a newcomer or rarely leave the house — and even then — you most likely
have been exposed in some way to the Richmond area’s extreme fondness
for holiday lights. Just in case you haven’t, let us take you back to
where it all began.
long time ago — if you consider 1986 a long time ago — Richmond’s Barry
"Mad Dog" Gottlieb noticed a few local folks were into decking a good
bit more than just the halls. His appreciation of their work, combined
with a love for the holidays, led to the first Tacky Xmas Decoration
and Grand Highly Illuminated House Tour.
Accompanied by other
local media types, Mad Dog tooled around Richmond in a limo one night
and chose the best and brightest, giving awards to the homes he considered
worthy. Contests by his employer, the now-defunct WVGO, allowed listeners
to win tickets on radio-sponsored bus tours.
the year 2001. Radio-sponsored bus tours no longer are available, but
local bus and limousine companies have picked up the slack.
Now, The Times-Dispatch’s
Weekend section runs its tacky Christmas lights tour list — for people
who want to drive it themselves — every Thursday during the season.
The first list appears on Thanksgiving Day.
There’s also a list
of available bus and limo services, which runs only on Thanksgiving
fans’ enthusiasm knows no bounds, as queries come earlier every year.
(The record so far was a call in July as to when "that tacky tour list"
calls to complain about the word "tacky," not understanding it’s meant
in a totally loving way.
On the other hand,
what would you call a display that features a joyous if somewhat confusing
array of Santa and the elves, a Nativity scene, ET on the roof and the
whole Simpson family on the lawn?
A woman called
one year to complain that her neighbor’s house, which was on the list,
was by no means tacky. She was offended at the very idea, and hoped
her neighbor’s address would be removed immediately, if not sooner.
the caller didn’t leave her name or number. Otherwise, someone could
have called back to explain that her neighbor had not only asked, but
practically begged, to be included on the list.
The tacky Christmas
lights tour has become such a Richmond tradition that its practitioners
feel like family. They’ll call to let the paper know if they’re running
late lighting up.
For example, one
man broke his arm last year and was worried about missing his lighting
ceremony till family and neighbors pitched in. People sometimes offer
to help homeowners with the light bill; in response, some decorators
leave out a box and let the paper know what charity that year’s contributions
having decided to retire his display last year, passed on a sizable
chunk of decor, as well as expertise, to an up-and-coming teen-age lighter-upper.
And so it goes.
As it turns out, draping your home with 10,000 or 25,000 or 50,000 bulbs
literally does light up people’s lives.
For the decorators,
it’s a chance to shine. For "tacky tourists," it’s a fun and inexpensive
way to paint the town red (and blue and yellow and green and pink) with
family and friends.
© 2001, Richmond Newspapers Inc.