News story: A man in Tampa, Fla., hired some pros to put up his Christmas lights on Nov. 6. His homeowners association fined him $1,000 for putting them up too early.

Perhaps the problem wasn't having the lights up. It was having the lights on. My sympathy ebbs for someone who turns on the lights on Nov. 8. It's the visual equivalent of setting off fireworks during the last week of June.

The problem is also busybody junior Stasi snitches in HOAs, who lie awake at night convinced that someone six blocks over painted their mailbox an unapproved hue. Granted, it's on the porch, you can't see it from the street and you have to walk up to the house to take a look, snap a picture and then compare the color against the list of permitted colors, but it's the principle of the thing.

There are rules. Allow a nonapproved mailbox hue, and people will think "I can choose a gray shingle that has a slight white fleck" instead of the approved Charcoal and Charcoal Dusk. I mean, really, you have two choices, it's not like you're living in some Communist hell.

Permit early light installation, and it all falls apart. Anarchy. People mowing their lawns so the grass is an inch high instead of three-quarters. Doorbells lacquered with red nail polish. Flags, oh my lord, flags. The next thing you know children talk back to their parents, dogs bite their owners, there's partner-swapping basement bacchanalias and people parking cars on the street. Overnight. Aliens arrive in a century and see a burned-out husk of a planet, skeletons in the streets with their bony hands around the bony throats of others, and wonder what happened to unleash civil disorder.

Bob's pre-Thanksgiving holiday lights illumination, that's what. People saw that, thought "Well, I guess there is no God to whom I must answer," and it all fell apart.

I put my lights up early. But I don't live in an HOA. My neighborhood is a live-and-let-live place that keeps the peace by time-honored Minnesota ways: behind-the-back whisper campaigns and undetectable ostracization. (Kidding!) (Mostly.)

I put up the lights weeks ago, because it was warm, and I had too many memories of stopping the tree-festooning process to go inside, draw a bucket of hot water and attempt to get feeling back in my hands. If that pinky snaps off and drops in the snow, you're not finding it 'til spring.

But what if a perambulating neighbor paused while I was stringing lights early, and called up with a simple question:

"Why are you doing this?"

"Because it's tradition." (I do a little "Fiddler on the Roof" dance, hands up in the air.)

"So you're using a Jewish-themed musical to justify putting up Christmas lights? I'm confused."

"First of all, these are non-denominational bulbs. Their glow extends to all, regardless of creed. Second, remember what Tevye said about tradition: 'Why do we do it? I don't know. But it's what God wants us to do.' Or, in this case, my wife."

"So you wouldn't do it if she didn't want it."

This is where you peer at Mr. Strawman who wandered into your column, and say: Are you a married man?

That is a question that can be used in almost any circumstance. The guy at the oil-change place says you might need to replace your air filter, and you pause and say "Are you a married man?" And he understands, right away. Because if you don't replace the filter, it's going to fail at some crucial moment when your spouse absolutely depends on you to drive somewhere, possibly to save a dog or get saffron from the grocery store because the dinner will be ruined without it, and there are six people coming over, and it will be your fault, and you will never admit that you could've avoided this.

Or you're a NASA scientist who's being briefed on a meteor heading toward Earth. It will wipe out all life. The person briefing you asks for suggestions. "Are you a married man?" Oh, you're right. There's no hope. I'd best go home and be with my family.

I mean, I've used that line in the drive-through at a fast-food place, and they automatically give me a salad.

Anyway. It's possible I would not put up lights if left to my own devices, because those devices consist of a remote and a TV and a phone and computer, and they're much more fun than stringing stiff plastic wire around our prickly firs (Genus porcupinus) and swapping out dead bulbs with numb fingers. But our spouses encourage our better selves. So we untangle the dense griswold of knotted strands, array them with care, set the timers, and carve a cave of light in the mountain of winter darkness.

At least I waited until after Thanksgiving to turn them on. And I will wait until I'm nagged in February to take them down. By that I mean "Unplug them and leave it 'til spring." Doing the least and hoping it counts for the most — well, as I said. I'm a married man. We're nothing if not practical. A meteor could hit between now and then.

Also, I did not throw out the saffron when I was cleaning the cupboards, and there's no way anyone can prove it.