Fun fact: Christmas lights were invented by Thomas Edison in 1880 as a marketing gimmick for his new-fangled incandescent light bulb. Funner fact: Until a manufacturing consortium was established in 1925 and drove prices down, a single string of lights cost the equivalent of $300. Now, they’re so cheap that house decorating with the best Christmas light displays has become a competitive sport in some neighborhoods, because America.
These glorious Christmas light displays of holiday excess come at a different cost, though, as the power required to juice them up produces an estimated 882 pounds of carbon dioxide per home. Families with a conscience should really consider LED bulbs; they save hundreds of dollars in energy costs over time, but – unfun fact – don’t look as warm and inviting as traditional incandescent bulbs. That’s why you’re unlikely to see many of them in these neighborhoods, where December is an excuse to burn fossil fuel like a yule log, because … Christmas America.
Best Christmas Light Displays: Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, NY
A traditionally Italian neighborhood located light-years (get it?) from the borough’s hipster epicenter, the Dyker Heights displays have gotten so competitive that a single two-house stretch features 50 motorized mannequins and 2 30-foot tall wooden soldiers. Nearly every house in a square half-mile participates, and there isn’t a single artisanal craftsman or EDM DJ among them.
Best Christmas Light Displays: Peacock Lane, Portland, OR
The residents of Peacock Lane are so serious about their Christmas lights displays, they don’t just maintain a dedicated website – they have a PR rep and they wrote their own Christmas carol. They even staff a free cocoa and cider stand for the city’s coffee snobs to ignore.
Best Christmas Light Displays: Candy Cane Lane, Woodland Hills, CA
Suburban Los Angeles might not seem a likely place for a Christmas lights display wonderland, but it’s lousy with two things: Hollywood lighting and set design folk, and ostentatious displays of money. When those two things combine over the holidays, magic happens.
Best Christmas Light Displays: 34th Street, Hampden, Baltimore, MD
Inspired by two kids who grew up on the street, bonded over a love of Christmas lights displays, got married and eventually rallied the neighbors to go all out with their displays every holiday, 34th Street is a 67-year-old tradition. Two things make it feel uniquely Baltimore: the famous hubcap tree at Jim Pollack’s house, and the fact that it might not happen this year because of a crime wave in the area.
Best Christmas Light Displays: Winterhaven, Tucson, AZ
Winterhaven’s Festival Of Lights was started 65 years ago by a developer who thought it might attract residents to his new planned community – he even issued cash rewards for the best display to encourage participation. By the time he realized that simply promoting the weather was a better marketing tactic, the Festival was a tradition, so they kept it.
Best Christmas Light Displays: Smedley Street, Philadelphia, PA
While the “City Of Brotherly Love” is used more these days as a punchline for Philadelphia’s famously grumpy residents, the 2700 block of Smedley Street in South Philly remains a bastion of neighborly good cheer every December. You might still want earmuffs for your kids, though.
Best Christmas Light Displays: Hyatt Extreme Christmas, Fort Lauderdale FL
More of an honorable mention, since it’s just a single home, but the Hyatt family has quite possibly the most Christmas-lit residential structure in the country. It boasts over 200,000 individual Christmas lights spread across everything from a ferris wheel to a Santa’s workshop. There’s even a reindeer-ized horse (a real one) and fake falling snow. If you’re looking to step up your family’s Christmas light game, the Hyatts are who you’re stepping to.