It’s hard being a less-is-more person when everyone else on the street subscribes to the more-is-more aesthetic – at least when it comes to Christmas decorations. Off-season, my neighborhood is a patchwork of noble stone mansions and stately Victorians. Come the day after Thanksgiving, the place erupts as if fireworks went off overhead and the falling embers landed and never burned out. Light icicles hang and bright reindeer strut and eight-foot toy soldiers stand guard at front doors.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful. The big house across the street has a single candle in each of its 1.2 million windows, and every night when I take my walk, I fantasize a moment about doing the same at my house. Except we tried that one year and it was a failure. Actual wax candles would burn the place down, so we bought about a dozen of the electric plug-in kind, only to find that most of the windows were not near an outlet.
A hundred dollars worth of extension cords later, we had spider webs of cords underfoot. Plan B was a batch of battery-operated window candles, purchased at a dollar store. Here’s what a dollar’s worth of window light gets you: candle wattage equal to an apathetic lightning bug on his last legs. You couldn’t see the lights from across a darkened room, much less from the street.
Here’s what I do instead: garland around the front door, wreath with red bow on the door, a cluster of poinsettias by the welcome mat, and a spotlight aimed at the whole thing.
Ours is one of the more understated homes on the street, but it looks right to me. But I’m not the only one around here with an opinion.
Take the poinsettias, for example. I always put three near the front door and about nine more of them on the side of the steps leading up. From the street, it looks like a lush bed of red and green velvet.
I put two of the flowers to the left of the front door and one to the right. Yes, I could make things symmetrical and put two on each side, but to my eyes, it’s not right. Others in my family disagree with this. Each morning I walk outside to find someone has removed one of the flowers from the left of the door and placed it on the steps.
This leaves the door flanked by two lonely flowers. Every day, I retrieve the third flower from the steps and return it to the its partner at the left of the door. The next day I emerge to find it’s been moved back to the steps.
Aside from annoying, this is just officially wrong. In our galaxy, threes are always better than twos, and the eye may think it wants symmetry, but it really doesn’t. Two on one side and one on the other is more interesting. (This extends to writing, where students learn about the rhythm of threes. When making an argument, three examples are more persuasive than two, or even four. And everyone knows a waltz is based on three.)
“Whoever keeps moving that poinsettia, stop it,” I said one day last week after having put things right out there for the third time in a day. Nobody owned it. Maybe it’s the FedEx guy. He is up on the porch enough these days.
This reminds me of the time, 20 years ago, when I was planning one of the only big parties I’ve ever thrown. A good friend, an expert hostess, came over to help me set up. She spotted a lamp, a ceramic in the shape of a lion’s head, and said, “I think we need to put this in the basement.”
Apparently, my taste was so bad we had to hide the evidence from my friends. I took the lamp to the basement, even though she was wrong about it.
Now, I would say the lamp stays. And so does the third poinsettia.