James Lileks
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It’s time for the annual column about taking down the holiday lights. Every year I do my best to manufacture a false debate and sow division over the issue, but after years of writing about this, I have to make a confession.

I really don’t care. Do what you wish. It’s fine.

Just kidding. What sort of thing is that for a newspaper columnist to say? We’re here to tell you how to live and think, so let’s get down to shaming people who are behaving incorrectly.

Are your lights still up? Do they burn from dusk to the wee hours, piercing the thick dark night with their twinkling symbols of hope?

Perhaps it’s because there is no lights-out date upon which we all agree, no city ordinance with a hefty fine to guide us in our confusion. (Oh, I just gave them an idea, didn’t I? Apologies.)

Possible cutoff dates for dousing the lights:

1. When you have paid off your credit cards that bore all the charges for holiday gifts. Problem: With interest, this means you may never remove the lights, but have to add more lights as the months go on.

2. When you get the last returned Christmas card you sent to someone who’s moved. You wonder: Where’d they go? Did this one come back last year, too? Who are these people, come to think of it?

How many years have we been exchanging glossy pictures of families captured in non-characteristic settings with manufactured smiles? What if they went into witness protection?

“Honey, who are these people?” “The Andersons.” “Is that supposed to narrow it down?”

3. Jan. 31. No one drives around in February and thinks, “It’s nice that everything is still festive,” because the festiveness has gone out of our hearts by the end of this month.

Yes, it’ll be a bit sad to see the neighborhoods less bright. But it’s a sign of hope to take down the lights. It means that the end of winter is coming.

From here on, it’s a sprint! Only a fortnight to Mandatory Purchase of Candy Boxes Shaped Like Blood-Pumping Organs Day. Then it’s half-price candy week, and then it’s Green Beer Month.

Sometime around the third week of March, the Oreos will show up in pastel hues and there will be bunnies in ads, which means it’s only four weeks until the first of the big late-season storms that dump another foot of snow every three days through the first week of April. And then, before we know it, it’s tax time.

Three weeks later that last grit-encrusted ice floe on the boulevard will have shrunk to almost nothing, and a week after that, the tulips emerge. Granted, they are promptly eaten by rabbits. But it’s spring.

When you put it like that, it seems silly that we need lights to get us through the rest of winter. Why, it’s practically State Fair time.

Anyway, it’s up to you. One more thing: Because I have been faking a strong opinion on the matter for years, I can’t remember which stance I took last time. It’s likely that the stance varies from year to year depending entirely on my mood — you can add them up at the end of my career for a final verdict.

If it’s a tie, then you can do what you want.

james.lileks@startribune.com