Slate's First Annual Christmas Lights Contest: Send us photos of the weirdest and worst holiday light displays you can find.

Slate's First Annual Christmas Lights Contest: Send us photos of the weirdest and worst holiday light displays you can…

Slate's First Annual Christmas Lights Contest: Send us photos of the weirdest and worst holiday light displays you can…

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Dec. 15 2008 6:14 PM

Lights, Camera, Christmas

The weirdest and worst holiday light displays in America.

Is there a holiday light display in your neighborhood that's so bad it has to be seen to be believed? Slate wants to believe! Send a photo of the offending display here. We'll publish the best—or is it worst?—examples later this week and next.

I'm a sucker for Christmas lights. Ever since I was a kid, it has been a holiday tradition in my family to pile into the station wagon (more recently, the minivan) and drive around for an hour or two to "take in the lights." In my day, my brother and I would roll around in the back seat like empty bottles of soda pop as we slid to find the best view. I wonder if it's as fun for kids today, given that they're strapped into car seats and can barely see out. Maybe this is why in Dallas, at least, you can rent a horse and carriage to drive you around the richer parts of town at night to take in the scenery.

Still, even if my daughter is dozing off in her booster seat, I get a kick out of seeing the old stalwarts: Probably the most famous is the "million-dollar pecan tree," as it's been called ever since I can remember, with its old-fashioned, banana-sized  bulbs draped sparingly through its branches. It's no longer particularly impressive. Nowadays, the style—far more expensive—is to cover a tree so completely with tiny lights that its outline, down to every last twig in the highest branches, is set off in brilliant color against the night sky. Other religions—and even nonreligious sentiments—have also gotten into the act: Blue and white lights for Hanukkah are not an uncommon sight, and near my apartment is a twinkling giant American flag (though it's accompanied by a very PC banner, showing people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, advocating for world peace).

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But my soft spot, admittedly, is for the comically perverse. And I'm not talking about the usual yard crèches with the incongruous Santa Claus paying homage to the Baby Jesus, or the mere jokesters, who have a reindeer sprawled on their roofs as if it slipped and fell from Santa's sleigh. I'm talking about those who go to great lengths to take a personal agenda or vendetta and wrap it with a big red bow, especially at a time when having Christmas lights at all is probably not very "green"—unless that is, they're fluorescent or solar-powered.

There was the man who put a Sherman tank in his front yard each holiday, for example, pointing it at the exclusive Dallas Country Club across the street. (The theory was that it was his way of protesting his having never been admitted as a member, but as my Mom put it, expressing the pique of many of his neighbors: "I don't care why he put that tank in his yard—it was inappropriate! A Sherman tank is just not very Christmas-y.") Then there was my brother's neighbor, who had a string of lights in the shape of a reindeer hung upside down from a tree, like a kill after the hunt. From its gut ran a string of small red lights: blood. The guy was a hunter, and I guess this was his idea of NRA-meets-It's a Wonderful Life. (He did eventually take the thing down, maybe because someone told him holiday lights shouldn't scare small children.)

But my current favorite, a beloved perennial in Dallas, is the roughly 24-foot-high wooden oil derrick that goes up each year in a yard not too far from my parents' house. Strung with white lights, a green wreath, and big red bow, it bears a large sign that reads, "Peace on Earth, Good Wells To Men." OK, so maybe this isn't very appropriate either. Still, every time I drive by, I can't help but smile, even if I'm also shaking my head and thinking, "Only in Texas." Isn't this the point of holiday lights—to spread a little good cheer?

Click image to expand.

In that spirit, Slate invites you to send in photos of your own perverse holiday-light favorites. We'll publish the worst—in the best sense of the word!—later this week and next, and reward the person who submits the top photo with a year's free subscription to Slate and a hearty round of holiday cheer.

Send your photos of bad holiday light displays here.

Sara Mosle teaches writing at Philip's Academy Charter School in Newark, N.J., and has written about education for Slate, the New York Times, and the Atlantic among other publications.