Although we didn’t go caroling anymore, for several years we took a drive at some point just to look at the lights. Up in Farmington people didn’t go in much for Christmas lights. Actually in Winchester they didn’t much either. We were pretty WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), and the preferred lighting in our set was an electric candle in each window, or maybe a simple line of lights (preferably blue or white) around the eves. (Going around to turn them all on and off is a pain, as is trying to get them to stay up on a narrow windowsill.) But there were neighborhoods (identified to us as Italian) where they went full out Whoville with their Christmas lights: not just colorful outlining the architecture, but all sorts of figures in the yards, enough to satisfy my ostentatious soul.
This was also the first time I’d ever seen deciduous trees getting lighted. On the town common they had both evergreen and deciduous, and while the one looked normal, great garlands of lights- one color per tree- were hung up in the maples and oaks. To someone who’d never even considered that option, much less seen it, they were amazing. Then we went into Boston, and the Common had the same, but of course, with a factor of ten more of them.
For several years we used to take a family trip into Boston to go see the animatronics in Jordon’s windows and the Santa’s Village on the 8th floor. We hated standing in line waiting to see it, but you’d never be able to notice everything because they were so complex. This was as close as I got to Disneyland. It was colder looking at the windows, but you could take longer to look. (On the sidewalks near Jordons and Filenes there were also street vendors selling drinking ducks and paper marionettes and such from which our mother tried to protect our money. She did usually indulge us in the roasted chestnuts, in a cone of newspaper. They were pretty much always a disappointment. They were usually too hot so we burned ourselves, they were often burnt, and I think we didn’t appreciate the flavor at that point.)
I still feel that the best street Christmas lights were what they had in Farmington when I was a kid- strands of the large mixed colored lights hung from building to building over the street. With or without an evergreen garland. A small tree or wreath- lighted with multi colored lights on the street poles is also good. I’m not big on single color or twinkle lights. I enjoy the variations available now: garlands, icicles, snowflakes, and moving lights. But I want multi-color lights. I think the nets that go over bushes are cool. We put one over the bathroom window sometimes. I figure no one’s going to see what’s inside through that.
I’m convinced that only part of our preferences are esthetics, and a lot of it is what we admired when we were kids and means “Christmas” to us.