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Nathan's column: It's tough to get lights righ

There is no shortage of treasured holiday traditions. Every year we gather with the same family members and eat the same foods. We listen to the same six Christmas songs on a loop at every single store while we wait in interminable lines because we put off all of our shopping until the last minute.

That last one is a bit of an assumption. For the most part, I did my shopping either early enough or online enough this year that I didn't find myself in a last-minute rush. So, my 2012 sample size is really just the ill-advised trip I made to Target on Saturday. I knew it was a mistake the second I saw the line of cars waiting to turn into the parking lot, but like an ancient Greek sailor lured by the Sirens or Santa lured by a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies I went in anyway.

I don't mean to suggest it was a traumatic experience. I'll just say I didn't really leave the house for the rest of the weekend.

Those aren't the traditions on my mind this weekend, though. I've been thinking about Christmas lights, which of course are, in their current electric form, the modern embodiment of the little-discussed old-fashioned holiday tradition of massive arson fires. Christmas used to be a much more violent holiday.

I wrote a few weeks ago about one of my favorite Christmas light displays, a giant Santa-and-sleigh built by a group of neighbors and displayed for several years on their rooftops.

Getting a holiday light display isn't easy, though. For every computer-controlled, set-to-music extravaganza that draws thousands of views on YouTube there is a monstrosity like I saw Sunday night as I drove down Summit Avenue.

I'm not saying it's bad to use huge quantities of lights. Another of my favorite holiday displays is a tree in Bloomington, visible from Cedar Avenue, that appears to have had every branch wrapped with white lights. It even has its own Facebook page.

The owner of this particular Summit Avenue house, however, appeared to have gone into whatever store he frequents, bought every light they had regardless of color, size or shape and put them up indiscriminately in his yard and on his house. Possibly he dropped them from a helicopter. Then, just for good measure, he added some flashing candy canes along the walk.

It's a sensory-overload Christmas, Charlie Brown.

Of course, using fewer lights is no guarantee things will go right. As if to compensate for his neighbor's excesses, the house next to Summit's Christmas-vomit central went with what appears to be two simple strands of white lights. Which is fine. Except the lights are in such disarray it looks like whoever installed them might have tripped, flung the lights onto the bushes and decided it looked just fine like that. Presumably he then went inside for some egg nog.

Or, maybe the nog came first. Which might have been the problem.

I probably have no place to complain about any of it. Christmas decorations are mostly absent from my house. There's nothing outside. Inside there isn't even a tree. The only nod toward Christmas decoration is a strand of blue lights hung around a built-in cabinet in my dining room. Those lights have hung undisturbed and, until I plugged them in, mostly unlit for the entirety of the five years I have owned my house.

Merry Christmas, indeed.