What’s With the Bland, Boring Christmas Lights?

Christmas light decoration styles change over time, some good, some bad. Here's a quick look at some trends and some ideas on what to do -- and not to do.


To everything there is a season, including trends.


Christmas decorations are no exception to this.  The trend for the past decade or so has been one of mundane, boring, uninspiring Christmas light displays.

I remember the time when it seemed everyone used the multicolored rainbow lights all over their houses.  Color was everywhere.  There was no real design, no real pattern.  It was colorful chaos.

When I was a child, multicolored Christmas lights were all the rage.

While I can’t say exactly when, I do know that the multicolored, or rainbow, light strings became tired and dated.  At least ten years ago (or thereabout), the rainbow lights fad gave way to the single color style.  However, I use the term color lightly because the color that was used was white.

This is an example of an amateur white on white Christmas light display.
This is an example of an amateur white on white Christmas light display.
This is an example of a professional style white on white Christmas light display.
This is an example of a professional style white on white Christmas light display.

Bland. Boring. Dull. Monotone. Monotonous.

In a word, blech.

This white-on-white style still seems to be very popular, though I don’t know why.  There’s no creativity, no design, no style.  Rather, it’s a single color.  White can be a great highlight or background color, but it is too plain if it’s the only color used.  The result isn’t even a single color, it’s no color.

Good news!  It seemed that I wasn’t alone in my disdain for the spartan light display.

In the 2000s, multicolored lights began making a comeback.  This time, though, instead of using lots of rainbow strings, patterns were used and the lights were set to music.

Of course, musical displays were not the only new kid on the block.  Around that time, people began decorating by the adage, “the more, the merrier.”

It wasn’t enough to have patterns or musical showpieces.  One color?  Yeah, right!  More like TONS of color and TONS of lights.  Herein gives rise to extreme decorating.

An example of extreme Christmas light decorating.
An example of extreme Christmas light decorating.

Lots of color?  Check!

Variety of displays used?  Check!

Lots of lights?  Check, check, one million times check!

Fun to look at?  Check!

Artful?  Um… uh…

Extreme decorating is a popular method of decorating.  So popular is this approach that ABC started a special series, “The Great Christmas Light Fight.”

People flock to see it.  Kids love it!  Kidults love it!  Nevertheless, this helter-skelter approach to Christmas lights and outdoor decorations can cause sensory overload.  While the rainbow string trend of decades ago has a colorful chaos, extreme decorating can look like decoration anarchy.

Well, it seems that a new craze is upon us.  Technological advances allowed some to decorate without actually decorating.  I give you projection lights.

A example of using laser projection to decorate a house.
A example of using laser projection to decorate a house. Be aware, though, that many versions are nowhere near as bright as this picture or their ads lead you to believe.

I call this the “lazy man’s lights.”  Why go through all the trouble to plan out your display and put up actual lights?  Put in one, two, or maybe three (if you want to put in that much effort) projectors and, voila, you’re house is completely decorated!

Um… no.

The other night my family drove through a neighborhood where quite a few home owners chose this as their method of decorating.  The lights were very dim (especially compared to the real lights used by their neighbors) and looked bad.

The projection approach has done the seemingly impossible: making the all-white style look fun and exciting!

There were some homes that, I believe, used projectors effectively.  They used the lasers to fill in an empty area that was surrounded by lights.  Thus, the projected image became part of the overall display, not the entire (or even the main) display.

So, it seems we’ve gone from colorful chaos to bland to musical.  We then went back to chaotic and are now again moving to bland.

What will be the next fad in Christmas light decorations?  I can’t wait for the white-on-white style and the projector-only (or mostly projector) fads to die off.

So how can you avoid novelty, chaos, and monotony?  Two simple approaches:

  • Create art.  Use color and designs to create a work of art.  Create a showpiece that is both attractive yet full.  While people flock to see extreme decorating, people remember art.
  • Tell a story.  This doesn’t mean you have need to include multiple scenes.  With a little thought, you can use a single picture (in this case, your exterior decorations) to tell a whole story.
An example of using Christmas lights to create art.
An example of using Christmas lights to create art.

So, this year take a drive through your town and see which fads you see people using.  Look for inspiration, ideas, and let your creative juices flow as you plan next year’s decorations!

One final note: no Christmas light fad–past, present, or future–will ever top the iconic, penultimate light display, brought to you by Clark Griswold:

About John L. Rothra
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