I don’t waste snowstorms.

NEW FEATURE: Come check out fifteen treasures from the 1999 Sears Wish Book, starring Pikachu, Darth Maul and Bill Goldberg! If you ignore this message, you”ll miss the chance to see a vomiting Jabba the Hutt! 

It snowed yesterday. Just a little.

I guess there was around an inch of it, but only in the spots where it decided to stick. This wasn’t the kind of snow that would last the night, and sure enough, there’s almost no evidence left of it as I write this.


The weathermen say we’re due for another storm, but weathermen are pathological liars. Fortunately, when I see snow, my impulse is to make the most of it as soon as possible. So that’s what I did.


Years ago on X-E, I wrote about one of my favorite Christmas traditions: Driving around the neighborhood to stare at everyone’s Christmas lights. I still love to do that, and it’s even better with a bit of snow.

(Thank you, 106.7 Lite FM, for scoring this adventure with a constant stream of Christmas music. Even the dullest houses seemed perfect when paired with Mariah.)

You can tell so much about people by the way they decorate. Or maybe you can’t, and it’s just fun to pretend?


Take this house, for example. The lights were obviously handled by Professional Light People. This is the kind of family that makes you take your shoes off first. I imagine it being co-run by an aggressive power couple. I don’t think they have children, nor do I believe them to be hardcore Christmas fans. They just wanted to show the rest of the block that they could do everything better. Even Christmas lights.


Then there was this house. It struck me as being a tiny bit sad. They had plenty of lights, but it still felt like they were holding back. Perhaps this family endured a great hardship this holiday season. Maybe they lost someone, or maybe things are just rocky at the office. God bless them for not letting whatever happened ruin their Christmas, but you can so tell that those lights were strung without one smile.

(Or maybe it’s just that the wreaths look like garbled frowns.)


Oh, and this house! The one on the left. I loved it. They didn’t have many lights, but the ones they did have were really OLD lights. You know, the big glass ones that start so many fires? My favorites.

This is the house you go to when your car breaks down. They’ll let you in. They’ll make you hot cocoa while you call the tow truck. Would it be sick to slash my own tires so I can test this theory?


But this is the house you really want to visit. The affable old woman inside has not let age steal her pep. Not a moment of December goes by without Christmas music blasting on her 1987 stereo system — the one that has sixteen devices in a big stack, even if she’s only ever used two of them.

Let’s call her Wanda. Wanda’s saved every Christmas card she’s ever received. Wanda strings thread through popcorn. Wanda will travel to a mall three states away, to buy her grandson the same baseball glove that Amazon has 4000 of. (Wanda doesn’t have a computer, but she does have a Kindle. Her kids bought it for her last year. Wanda has never used it, but she carries it around anyway.)

Her whole house smells like cookies. There are board games from the 1970s all over her basement.

The more I write, the more I’m convinced that an old lady named Wanda really lives there. Truth be told, I can’t even remember what street this was.


Then there was this family. They are spending December in Florida. The lights are there to make burglars think otherwise. Nobody has stepped foot in that house in over a week.


And here’s the house I want to die in. I hope I never meet these real life Griswolds. They could never live up to what’s in my head. I’m basically picturing Santa and Mrs. Claus, but in my vision, they are FIT. Think “six pack Santa.” They wear red and green tracksuits and Bluetooth headsets.

I also can’t shake the notion that they have a tiny, yelping dog.


Lastly, we have this house, which actually isn’t a house. It’s a Chinese food joint.

For one thing, Christmas = Chinese food. For another thing, after driving around for an hour with my bare hands hanging outside the window to snap possibly-illegal photos of strangers’ houses in the freezing cold, I desperately needed wonton soup.


I don’t know why they gave us so many extras. We only ordered soup. Do people really use duck sauce in wonton soup? I bet Wanda would know.


I’m glad I didn’t waste the snow.

When I think back on Christmas 2013, I won’t remember the Cran-Brrr-Ritas or the McDonald’s Holiday Pies.

I’ll remember the night we spent playing the holiday version of Rear Window.

56 Responses to I don’t waste snowstorms.

  1. We in the Deep South got that kind of snow a few years ago. It was pure pandemonium in the streets!

  2. THIS. This is what I love so much about your writing, Matt! When you just free-form it, you are a sheer genius with words!

  3. “Garbled Frowns” is the name on my birth certificate.

  4. We hardly ever get snow like that down here, but we’ve been battling major ice storms the last few days.

    I loved driving around and looking at lights at Christmas time. There’s a house not too far from hours that is insane–I’ll have to see if I can get pics.

  5. For some reason, that picture of the Chinese restaurant is incredibly depressing. Makes me want to give the whole building a hug, a pat on the back, and say “it’ll be ok kiddo, it was just a rough year.” Why is that?

  6. Tiny Southern snowmen are the saddest sight you’ll ever see. Sadder than your sad snow storm. We don’t have hats or scarves for ourselves, none the less our front yard snowmen that are 50% snow, 25% dirt and 25% crab grass :(

  7. @Faith: It does have a certain ring to it.

    @Adam: That’s partly why we picked it. It was the only thing open in a strip mall, and it looked so… blah. The Charlie Brown Christmas tree of Chinese food restaurants.

    We are almost certainly getting another storm soon. A bigger one. I see snowmen in my future.

  8. This is a tradition my parents followed with us when we were kids. I definitely have some fond memories of those trips. There was a palpable magic one felt as a kid that’s hard nigh impossible to quite replicate. I will continue the “driving around looking at lights” tradition with my kids when they’re a little older — looking forward to it!

  9. Everything looks better with a coating of snow. :)
    I was in my backyard putting things away for the winter when that same snow Matt is talking about started. I love seeing the very first flakes of a storm come down.

  10. I miss this. I miss new York.
    Living in Tampa fl sucks around this time of the year…driving around looking at lights in 85 degree weather just isn’t the same at all. That and people suck at decorating down here too.

  11. There’s still snow all over the place here, but I have a cold and don’t feel like driving around to look at lights. :(

  12. Excellent post as always, Matt. We don’t have many Christmas season snows in Eastern NC where I live. One time we had a White Christmas in 1989. I would have liked to have drove around to see the lights in the snow but I didn’t have 4WD (they didn’t clear the roads back then). I have made sure that every car I buy now has 4WD but we have not had a White Christmas since. :( BTW, Chinese Food is too a part of Christmas. Make sure I get some every year during the season.

  13. Matt,

    Very entertaining to read your descriptions of the tenants residing at each home all based on their lighting arrangements. I’m sure you aren’t too far off! Sadly, no one near me has really yet put up any lights so I’ll have to go on the search for that “special” street. It’s somewhere out there.

    Keep up the good posts. Love it as always

  14. Just a reminder for anyone who didn’t see the BIG BLUE NOTE:

    There’s a new feature up, covering fifteen treasures from the 1999 Sears Wish Book.

    (I don’t do features very often anymore, in part because there’s really no difference from those and normal entries, but also because they don’t show up on feeds nor the main page. Made an exception for the big ass old toy catalog.)

  15. We just did this on Saturday!

  16. …annnd thanks all! Hope nobody’s too buried/nobody gets too buried later this week.

  17. According to my boss, we’re supposed to have Major Weather tomorrow and I should probably bring things home to work on in case I don’t want to come in.

    I will actually be too busy stringing up lights in my apartment and playing Pokémon to actually do any of that.

  18. Hey matt have you heard of the trash pack cars? theyre called trash wheels. Is it sad that I have never seen snow?

  19. Awesome.

    Speaking of Christmas lights, here in Iowa we have something called “Jolly Holiday Lights” You basically pay to drive through a park and listen to Christmas music that has various cool light displays sponsored by various companies. Money goes to charity. It’s actually nicer than I’m making it sound.

  20. Too bad you don’t live anywhere near me. We got over 12″ of snow two days ago. We usually get one or two good snow storms a year. This one is fantastic.

  21. @Matt I’d like to nominate this piece as Dinosaur Dracula’s best article of 2013.

    Award to presented at Wanda’s home along with milk and cookies.

  22. This was great, Matt. I do this, too: observe people and places and write their stories in my mind.

    I was off sick from work today and spent it lying on the couch, watching this snow fall, and viewing “One Magic Christmas” on Netflix. There are certain aspects of that movie that don’t translate past the 1980′s — such as the idea that it’s okay for Harry Dean Stanton to appear in a little girl’s bedroom or for that same girl’s father to be gunned down on Christmas Eve. This movie was rated G, by the way.

    The most incredible light display I ever saw (not as great as driving through neighborhoods like Harry Dean Stanton, of course…) was in Duluth, MN at Bentleyville. There’s even a fantastic themesong:


  23. 24″ of snow last Monday; -24F last Wednesday. It’s been below zero ever since. I think I like it the way you guys out east do it better.

    Hey, I live near Bentleyville. Never been there. I’m afraid it might turn out to be like Haunchyville.

  24. Christmas Eve 2005. Six to eight inches that night! I drove around at midnight for two hours with music blaring, marveling at the light displays.

    Great post Matt!

  25. We got a surprising 6-8 inches here in South Jersey. We were only supposed to get what Matt got! Everyone is still panicking. It’s supposed to snow again tomorrow, though not as much as yesterday. I’m beginning to agree with Matt about weather forecasters being pathological liars after yesterday, so we’ll see what actually happens.

    And I haven’t gotten around to my annual stroll or bike ride around the neighborhood to look at the lights. I’m hoping to do it before Christmas Day this time. Last year, I got to it the day after New Year’s.

  26. It is not illegal to take pictures of houses. If it were Google would have a fat stack of felonies on their hands…

  27. Now this is the type of article that screams Christmas! I like how you created stories for each house.

  28. Those are some impressive displays you drove by. For some reason this year my neighborhood has tons of lights but the rest of town just doesn’t seem to be holding up their end. I’m guessing in a week or so people will snap into action and things will look a bit more Christmasy.
    Thankfully there’s a nice layer of snow coating Michigan tonight so we took one of the dogs down to the park so he could run the trails. The sheer amount of light reflection from the snow ensures that you can see anything from a block away in there. Of course this weather also guarantees that the cat will spend at least an hour sleeping next to my ass for warmth (he’s been there for about 40 mins already.)

  29. If everything goes as planned, I’ll be moving into a new neighborhood. It’s more upscale, and I suspect there will be large displays like this. Halloween is my decorating holiday, I go all out, but … I’m a little afraid of Christmas displays in this area.

    If they are big … then I’ve got a problem. My raging egomania and competitive spirit means I’ll have to get involved, and it will not end well. I’ll end up putting up enough lights to the melt the snow in a 200 foot radius.

  30. Regarding the scandalous behavior of weatherpersons… I used to be a cameraman at a local TV station (not cable access; affiliated with a network) and the weather guys would intentionally hype the weather on the 6:00 news just to get viewers to tune in for “more details” at 11:00. Generally, those details revealed that the snow / rain / disaster was not going to be as bad as originally thought… This technique was always put in play most with snowfall predictions.

  31. You know, it’s cold here in Michigan and it seems sucky…but we don’t have MASSIVE FUCKING FIELDS OF SPIDERS either. I’m thinking it’s just awesome right here in my home state where there are NO SPIDER NIGHTMARE WORLDS outside my door. Yep, bring on the cold if it means none of that noise.

  32. I to would drive around in my younger days with friends looking at Christmas lights, there was a street we called Christmas light alley, it was like every neighbor tried to outdo each other. We would have the Christmas radio station on and even brought snacks, tortilla chips and nacho cheese that we were convinced it would heat up if you sat it right in front of the heater. We even constructed a trophy out of a pc of wood and a plastic cup with “You Won” in marker. I hope they still have that trophy.

  33. We had a bit of snow last night here on the east coast of Canuckistan. Temperature warmed up enough today to make it melt though. I ran outside to get a pic of my house with snow on the ground but my phone lost its charge when I fired up the camera (story of my life.) Hope that we get a bit more before the big day.

    I find my neighborhood pretty bla for Christmas light displays, everyone shops at the same place (COSTCO) so its the same boring display of off white (blue or green) lights everywhere.

  34. We actually got fourteen inches here over the past week….so I’m a little over it. Quite a few traffic accidents.

  35. My moms name is Wanda!

  36. Awesome! I agree with an above poster (too lazy to scroll up on my phone), this little entry is sheer genius. In such a cynical world, in such a stressful Italian family, things like this pull me back to my childhood, when Christmas was magical! Thank for yet again brightening my day and giving me a healthy dose of holiday spirit Matt! It truly means a lot to me.

    Too sappy?

  37. So amazing. It’s post like this that get me in the right mood and not let the Holidays slip by without annual Christmas traditions. Glad 2013 is the same as 2003. :)

  38. The guy at the end of my street, has a gigantic light display…for some reason, he keeps a teepee frame in his front yard all year long, the takes some of it apart, and makes the tee pee a manger…then he decorates individual play houses he gets at yard sales, and it’s like a munchkin village.

    I cannot eat wonton soup without duck sauce…hehehe I almost typed SUCK sauce…ew. I also get my egg rolls specially made. If you know the restaurant owner well enough, you can get raw uncooked egg rolls, and bake them. Less grease and fat that way. Or, if I get one that is fried, I throw it on te foreman grill for a few minutes to drain the oil.

  39. @Matt, loved this article! I just want to thank you for making my work day so much more enjoyable! Reading your articles and the comments that follow make for a much more productive work day! :)

    @Greg the Canuck! To a fellow Canadian! I notice you say you are on the East coast, I’m actually in Northern, Ontario. We are getting bombarded with snow as I type this. Lots of Christmas light displays in my mid populated town.

  40. I read this post with Vince Guaraldi Trio on in the background (instrumental “Christmas Time is Here”), kinda wrapping presents, a yule log on my Wii U gamepad and Psycho playing but turned down on the television. Thanks for managing to encapsulate everything I love about this site in a single article.

  41. I don’t drive (never have), but I usually take a stroll around town before Christmas Day to check out all the yard and house decorations (my “city” only has a population of around 4,000 people, so, it’s possible to tour a good chunk of our municipality in an hour on foot). I can’t say that I ever imagine any stories for the occupants like Matt did though. While we don’t have too much (yet), we get a lot of snow where I live (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), and, when we do, it means shoveling for me, so it’s not something that I enjoy very much. Every now and then I’ll build a snow sculpture (usually a giant cat, click on my name to see some pictures of last year’s snow kitty), but the weather has to be relatively warm for that to work, and, thus far, it’s been too bitterly cold.

  42. The gaudy houses are the best, the ones you’re pretty sure you could see from space. I’ve started using “Griswold” as an adjective. As in “Damn, those people went full Griswold.”

  43. Long live Wanda!

  44. I’m kinda shocked that you like wonton soup considering your dislike of milk and *gasp* pie. Wonton looks disgusting and the meat inside scares me.

  45. Long live Wanda!

    Matt, you are always a delight to read, but when it comes to Christmas, I’d put you right up there with “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus.” Because of you, I still believe in Christmas.

  46. I just finished putting up my Christmas tree. It KILLED my back ! lol It was worth it though. Looks great! Now I just have to decorate it. So far, the season is turning out to to be a good one. :)

  47. Enjoyed an egg nog shake from the McD drive-thru on the way home tonight. Call me old school, but I like the old flat lids over the dome lids. To me, a McD shake is a drink, not a dessert. I requested that the shake be made without the whipped cream and the girl asked: “Do you still want the cherry?”

  48. That picture of that house with the old light on it, looks like Ralphie’s house from A Christmas Story from that angle. It needs a mannequin leg lamp in the front window to look truly authentic. And that Chinese restaurant reminded me of the one they went to in the movie, a bit.

  49. I love when you head out on the town Matt. Lovely lights.

  50. Just sync those light with Transiverian Orchestra songs and you’ll have my heart :D

  51. Fuck LED lights! They’re so douchey. Old school glass lights all the way.

  52. Matt, when I saw that shot of the radio in your car I said, Matt also drives a VW! Jetta MKIV right?

    Love the countdown and jukebox as always.

  53. I didn’t realize you were now moderating comments.

    Have fun in the snow tomorrow!

  54. @Zach: I’m not… sometimes they just get caught in the spam bin, I approve them whenever they pop up in there.

  55. This just made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Like others have mentioned, I enjoyed the pictures and the back stories you came up with for each household. After reading your description of the couple at the Griswolds’ house, though…the FIT Santa and Mrs. Claus with the tracksuits and bluetooths (blueteeth?)…I couldn’t help but picture Todd and Margo Chester. Thanks for sharing these festive pictures with us. I know it boosted my Christmas spirit.

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