by Natalie Grice
BBC News Online
Here's a Christmas cracker of a question to ponder - who is the best person to decide when the festive season begins in earnest?
What's the electricity bill for this lights display?
A toy store shop assistant? The heavily laden postman? Supermarket shelf stackers?
No. The best judge these days must be the person watching the dials at the National Grid shoot up into the red as the daylight fades and houses across the land switch on their very own outdoor Santa's Grottos for the first time.
The number of people turning their homes into versions of the National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation must have risen by a factor of at least one million (at a modest estimate) in the past 20 years.
Once upon a time, Christmas light displays were the strict province of the local town council and American movies.
People huddled around a Christmas tree in the town square while the mayor took the chance to show off his chain and the Sally Army belted out God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen in three distinct keys as the lights were turned on and immediately fused.
Now people form queues to witness the official lighting up of homes covered with enough fairy lights to ring the equator.
Property expert Bob Croydon, who heads King Sturge in Wales, thinks the proliferation of lights at Christmas time can only be a good thing.
"You don't have to be a surveyor to notice that [there are more lights]," he said.
"Year on year, it's like a war of attrition in some streets.
"It's down to the availability and cost. Clearly the range and affordability of ornaments now is astonishing.
Christmas light decorations are readily available
"Unless they legislate against it, I think people are going to accumulate more every year.
"If the lights don't raise a smile on the way home from work, you'd have to be pretty hard-hearted.
"It's a bit of seasonal amusement and it can give you a bit of a lift."
He even thinks some private displays "put to shame" the offerings from local authorities.
There's no denying that Christmas lights do brighten up a December night - it's when they appear along with Halloween costumes that my inner Scrooge is set loose.
I don't believe in public executions but if it is ever reintroduced, people who put their lights up before Advent calendars begin would be top of my list for the drop..... Ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas, one and all!
Has Britain gone overboard in following the USA's lead on Christmas lights? Or does it make the festive season brighter for everybody, not just the electricity companies? Send us your views on the form below.
The shops are commercialising the occasion as they do with every occasion. Easter eggs three months before easter, Christmas decorations and paper four months early. It's ridiculous. Modest displays on houses are okay at this time of year but no earlier and Cardiff's North Road "grotto" is way over the top and tacky this year.
Dan, Cardiff, south Wales
I think that anywhere Christmas lights should be put up right at the beginning of December. After that date, however, it doesn't matter how many there are.
Liz, Pennsylvania, USA
I love Christmas but those carol singers have a lot to answer for, you give them a quid to get lost and they stand there with their hand out waiting for more. I think people forget what Christmas is all about.
Nina, Essex, England
Have you ever watched a childs face when they see a home decorated for Christmas? It's worth every penny.
The only effect Christmas lights have on the environment is that it makes everyone smile!
Susan, Southampton, USA
I have the greatest admiration for those people who make massive efforts to decorate the outsides of their houses. The display made for all passers-by to enjoy, shows a spirit of fun, generosity and sharing which after all is what Christmas is all about.
Nigel John, Barry, Glamorgan
Living in Bangkok for most of the year, I am amazed that this the world's largest Buddhist country goes overboard at Christmas, with large department stores, and top hotels decorating themselves with hundreds of fairy lights. But unlike Cardiff's North Road it is very tasteful and extremely pretty. I find the multi-coloured tack on some over decorated houses just a little tasteless.
Far better and more in tradition-keeping is the Christmas tree decorating a window. I found a terrace of such windows more special than the over-tackiness of some house decorations.
This year as last I will be working on the day and looking forward to a 'festive' meal at the Toby Jug in Silom and then a little Thai celebration at the Balcony in Silom Soi 4. If any of you come you'll recognise me - I'll be the one covered in cranberry sauce and fairy lights, flashing on and off at the bar.
John Howe, Cardiff/Bangkok
Call me cynical, but surely I can't have been the only one to raise a curious eyebrow when I discovered my local paper was running a competition for the best lit house, in conjunction with the electricity board?
Huw Pritchard, Swansea
In Bermuda the Xmas Light season starts after US Thanksgiving. In recent years the Bermuda Electric Light Company has held a competition with cash prizes given to the charity nominated by the winning householders. The judging has just been complted. As another e-mailer stated they give you a lift on the way home and also they are a great entertainment for kids of all ages. My parents arrive tonight from the UK and tomorrow night the priority will be a tour of the island - not for the beauty of Bermuda which is unsurpassed, but for the magnificent lighting displays. This year it is one of our ways of bouncing back from the ravages of Hurricane Fabian 12 weeks ago.
John Skinner, Paget, Bermuda
I love Christmas!! If I could I would have my lights up all year round. At the moment we have a 10 foot high snowman on our front lawn. It annoys me though that they cut Christmas short to make way for Easter!!
I would have to agree with Cas Smith, we have have lived here for almost 4 years now, Over that time I would have to say that most houses are decorated fairly tastefully - usually icicle lights along the roof line and maybe blankets of lights across bushes and shrubs. Mind you there are some monstrosities around and the in thing with the lack of taste crowd this year appears to be giant inflatable snowmen/santas on the front lawn although most people have stuck with the lit deer. My husband spent the morning today attaching lights to the front of our house and on the deck at the back. Later we will be putting up our tree. One of the nicest and prettiest light displays in our neighbourhood occurs on Christmas Eve when we put out luminaries. Until we moved here I would never have guessed that plain brown paper bags, weighted down with sand and contaoning a candle could be so effective. We put them out every couple of feet on the road in front of our property and everyone light! s them at 4:45 before moving down to the communal field for a Nativity pageant. The latter hasn't changed for over 50 years and is done by the children, directed by one of the younger teenagers after just two short rehearsals - if they're lucky the grown-ups even manage to get the carols in the right place. Both the luminaries and the pageant make for a lovely start to Christmas - and last year we even managed to lay on a white Christmas for visiting relatives from the UK, none of us ever having experienced one before
Jane Berry, Edison, New Jersey but originally from UK
Christmas should be a magical time for everyone and considerable time and effort have gone in to some of the displays around. Some of them are over the top, boardering on tacky. Sometimes, less is definitely more.
Jeffrey Cole, Pontypridd, South Wales
It seems that the drive to Xmas is being piloted by the superstores... Easter eggs on the shelves before the month is out no doubt....
Taf, Cardiff UK
I first saw Xmas decorations up on October 17 (10 weeks early) and Xmas wrapping paper on sale in supermarkets early in September (16 weeks early), whilst we were still on our summer holiday! Now that is much too early, surely
MYK Garton, Bristol
I have lived in the US and Canada for 30 years and
always enjoyed the Christmas lights- large and small displays and never found any to be 'tasteless' (whatever that means!). And of course UK has to follow- BUT houses in UK are much smaller and thus do not display as they do here. Christmas trees in UK windows seem more appropriate than a small house covered with
'fairy lights" (why do Brits call them that?)
When I was in UK years ago, the front window tree and lights seems quite adequate - but UK has to follow US eventually. Guess it will eventually be our 51st state (agggh hope not! - we have enough problems)
geof jones, USA
With a bit of luck the lights will short-circuit the carol singers who knock on the door and demand a fiver before singing the first line of "We wish you a merry Christmas". Or we could set the giant hamsters on them.
Having been in the USA for the last five months I've become used to the real excesses here. However I will say, so far, most of the houses I've seen covered in Christmas light decorations have actually been quite tasteful, which WAS a surprise and not as garish as some of those I've started to see in the UK over the last few years. That's if you don't count the giant cactus covered in green fairy lights with a red one on top in the building next door!!!.....sorry guys.
Cas Smith, Ridgecrest..but originally from Aberystwyth
I love all the Christmas lights, but they often go up far too early. I do wonder what effect it has on the environment though. Maybe we need giant hamster wheels on the side of our houses to power them.
Lisa Davies, Wales
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