Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merry “Kitschmas” to All…

Ah! The Holidays! Chestnuts roasting on open fires, Jack Frost with his pesky nose-nipping habit, Yule logs in fire grates, holly and mistletoe swagged over door jambs, and the lights. Oh, the holiday lighting! Not since Edward Johnson first electrified his family’s Christmas tree back in 1882 have we seen such spectacles of illumination gracing our lawns and public venues. For some "illuminating" history, check out www.oldchristmaslights.com.

Me? I’m a bit of a holiday lighting connoisseur, one with a specific eye for tasteful and tacky ornamentation, which I firmly believe harkens back to my Midwestern, Bible Belt youth.

My personal preference decidedly leans more toward the traditional, Currier & Ives style of holiday d├ęcor. I remember a stunning, red brick, Georgian home – black shutters, white trim, wide, looming porch, and two chimneys – festooned in holiday splendor. Real holly and evergreen wreaths adorned the doors and porches, white lights (long before white only lights were fashionable) wound around manicured shrubbery, and huge red velvety bows held each element in place. From every window shone a single candle to light the prodigal’s path home, while the main event, the family Christmas tree, seemed from the street to fill the entire living room with glowing warmth, red ribbons, sparkling glass ornaments, and if you bent down just so, an ethereal, golden angel hovering on top. For me, it was, and remains, the apex of tasteful holiday decoration.

Another street in my old home town has long been famous throughout that little community for its coordinated holiday decorations. Candy Cane Lane, they call it. Besides the obligatory, four-foot, illuminated, red and white candy cane obstructing the mailman’s access to the box, each home displayed a variety of lights spilling multi-colored cheer from its eaves, and a sequential three-block tableau of early ‘70’s, animatronic Santas, elves, and reindeer. There was, of course, the one house on the lane with its life-sized, garishly painted, two-dimensional manger scene complete with floodlights for night viewing of the Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Magi; and "O Holy Night" looped through the not-so-neatly hidden loud speaker behind the Heralding Angel’s derriere. At least the snow – when we had it – covered the cords and other wiring. It wasn’t my Currier & Ives house, but it was on our way home from midnight Mass, thereby making a wee-hours, drive-by ogling a family tradition, of sorts. Another ploy by overworked parents to tire excited children before stuffing stockings and hidden presents under our own, limp, sadly artificial tree.

But that was a long time ago, and in a far different climate than my, now, Central Florida home. Here, many of us hope and pray for a cold snap to swoop down the Eastern seaboard before fully feeling the holiday spirit. Native residents plan Carolina mountain excursions so their young children can experience snow. (No need…I’ve got pictures and a vivid memory.) And then there are the lights. No, not the lovely Georgian manor lights that I so fondly recall; those are reserved for public venues and mall atriums. What “graces” the homes of many Florida neighborhoods is, well…definitely not Currier & Ives, and even less like Candy Cane Lane.

Who knows if the trees displayed mid-picture window are real or not? With advancements in rendering the lifeless lifelike, who really cares? Just spritz the evergreen smelling air freshener, and you’re set.

Here we have Santa – fat, red, and jolly – sporting shades and speeding through the holidays atop inflatable speed boats, or Harley-Davidsons, or NASCAR replicas, with a phalanx of elves dashing haplessly after dripping tattered, tinsel presents in their wake across green, irrigated lawns. Santa’s rosy cheeks (not his face, mind you) are seen clamoring into unused, ornamental chimneys. Monochromatic lighting displays abound on spiraling trees, or icicle strings, or netting draped over ragged shrubs and palm fronds. Sheets of blinking lights illuminate rooftop landing strips. Manger scenes are faded, free-standing, plastic statuary with a 40-watt bulb screwed into the back of each piece. There are Christmas-y carousels, and dancing penguins, and bounce-house snow globes revolving on practically every block.

Those who attempt the more tactful opt for cleverly wrapped light strings, or glowing balls, or glimmering tubes hung from the branches of oak trees with a downward sputter that is more reminiscent of the static charge climbing rabbit ears in the science museum than it is of holiday cheer and merriment. Some people over-light their lawns, synchronizing the display to holiday music. One homeowner in a neighboring municipality has a sign in the yard informing viewers which station on your A.M. dial to tune in to as you drive by a lighting display worthy of competition with the now Disney-owned Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights.

Then there are those who fully embrace the snow-less, Florida lifestyle, and fill their front lawns with Santas in board shorts, diving into inflatable kiddie pools while martini-swilling elves laze in inner tubes, and porpoises tail walk around neon pink flamingos wearing red, fur-trimmed stocking caps. Perhaps I’m just too old-fashioned, too traditional in my holiday mindset. I want poinsettias, ethereal angels and Nutcracker Suites. Give me sleigh bells, silver bells, The Carol of the Bells, or nothing at all.

During one of my evening strolls, neighbors with far too many lawn ornaments year-round – my township’s “kitsch” house – were busily rearranging, restringing and resetting their holiday fare following a rather breezy afternoon. The spiraling light trees were rearranged into a little corner of Christmas forest strewn with gaily colored, twinkling presents beneath. The eight tiny, light-sculpture reindeer were firmly staked before a miniature plywood sleigh. Red, stuffed-nylon Santa-doll was stapled securely behind the reigns, while winking-mooning Santa was bolted to the chimney.

“Wind did some damage,” I asked.
“Just a bit,” one of the bent figures replied. “At least it will be calm for our new manger scene.” The bent figure pointed to a cumbersome box with yards of nylon spilling out of the top. The picture on the box top was covered, and I didn’t want to snoop, so I continued my constitutional.

Rounding the corner towards home a good thirty-minutes later, and much to my dismay, I was greeted with the newest holiday addition to the “Kitschmas” house. A 6-foot, inflatable, bounce-house style manger scene with cartoonish Joseph, Mother and Child grinning whimsically to one and all beneath a pinwheeling Star of Bethlehem. Ah! The Holidays in Florida!

We wish you a very Merry Kitschmas!