Xmas Excess

'Tis the month before Christmas, and the Rix twins are ready to throw the switches on dueling supernovas of holiday cheer

For most of us, getting ready for the holidays means whipping up a batch of Chex mix, hacking up a Hickory Farms beef log and hoping that this year's monthlong ordeal will pass as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

But when it comes to Christmas, twin brothers Bob and Bernard Rix aren't like most folks. Yuletide masochists by contemporay Grinch standards, the pair annually spend the better part of a year turning their homes into high-kilowatt salutes to the celebration of Christ's birth.

Not that there's anything particularly religious about the flashy displays that have made them manger-players in the Valley's Christmas sightseeing scene. Erecting flashy electrical tableaux that have less in common with Bethlehem than they do the Las Vegas strip, they've turned their homes into glitzy displays that outshine any of the seasonal crepe-hanging seen in malls.

Last spring, while a lot of Phoenicians were still procrastinating about taking down those outdoor Christmas lights, Bernard was industriously turning sheets of plywood into "artwork"--nearly 100 freestanding angel cutouts that currently obliterate the exterior facade of his north Valley ranch house.

Not to be outdone, Bernard's brother Bob was deep into his own pre-Yule prep. One of his first tasks? Covering the floor of his bungalow on East Brill Street with plywood, then plastic sheeting, finally topping the entire surface with Astroturf.

An unorthodox way to get ready for Christmas? Not really, especially if you're expecting some 20,000 sightseers to be traipsing through your home for the holidays.

Not to mention the thousands more carbound visitors who will enjoy a drive-by Christmas at the brothers' expense. After all, how often do you get a chance to see electrical rooftop angels playing Frisbee with illuminated halos?

Fraternal twins, 58-year-old Bob and Bernard Rix have been "getting lit"--first as a team, then individually--for the majority of their lives. In the process, they've developed one of the most fascinating rivalries in the admittedly meager annals of seasonal decorating.

Brother against brother! Smurf against Santa! Dueling electrical bills! It's a strange form of Yuletide one-upsmanship--and one that would definitely have Joyce Brothers and Martha Stewart scratching their heads.

Even though separately the twins operate the Valley's biggest Christmas houses--and the only two that visitors can actually walk through--both men categorically deny any such rivalry. Asked to pose back to back for a portrait, for instance, the two absolutely refuse, claiming the shot would symbolically indicate bad blood between them.

Yet despite their protestations, subtle snipes and comparisons are never far from the surface. When a photographer shows up to shoot their individual displays, both men seek reassurance that his effort is indeed the more impressive of the two.

And, of course, there was that incident a few years ago when a Swedish TV crew visited each house. Never suspecting that Bob would actually see the foreign broadcast (the newscasters subsequently sent both brothers a copy), Bernard told the reporter, "I have quality; he has quantity."

"Bern never knew that I'd seen that clip," counters Bob. "I never mentioned it--but I didn't speak to him for six months."

The divorced father of six grown children, Bernard pooh-poohs the notion that there's any holiday ill will between him and his sibling.

"No, there's no rivalry," explains Bernard. "See, my brother is into lights--and the more, the better. He's running a light show. I've got an art show."

So why do two grown men devote their lives to gussying up their homes for Christmas?

That's a good question--and one to which neither brother can supply a very satisfactory answer. The best explanation Bernard can come up with? "If I didn't decorate, what else would I do with all this stuff?"

According to the brothers, their obsessive Christmas behavior goes as far back as they can rememember. "Bern and I'd spend hours hanging that old lead tinsel on the tree, making sure every strand was perfectly straight," recalls Bob. "Then, as the tree would dry out, the tinsel would weigh down the limbs. So every day, we'd run home from school, grab a pair of scissors and trim the tinsel so it wasn't dragging on the floor.

The twins grew up in Globe, and their latent decorating mania kicked into high gear while returning from a movie late one night in December. Passing city hall, the 12-year-old pair discovered a box of Christmas ornaments a custodian had evidently forgotten to put away.

The crustier Bob--he's Oscar Madison to his brother's Felix Unger--remembers that fateful heist. "We took 'em home and used 'em the next year," he explains pragmatically. "If we hadn't taken 'em, someone else would have."

When the family relocated to Phoenix in the mid-Fifties, the resourceful twins parlayed their ill-gotten gains and boundless imagination (neither brother has any formal art training) into an Amana freezer, a portable television and a lawn mower--top prizes in a locally sponsored decorating-on-a-budget Christmas contest they won three years running. "We spent maybe $18 on the whole thing," recalls Bernard. "We did a stained window, a few choirboys--nice, but nothing like we do now."

During the fourth year, when Bob was off serving an Army hitch, Bernard decorated alone--and he was crushed when his solo efforts only rated an honorable mention. Unable to understand why he hadn't won, he was somewhat appeased by a judge's sheepish confession.

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