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Landscapers using different bulbs now Lights: People who shun the time and danger involved with stringing Christmas lights are hiring landscapers turned holiday decorators for the winter.


It's holidays without the hassles.

Year after year after year, Harold A. Carter dragged out boxes of snarled Christmas lights and spent hours untangling the wires. Then he'd climb up a rickety ladder and hang from a tree limb to drape a line of bulbs -- all in the spirit of Christmas.

But this year, the two-story-high rooftop wasn't that appealing to the 62-year-old minister from New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore. So his wife, Weptanomah, picked up the telephone, dialed a holiday landscaper and voila! Christmas cheer in the form of thousands of mini-bulbs.

So easy. So quick. So very merry.

In this day and age, the need for holiday time management has taken on a life of its own. Need gifts? Hire a personal shopper. Need a turkey dinner with all the fixings? Hire a caterer. Sending holiday cards to your friends from afar? E-mail them.

This season, for a handsome fee, several companies have begun stringing lights outside homes. That, say die-hard decorators, defies some time-honored traditions.

"Oh, it's horrible," said Darlene Hosier, 48, who lives in Baltimore's Hampden area, where most neighbors find great joy in climbing on roofs to top them with Santa and his reindeer and a bonanza of lights. "To hire someone to do your decorating, it just loses the whole meaning of the holiday, doesn't it?"

If Hosier is the spokeswoman for old-fashioned, do-it-yourself Christmases, David D. Smith could be the holiday-on-the-go go-to guy.

The 48-year-old businessman moved into his Brooklandville mansion four months ago. In the process of renovating, Smith hired RAR Landscaping -- which transforms itself into the holiday-decorating franchise Christmas Decor in the winter -- to make his two-story brick home look festive.

Yesterday, two landscapers appeared at his door on the coldest day of the holiday season to decorate the brick archway and shrubbery. Bundled in layers of clothes, Jorge Valdivia and Bartolo Flores wrapped hundreds of feet of lights around their bare hands as a leather-jacketed Smith hopped in his Mercedes Benz and cruised into the morning.

"It was No. 82 on my list of things to do," Smith said. "I don't know of many families who put up extension ladders and go up 30 feet to risk their life. You could get blown off the ladder and get impaled on a Christmas tree or something."

The danger was the reason used most often by people who called Christmas Decor, said co-owner Allan Davis, who wanted to find work for his landscapers during the winter. Davis and Richard Rothstein's company focuses on leaf and snow removal for several months. Last winter, which had few snowflakes, forced them to reinvent their company.

"Look at it this way: People don't think twice about paying someone to decorate the inside of their homes," Davis said. "It's like hiring someone to cut your grass or paint your home. It makes their house look nice. In this case, some people want their house to look incredible."

Weptanomah Carter says that was why she used the service; she always dreamed of having her lights professionally done. In the night air, the Carter home in Stevenson is impressive in its brilliance, with lights outlining the two-story building's several brick arches.

"I think it's important for people to find something that will lift them," said Harold Carter. "For us, the traditional lights of Christmas are a lifting experience."

Hiring someone to put up lights isn't cheap. It costs about $600 to $800 to light the average house. Some people spend $6,000.

There's an added bonus, though. Bulb burnouts are taken care of by the service. Dangling wires knocked out of place are also. Gone are the days of leaving holiday lights out until February because the whistling wind is too cold to mess with ladders and wires.

People such as Steve Frank of Finally Affordable Lawncare in Sparks, who also has reinvented his landscaping service into holiday decorating, will come out after New Year's Day to wrap up lights, box them and store them. Christmas Decor does the same.

"We still decorate everything inside and everything outside, but this gave me the opportunity to do something really special," said Debbie Casper of Timonium, who used Christmas Decor to decorate a 2 1/2 -story spruce in her back yard.

Finding new ways to cope with the frenetic holiday pace hasn't eroded the traditional spirit, said Jack Vaeth, a psychiatrist at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson. "From a social psychology standpoint, we live in a very busy, high stress, self-indulgent society," he said.

"What happened to the Bing Crosby Christmas with the holly berries and mistletoe and making your own turkey and not ordering it from Holly Ham?" Vaeth said. "Maybe it's a shame that society has evolved into this, but thank God for people who provide this kind of service so that you have time for quality time in your life."

Pub Date: 12/24/98

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