Another of our holiday customs that I never did before I was married is to drive around of an evening looking at home Christmas light displays.
I like this as a geographical challenge. There's a website listing homes in the area with particularly spectacular displays. So I plan our drive around a few of those. But we don't dart from highlight to highlight. The most garish are not always the best, and we don't care for the ones that pulse to the beat of the music on a 24/7-Christmas radio station. (I had my car radio tuned to the classical station, which was playing Bach's Christmas Oratorio - the whole thing. Much more agreeable holiday music.) It's the more thoughtful and well-designed displays we come across along the way, especially in clusters, that are most attractive.
Last night, on our way down to a highlighted site near El Camino, we found that a block that had been brightly lit on previous occasions had damped down considerably this year, but that a nearby long cul-de-sac (the street that Teri Hatcher grew up on) was still as rich and colorful as ever.
Ethnography plays a part in searching for good light displays. Middle-class white neighborhoods tend to be the best for this: not too rich, not too poor. There are many Asians in our area, and neighborhoods where they cluster tend not to have many lights, except for those homes still celebrating Diwali. I haven't checked heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, none of which are very close to us, and which tend to be on the poorer side, and/or mostly apartment buildings, also not a good source of light displays.
The best cluster of displays we found this year was in an isolated development we hadn't been in before, located in the fracture zone where the tail ends of Sunnyvale, Cupertino, and Los Altos run confusingly together. Someone had put three penguins in a boat on a curb. Another had a giant inflatable snowman which had partially deflated and fallen over. The weirdest display was at a corner house which had made the website list (which is why we visited this neighborhood in the first place). They'd even run lights up the stop sign at the corner. Amid the riot of displays were at least six Santas of various sizes, the largest of them behind the wheel of an old van parked in the driveway, a reindeer riding shotgun, and lights all over the hood.