I have become a fuddy duddy when it comes to Christmas. Whereas when I younger I used to string together garlands out of popcorn for the tree, construct gingerbread churches complete with stained glass windows made from melted Life Savers, and wrestle the dog to the floor so I could tie a Santa hat around her head (she loved it), now I can no longer be asked to do more than record A Christmas Story so I can delete it the following August. Thank God not everyone in this state is a boor like me — going around to see the lawns of Minnesotans who are emphatic about decorations is one of the best parts of this time of the year.

I can’t be bothered to drive myself, of course, but that is what Experience the Twin Cities is here for. Every year during the holiday season the Minneapolis-based tour service fills up its 14 seat buses, which are heated and well-windowed, to haul people around for decoration gawking and general merriment. We boarded at the Mall of America, signed a waiver that the company has required ever since an unfortunate brewery tour mishap, and were shuttled out to the suburbs.

En route to the action our guide Michelle regaled us with Christmas trivia and jokes. (What do you call a kangaroo at the North Pole? Lost.) It was my girlfriend and I and a mother and her daughter on the bus. The little girl was still at the age where she had likely never rolled her eyes in her life, and she was over the moon with the pageantry of the evening. Were it not for the enthusiastic vibe she radiated our tour could not have been as festive. The lesson is to take your kids on this tour, or, in the event that you don’t have kids, make some and then take them.

We cruised through South Saint Paul, where bushes were decked out in pro-Vikings purple and gold and the stars on gables beamed down to illuminate nativity scenes. One house, that of a true enthusiast, had a train with its wheels illuminated in such a way as to suggest it was moving. We went past Gertens garden center, which had turned their giant trees into towering corkscrews of light.

Inver Grove Heights has an annual Christmas decoration contest, so it’s a hotbed of festivity. At one house our driver set the radio to a frequency advised by a lawn sign. This clever fellow had not only created his own Christmas music broadcast, but also programmed the countless lights on his lawn to flicker to the rhythm. Elation doesn’t do justice to the little girl’s reaction to hearing “Let it Go” from Frozen accompanied by a thousand points of stuttering light. “I wonder how you can sleep with all this stuff on?” she asked.

We stopped outside another home with every inflatable thing imaginable: Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Darth Vader, Yoda, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster (before Dennis the Elf yanked all his teeth out), Minions, World War I Flying Ace Snoopy, Santa driving NASCAR, Santa directing airport traffic, Santa filing his tax returns, Santa in a Marine uniform, and a Marine bulldog with his chest puffed out (Oorah). 

Then, in the most poignant moment, we saw Santa perched on the top of one home, illuminated from behind, with a glowing trickle delicately cascading from his trousers down onto the driveway.

On our way back to the mall we played Christmas bingo until everyone had won a candy, or at least been awarded one as a consolation prize. The entire excursion took about two hours, and I loved it. Everyone loved it. If you can’t be bothered to festoon every open inch of your property with LEDs and inflatable cartoon characters but would still like to siphon off the holiday spirit from the more industrious, or are yourself an ardent decorator who’d like to torture yourself with pangs of perceived inadequacy by the sheer scope of others’ decorations, then you ought to take the Festive Holiday Lights Tour this year. Visit experiencethetwincities.com to learn more.


By David Scheller