Christmas and the single bulb theory

IN our little suburban neighborhood of 50 or so homes, I am something of a star. A contrary star. My role is ``the nonconformist.'' It isn't a constant nonconformity. In fact, the last time it really showed up was just before Christmas last year. In our neighborhood, Christmas is the time of year when everyone goes out and decorates home and yard with enough incandescence to make the electric company's books bulge with revenue. But I was the holdout. The only neighbor who steadfastly refused to put up outdoor Christmas decorations.

The Christmas spirit, to me, is not something that is measured by the number of bushes covered with light bulbs, nor by the number of reindeer, noses blinking, on the roof, nor by how big the Kris Kringle standing by the front door. A simple wreath on the door had been our family custom.

But last year, our neighbors - abetted by my wife - began working on me right after Thanksgiving. Their effort was as orchestrated as any political campaign. The weekly Saturday morning browse at the hardware store became a period of intense peer pressure. I'd run into a neighbor there and he'd say, ``What kind of bulbs do you think would be best?'' or ``Getting your lights ready this year?''

Christmas neared and the neighbors' lights began to go up. The front of our house continued to be dark and bare. Finally, embarrassment led me to retaliate. I drove to a nearby community, wearing dark glasses, and bought a small string of lights. The smallest they had.

I went home and carefully awaited the judicious moment when it was dark and no one was watching. I went outside and threw the light cord onto a bush. I put one blue bulb near the top of the shrub. Then I threw the rest of the bulbs away.

Back inside, I turned on the light. There, amid the crashing waves of a sea of winking, blinking, shining multicolored incandescence, stood our house, with one, lone blue bulb out front, burning softly and steadily. The joy of it all made me laugh.

A few nights passed. News of my blue bulb got around the neighborhood. My wife, aware now that I was indeed finished, called a few friends and urged them to drive by to see it. They called others. As Christmas neared, the blue bulb gained notoriety.

One Friday night, looking out the window, I saw a parade out there. Two neighbor ladies, dressed up as police officers, were directing traffic. Everyone in the neighborhood was driving slowly by, pausing a few moments in front of our house to look at the bulb, and then being waved on. Everyone of them honked as he passed the bulb.

I went outside and was besieged by neighbors. I was a celebrity. We shared shouts of laughter and fun. It was the Christmas spirit, indeed.

Christmas in the suburbs can sometimes be very lonely. Many of us live there after having been transferred by our companies away from hometowns and relatives. But last Christmas was joyous. Our neighborhood was brought together by that one blue bulb.

Maybe this year I'll make it a blinking bulb.

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