It's been a long time since I believed in Santa.
My suspicion arose upon the realization that we didn't have a fireplace, and the chimney that extended all the way to the basement floor had no other outlet.
It's been a couple of years since I've put up a real Christmas tree, though I finally broke down and got a fake one so as not to deprive myself of the lights.
After all these years, the novelty of animatronic Christmas displays has not yet worn off...
...especially when it's Frosty shredding the guitar...
...accompanied by some dancing elves.
At a yard display in Sherman Oaks called "Lights on Display," a chorus of creepy heads emerges from gift boxes to sing backup...
...popping up and down like those moles you whack with a mallet in the arcade game.
The whole show runs for over 10 minutes, with lighting effects synchronized with the music...
...that's DJ'ed, of course, by a puppet.
This is Christmas in the San Fernando Valley.
I remember back in my hometown of Syracuse there was one house on the corner of Shotwell Park and James Street that had magnificent lighting displays, which I could see through the window from the backseat of my father's car.
But we always just drove by it. We never stopped. We never got out of the car to have a look.
So now, whenever I hear about a house that's all lit up for the holidays here in Southern California, I make an effort to stop and see it.
There are two houses just a couple of blocks away from each other in Burbank that fit the bill—the first being on Clark Avenue, just east of North Hollywood Way.
You don't even have to get out of your car to hear the music, because they've got their own radio station you can tune into. But, of course, it's better if you do get out of the car.
The second one is on California Street, just south of Magnolia...
...and while it's somewhat more demure than its neighboring displays in the Valley...
...it's really still quite magical (and, by some standards, over the top).
It's amazing what a few strings of lights can do.
My father stopped decorating the outside of our house when he caught a teenager on our front porch unscrewing colored light bulbs to steal. He was the first one who'd gotten caught at our house, but he wasn't the first one to commit the crime, and my father had gotten fed up.
That makes me wonder what keeps these homeowners going—with strangers traipsing on their lawns and headlights glaring into their front windows. Surely, at these houses, all is not calm, all season long.
But despite the garish designs and the spectacle of it all, I actually find it quite calming. For me, there's a quietude amidst the flashing lights and the fake falling snow.
The noise is joyful. The scene is serene.
Photo Essay: Lighting Up the Streets for Christmas
Photo Essay: Griffith Park's Holiday Light Train