted yuletide paraphernalia. I've set my car radio to a specific frequency to hear the festive melodies chosen and broadcasted by my anonymous, ostentatious heroes to accompany their dioramic ode to good cheer. In the Bronx, every year for the past forty, the Garabedian family has installed a spectacle akin to Duane Hanson on ecstasy, with over 150 lavishly outfitted fiberglass mannequins spinning and waving from their brightly lit yard-party, including cherubic angels, a dancing Beauty and the Beast, and, most horrifying of all, Cher, Michael Jackson and a plethora of other celebrities. Raising the question: why is Hollywood being out-Hollywooded by the freakin' BRONX? What the hell, LA?

In most neighborhoods across this sunny city, the percentage of houses with any decoration at all is fairly low, and that number drops to essentially zero once you gain a little elevation and hit the hills. Christmas Yardgasms are therefore almost impossible to find; the closest thing would be Candy Cane Lane, in Woodland Hills, which apparently has lost a bit of its appeal since a man got shot there in 1999.

I've racked my brain for reasons why the Yardgasm is hard to find on the West Coast: Is it the lack of snow, that merry, universal canvas? An insiders' culture led by miserly film execs who have no interest in entertaining the public for free? Are all the best holiday fripperies hidden behind twenty-foot hedges in Bel Air? Or did I somehow, in my hours and hours of cruising through Los Angeles' many neighborhoods, miss the good stuff?

I think there are only two feasible possibilities: Either the percentage of Christmas Yardgasms has declined nationwide over the past five years as part of a larger cultural shift away from money-wasting, or the City of Angels is actually a City of Scrooges.

Your move, Angelenos. I hear the best time to stock up on discount decorations for next year is in the days after Christmas. Get to it.

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