Back in 2005, after the first of their children was born, Liz McCarthy saw a strange obsession take hold of her husband, Andrew. He began festooning more and more of their home in the Bronx with brightly colored Christmas lights, claiming he was “doing it for the kids.” Every surface became his canvas: the bushes and flower beds, the 40-foot evergreen on their lawn, their siding, their eaves, their mantel, their kitchen.If you support the end of discrimination against lights of color you can join my Facebook group here.
But Mrs. McCarthy wanted white lights, not unlike those that twinkled gracefully from the nearby Throgs Neck Bridge. She finally persuaded her husband this year to agree to a truce. They would alternate the color of the Christmas tree lights each year.
“It’s almost like this recurring fight; he’s become so neurotic about having colored lights,” Mrs. McCarthy, 36, said. “The tree this year is white lights. It was my turn.”
And so it goes, a battle played out in living rooms across the city and the nation at this time of year: White lights or colored lights?
These divisions often run deep, adding to holiday stresses in a season notorious for bringing family fissures to the fore. To Mrs. McCarthy, having a Christmas tree with white lights meant creating almost a room of her own in a house overrun by riotous color. To her in-laws on Long Island, in the grip of the same debate, the differences are defined by taste. To a New Jersey couple in their 70s, the Codringtons, the divergence of opinions has cultural roots.
The origins of the white-versus-colored holiday light debate are unclear. Electric Christmas lights began replacing the fire-hazardous candles in the early 1900s, and their popularity increased greatly in the wave of giddy consumption that defined the post-World War II years.
Somewhere along the way, white lights came to represent a sort of sophistication; one need only behold the acres of white-only lights blanketing Fifth Avenue in recent years. (Rockefeller Center has it both ways: the big tree is drenched with multicolored lights, but the smaller ones surrounding it have white.)
Of the hundreds of thousands of strings of lights sold each year by one leading vendor, Christmas Lights Etc. of Georgia, 70 percent are white.
Not every style maven is happy about this. Simon Doonan, the creative director of Barneys New York — a place that would seem to suggest sophistication — said the notion that white lights implied good taste was “about a quarter-century out of date.”
“It’s very ’80s ‘Dynasty,’ ” Mr. Doonan wrote in an e-mail, referring to the evening soap opera. “People who are pathological about white lights are usually the same people who stuff their TV into an armoire and try to pretend they don’t have one.” Colored lights, by contrast, Mr. Doonan said, are “beautiful and magical” and carnival-like.
“When I pass a suburban house festooned with twinkly colored fairy lights,” Mr. Doonan wrote, “I always scream ‘Bravo’ out of the window of my car.”
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
That's a tongue-in-cheek organization I started on Facebook a few years ago to express my general distaste for all-white Christmas light displays. Even the New York Times has picked up on the dispute between the white lightists and the folks like me who prefer lights of color:
Posted by Rick Moore on 11/29/2011