The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Holiday lights bring joy to many, but others are irked

By JOHN ROCHE

When Matthew Tynan decorated his family’s home on Route 121 for Christmas, he hoped it would spread some holiday cheer to his new neighbors and passersby.

In large part, the bright lights, illuminated displays including Santa aboard a reindeer-pulled sleigh and a snowman and other decorations on the Tynans’ home and in their front yard have gotten a positive reception.

But the Tynans also got what they described as “hate mail” in the form of anonymous letters left in the mailbox of their home, just east of Route 22.

“Our intention was to spread a little Christmas spirit, to celebrate the joy of the holidays as a family, to share that with our neighbors, and since we live on such a highly traveled road, maybe give everyone driving by a reason to think about the magic of the holidays for a moment in their busy schedules,” said Matthew Tynan, who moved into the Bedford Village home in June with his wife and their two young children. “We never in a million years expected there would be any controversy from it.”

Mr. Tynan said that he’s been approached by many of his neighbors and other Bedford residents who said they are thrilled with the festive holiday display. “It seems every other car that passes slows down to take a closer look, some pull over to take it all in, and we’ve even had a few cars pull into our driveway to enjoy the lights,” he said this week. “We’ve had people ring our bell to thank us for doing it, saying they love the decorations,” Mr. Tynan explained. “The response was very positive, so I was shocked to learn that someone wrote a letter to the newspaper to complain about our house.”

In that letter, which appeared in the Dec. 9 edition of The Record-Review, longtime Bedford resident Edmund Dunst complained that the Tynans’ holiday lighting display is “excessive, tasteless and frankly ridiculous,” and questioned whether the town had any jurisdiction to “control” holiday decorations on private residences.

Mr. Dunst’s letter to the editor apparently prompted a pair of other critical letters, which were not signed and placed in the family’s mailbox.

“Soon after the letter was printed in the paper, we got two unsigned notes in our mailbox complaining about how we decorated, including one that had a clipping of the negative letter that basically reiterated the points the letter made, and telling us that this didn’t belong in Bedford,” Mr. Tynan said. 

After hearing about the letter from a friend, Mr. Tynan said he was not only surprised but also a bit depressed that someone would find his family’s holiday decorations excessive or offensive.

“I was a bit down for a few days after that letter appeared in the paper,” he said. “But then neighbors, friends and even strangers started going out of their way to tell us that they liked the lights, and thanking us for bringing them a little extra Christmas cheer. One 30-year-resident of the town came to the house to tell me that we shouldn’t let what he called a few stodgy people dim our holiday spirit. And we’re not going to.”

Some neighbors wrote letters to the editor in defense of the Tynans’ decorations, and many more have sent notes of support directly to the family, according to Mr. Tynan.

Elisa Milkes, a Bedford resident who wrote in support of the display, said she doesn’t even celebrate Christmas but felt “joyful” just seeing it.

“It’s true that much of Bedford has a stately charm, which perhaps is the result of the collective understated tastes of most of its residents, but I hardly think that charm is at risk from a fun and lively holiday display that is visible at night for a month or so,” Ms. Milkes wrote. “I actually smiled the first time I saw it and every time since. Here is a family, I thought, that is having a blast over Christmas. And since their home is lovely to look at generally, I feel that we all got a boost when this home and these homeowners came to town. Surely, Bedfordites are not so cranky and old at heart that we can’t enjoy a fun and frivolous (I shudder to think of their expense at stringing everything up), colorful and slightly zany holiday display.”

Three Bedford Village families wrote a join letter thanking their relatively new neighbors and another homeowner for their holiday lights, which they said “makes our little village sparkle.”

The Hughes, Hull and Gerken families asked the community newspaper to publish their “letter to Santa,” whom they credited for having something to do with the festive displays. “We know times are hard, people are struggling and decorations may not seem important — but to us, they are. We say ‘Bah humbug’ to all who would darken our town,” the families wrote in their letter. “To those Grinches who want us to dim the holiday spirit, dear Santa, we hope you’ll give them little extra Christmas cheer in their stockings this year.”

The Tynans said they are grateful for the verbal and written support they have received both publicly and privately.

“It meant a lot to hear from people who said they appreciate the lights,” he said. “We’ve made some new friends from the whole thing, and gotten to meet more of our neighbors. And before and definitely since that critical letter appeared, the responses we’ve gotten have been overwhelmingly positive.”

A 5-year-old girl left a hand-drawn picture of the Tynans’ home decorated for the holidays, which the family said was particularly touching. “Her depiction of our home was really neat, and her note was very sweet,” Mr. Tynan said. “She asked us to please keep the lights and decorations up because she really loves them. And she said thank you, like most of the dozen or so letters we’ve gotten in the past two weeks do.”

As for the question Mr. Dunst raised in his letter to the editor about whether the town could restrict holiday displays on homes, the answer is no.

Bedford’s director of planning, Jeff Osterman, said that although he was unaware of any complaints about the Tynans’ home or any other property, he said the town’s sign ordinance clearly does not apply to holiday displays on private property.

Holiday lights have been the center of controversy in the past in Bedford. For several years, there was at times passionate debate about whether the town should permit holiday displays on town-owned property. Two years ago, in an effort to quell the perennial controversy, the town board adopted a resolution banning the placement of a menorah, crèche or any other religious or secular symbol at or around the town house, considered the center of town government in Bedford. The resolution also established a formal policy regarding holiday displays on town-owned property in Bedford Hills, Katonah and Bedford Village, requiring any individual or group to submit a written request if they wished to display any holiday symbol on town-owned sites.

And last year, the lighting of evergreen tree in Katonah and Bedford Hills almost did not happen because the chambers of commerce in those hamlets could no longer foot the bill for those longstanding traditions. But the community rallied, and merchants and residents donated the funds to light the tree in Katonah and David Singer, a Bedford Hills resident and owner of Robison Oil, paid for the tree near Depot Plaza to be lit through the holidays.    

The little spark of controversy and few complaints about the home on Route 121 this year won’t dissuade the family from making their display an annual tradition. Mr. Tynan said he plans to decorate in similar fashion next year. “It’s Christmas, and we hope we can make this special time of year a little brighter for others,” he said. “People reaching out to us in appreciation of our lights have definitely brightened the holidays for our family.”




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DECEMBER 23, 2011

SCOTT MULLIN PHOTO

The Tynan family brightly decorated their home on Route 121 just east of Route 22 for Christmas, drawing criticism from a few neighbors who consider it excessive and gratitude from others who think it provides much-needed holiday cheer.