When Christmas lights and decorations violate the moral minimalism of the suburbs

I’ve seen lots of stories this year about Christmas lights and decorations on people’s houses. The biggest displays. The ugliest displays. Those that synced up their decorations to a hot song. The traffic generated, both on the street and online.

Such stories tend to contain some reaction from neighbors. Most seem either slightly amused with their excessively festive neighbors (“if they want to pay that kind of electric bill, that’s their choice”) or resigned to their fate. But, the variety of reactions illustrate one of the key pieces that holds suburbia together: the moral minimalism where residents tend to leave each other alone. In other words, suburbanites get along by not rocking the boat too much and not adversely affecting each other through their actions.

Christmas lights and decorations can cross these lines. They pit two opposing trends against each other: the moral minimalism of suburbs versus the excessive consumption and cheer of Christmas time in America. This is the one time of year that people can enhance their bland exteriors – often regulated by homeowner’s associations – and truly show their individuality. Large SUVs and garish homes illustrate bad or excessive taste at all times but Christmas means you can buy all sorts of things. It’s Christmas, after all. Yet, such displays threaten to decrease the quality of life of others and even lower property values (this is what some neighbors claim). What if your good cheer irritates your neighbors?

Hence, most people settle for limited decorations. This might be due to their own muted cheer or good taste but it also depends on the social control of the neighbors. Too much means that we may have violated the suburban trust. Such situations can get ugly. Best to display our Christmas cheer in ways that keep the suburban neighbors happy or at least indifferent.

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