We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

7 festive reads

Sitdown Sunday: The house with over 720,000 Christmas lights

Settle down in a comfy chair with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S CHRISTMAS EVE, and if you’ve got all of your decorations up and your shopping done, you might be in the mood to settle down in a comfy chair in a quiet corner for a well-earned rest.

With this in mind, we’ve hand-picked some of this month’s festive longreads for you to enjoy. 

1. Let there be lights

brooklyn-united-states-11th-dec-2023-the-spata-home-in-the-dyker-heights-section-of-brooklyn-new-york-is-covered-in-christmas-decorations-on-december-11-2023-known-as-the-most-famous-of-the-dy File photo of a house decorated for Christmas in Brooklyn, New York. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Timothy and Grace Gay hold the Guinness World Record for the most lights on a residential property. Their Christmas display, with over 720,000 lights and 255 programmed songs, are both a hit and a miss with their neighbours.

(The New York Times, approx 10 mins reading time)

Mr. Gay, 62, a retired engineering manager, and Dr. Gay, 61, who has a doctorate in nursing, said they are providing a great attraction for tourists and a social benefit for the community — on a recent night, nearly every visitor dropped cash into a bucket that a firefighter held out on the end of a wooden pole. The couple said they have collected $656,000 for various charities since 2011, with most of the donations going to the community support fund for the volunteer fire department. The month of merriment far outweighs the gripes of a few residents, they said. By Mr. Gay’s tally, 20 couples have even gotten engaged under the lights. “If you bring joy and happiness to 50,000 people and you have 10 or 20 don’t like you, I think that’s a fair trade off,” he said.

2. The world’s fastest cars

A great read from Ed Caesar all about ‘Hypercars’: the people who make them, what it’s like to drive them, how much it costs to buy them, and their super-rich clientele. 

(The New Yorker, approx 41 mins reading time)

One definition of a hypercar is a vehicle that nobody needs. Most have theoretical top speeds approaching or exceeding 300 m.p.h., which is much faster than Formula 1 cars, whose top speeds are about 220 m.p.h. Many hypercars also accelerate faster than Formula 1 cars. Hypercars, though, are ostensibly manufactured for the road. (A few models are designated as track-only.) Except for Germany’s autobahn, which has no speed limit, there are few public highways where one can use more than a fraction of a hypercar’s power. To some motoring aficionados, driving a hypercar is like crushing a nut with a diamond-encrusted sledgehammer. “They are trophies, big-game hunter’s trophies,” Mikey Harvey, the editor of the car magazine The Road Rat, told me recently. “They have little or no engineering value, or aesthetic value, or, frankly, functional value. But they are rare. And they are king of the hill. And every one is a little bit faster than the last one. They’re all so completely, undrivably fast on the road. If you take any of those cars anywhere near the outer limits of their performance envelope, you should get a long custodial sentence. . . . I don’t get it. I just think it’s appealing to the very worst of us.”

3. Dashing through the snow

reindeer-in-winter-lapland-finland A reindeer in Lapland, Finland. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Erika Benke writes about how reindeer help to keep Lapland snowy. 

(BBC Future, approx 9 mins reading time)

Research shows that global warming is in fact accelerating the shrubification of the Arctic, as the warmer, longer growing seasons speed up plant growth. This could lead to a cycle of more shrubs, more heat, and even more shrubs. Reindeer help slow down this process and the greening of the tundra by eating and trampling on plants. A study analysing satellite images of the shrub cover in the Yamal Peninsula in north-west Siberia found that vegetation in the area remained stable where there was a 75% increase in the reindeer population between 1986 and 2016, despite increasing summer temperatures.

The authors of the report say reindeer grazing in the Yamal Peninsula appears to have compensated for the effects of climate change. It has also helped preserve the tundra habitat so native species such as mosses, lichen and low-growing willows can continue to thrive. Jeremejeff and other reindeer herders in Lapland have seen this first hand. “Reindeer eat lichen and other plants. They also trample on them so they make sure the vegetation is not too thick, and that keeps the ground colder,” says Jeremejeff. “Thick vegetation on the ground would trap a lot of heat. If there are no leaves and grasses, the ground gets more frozen, and it freezes earlier in the winter.”

4. A Christmas Eve murder

A woman is brutally murdered on Christmas Eve in Hawaii in 1991. Later, a man is wrongfully convicted of killing her. Robert Kolker reports on the shocking investigation in the case that has yet to be solved. 

(The Atlantic, approx 32 mins reading time)

The place where Dana Ireland’s body was found is less than a half-hour drive from the Schweitzer family’s home, a rundown ranch house in a development called Hawaiian Beaches enshrouded by low palm trees and lush, tropical ferns. The homes are built close enough to one another that you can see and hear most anything your neighbor is up to. The Schweitzer family always stood out here. Ian and Shawn’s parents, Jerry and Linda Schweitzer, moved to the sleepy east coast of the Big Island in the 1970s from the more populated island of Oahu, where Jerry owned an auto body shop. Linda found work at a bank and later in the local prosecutor’s office, as a victim counselor. Other families in the subdivision were on public assistance; the Schweitzers didn’t need that. Ian and Shawn were the kids whose parents sprang for equipment for the whole little league so that everyone could afford to play. Ian saved enough money from his paper route to buy his own car—a used Volkswagen Beetle—which he fixed up himself before he was old enough to drive it. The Schweitzers “just had a little more than the next person,” Ian told me. “I think we were hated on right from the gate.”

5. Game theory

still-life-selection-of-board-games-monopoly-chess-cluedo-scrabble-with-playing-cards-and-gambling-chips File photo of a selection of board games. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Classic board games like Monopoly are a festive favourite, but modern-day games are more complex and focused on topics like history, politics and building empires. Matthew Hutson reports on what goes into modern game design and those who do it. 

(The New Yorker, approx 18 mins reading time)

“Designers are becoming more focussed on the experience the players are having, and are using a stronger tool kit to build better games,” Geoff Engelstein, who teaches board-game design at New York University and co-authored the encyclopedia of game mechanics, told me. In older games, he said, such as Risk and Monopoly, the goal was, frequently, to tear everyone else down, but in newer games this is often impossible; in the train game Ticket to Ride, for example, you can’t destroy other players’ tracks. It’s also become less common to lose a turn, which makes players less engaged, and games are increasingly designed to prevent blowouts by winners. Rob Daviau, the co-designer of Pandemic Legacy, the current No. 2 game on BoardGameGeek, is a co-owner of Restoration Games, a company that republishes older games while updating their mechanics. One common shift, he said, is from post-decision luck to pre-decision luck. Instead of striking a monster and then rolling the dice to see if you’ve caused damage, you roll the dice first, then have to get creative about how to use what you’ve rolled.

6. Christmas away from home

Jack White speaks to one Ukrainian woman who will be spending Christmas in Ireland for the second year, and the families who are hosting refugees. 

(The Irish Examiner, approx 7 mins reading time)

Since she moved to Ireland, friends of the 38-year-old have been injured and had their homes destroyed while her parents, who are in their 60s, remain there. Her hometown, Chernihiv, is close to the Russian border and was besieged by Putin’s troops in the early months of the invasion. It was attacked just four months ago when a missile struck a theatre, resulting in seven people, including a six-year-old girl, being killed, while 148 were injured. Despite this, her parents remain adamant about staying. “I’m extremely worried, I would love them to move somewhere else, but they say that this is our land, this is where we belong, and this is where the graves of our parents and grandparents are located,’ she said.


usa-macaulay-culkin-in-20th-century-fox-holiday-special-home-alone-2-lost-in-new-york-1992-plot-one-year-after-kevin-mccallister-was-left-home-alone-and-had-to-defeat-a-pair-of-bumbling Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The Talkboy toy in Home Alone 2 was invented specially for the film – and ended up being a phenomenon. This longread from last year is a fun history of how it was made.

(Vanity Fair, approx 11 mins reading time)

The silver hardshell device fit in the palm of a child’s hand and came equipped with a slot-like handle on the back for an easy grip. It featured a telescoping microphone and a cassette tape for recording sounds and conversations. A tuner allowed those recorded snippets to be slowed down or sped up for playback, creating a groggy, low-pitched tone or a squeaky, chipmunk-like cadence, respectively. “John went crazy for it,” Marc Rosenberg, then senior vice president of marketing for Tiger Electronics, recalls. 

Note: The Journal generally selects stories that are not paywalled, but some might not be accessible if you have exceeded your free article limit on the site in question.

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel