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When the lights look lonely

Now that the exhilaration of Christmas is over the question is whether we can remain sane from now until snow turns to slop, trees sprout buds, dandelions bloom, baseballs fly off spring training bats, students start cramming and the Easter Bunny hides eggs in every nook and cranny from Bakersfield, Calif. to Bedford, N.H.

Up until Christmas everything is easy; autumn is visually vibrant, turkeys and grain bins are stuffed as full as a fat man's T-shirt, homecoming festivities abound, footballs fill the firmament and presents pile up under trees as soon as the pilgrim's pumpkin pie plates are packed into sinks, ultimately building to a glorious Christmas crescendo. And then it all comes crashing down, like Tiger Wood's image or a president's postelection popularity, as soon as the last Christmas bow is tossed into a waste bin. And suddenly you feel like the last person at a just-ended parade, alone with the candy wrappers, streamers and empty soda cans swirling in the wind.

I especially love Christmas because it turns normally subdued neighborhoods into lit up art galleries, rivaling the Vegas strip, and admittedly inartistic neighbors into lighting masters. Competition builds as neighbor observes neighbor, one by one, down the line, with switches being flicked on like dominos, one after another, each wondering if the other has made improvements over the prior year. This raises blood pressures, increases alcohol consumption and creates insomnia for those who don't measure up. Or for those whose next door neighbor's decorative wattage requires drapes that might shield out radioactive waves from a nuclear blast.

I'm definitely adverse to inflatable lawn ornaments that promote as much creativity in Christmas lighting as a paint-by-numbers set does artistry in a Van Gogh masterpiece. Santa on a Harley is a nice cartoon idea but gets old quicker than lutefisk basking on a sunny patio once you've watched it wiggle for four weeks on an adjoining lawn. You see, when it comes to tastefully decorating your home there is a fine line between elegance and obnoxiousness and less is often more.

I've seen many a house that looks like Miss America without lights and road kill with them and vice versa and thus I wonder if we shouldn't establish the Department of Holiday Lighting to monitor the decorative plans of our nation's citizens like the Tournament of Roses Committee monitors floats entering the Pasadena Rose Parade. After all, with the Christmas holidays now increasing markedly in length each year, having already overlapped Thanksgiving and looking to absorb Halloween, shouldn't we control what dominates our vision range and for how long?

Because there is no greater sin other than murder, betting your child's savings on the Vikings or not finishing a dessert than leaving Christmas lights tacked onto your house year round. A house sporting Christmas lights in July, during the day, looks a lot like a pot-bellied biker wearing a thong in a Victoria's Secret lineup, spam on an expensive fork, a Rolls Royce parked in a McDonald's parking lot, a woman wearing flannels on her honeymoon and Dick Cheney seated in the Oval Office.

Christmas lights turned on at night, after Christmas, is like a lone cactus in an empty desert, a tattered doll on the floor of a vacant house, a teetering street sign in a desolate ghost town, a single horse in the middle of an empty pasture and a house, suddenly empty of its Christmas guests, warmth and revelry. An unnecessary reminder that Christmas is over.

-- Holten is the Dickinson State University Foundation communications director.