In many ways, I enjoy living in the US. But there are some instances where this gal from the old world feels like a real alien. One of those instances is the Holidays. What is up with the Christmas ornaments??? I just have never been able to wrap my head around them! Well, let’s not generalize too much – some of it isn’t too bad. But then there is stuff like THIS:
Whatever lens you look at the world through – be it pagan, Christian, or any other dominant culture – certain symbols make more sense and are easier to understand than others. Evergreens and lights, for example, I totally get that. Where I come from, pigs, stars, gnomes and goats are as ubiquitous as jolly Santas and candy canes are here. I can even usually stomach those mega-hokey nativity scenes that pop up here and there. The red balls of course, have sinister origins in and of themselves, but pink flamingos and blown glass renditions of styrofoam cups? Uum… whaaa…???
These kinds of seemingly arbitrary, contextually detached decorations make many of us outsiders regard American Holiday decor with a kind of bemused wonder. Some of us ex-pats have even adopted bits and pieces of it for sheer kitsch value. My mother for example, found this ultra-campy white little light-up ceramic christmas tree in the house they bought. Every year, she puts it in her guest bath as a seasonal joke. It flickers on when you turn on the lights, and its priceless campiness makes me laugh every time. I laugh, but even though it’s hilarious and phenomenally hokey, I still get the idea. Funny or not, it still reads as a christmas tree. I’m not trying to be an uptight snob. I’m sure each and all of us have some funny or cheese-bally stuff around that we’re attached to – I know for sure I do. Stuff that definitely would incur a roll of the eye, or two. But, I just don’t get the pink flamingo. Or the soccer ball. Or the fire hydrant. Or the cruise ship…
Then, just the other day – after 23 years of living here, I had a major – no, better make that MAJOR – revelation! I overheard a grandmother as she was filling her basket with ornaments – one appearing (to me) more ridiculous-looking than the other. “My grandson learned to ride his bike this year”, she said. “I’m looking for an ornament with a bike.” And then I got it! This type of ornament was never meant to have any significance whatsoever in terms of traditional symbolism, cultural relevance etc. – at least not that I could see. Suddenly I SAW… The attraction lies in that they are yet another mode of self expression – like bumper stickers on a car, except three-dimensional. So, I guess, in essence Christmas ornaments here DO have cultural meaning in that they represent the interests and allegiances of the individual. I just never realized it before. US culture is all about the individual, so I guess it makes sense. The only thing I haven’t figured out is why these kinds of ornaments – since they have nothing to do with Christmas anyway – aren’t left hanging up year round. Or, they could be switched out seasonally – you know, hang the football up in fall during football season, the scuba diver up during summer, etc. Anyway, this revelation is a big relief, as my new understanding brings me closer to tolerating what will unfold in the next month or so. Bring it on!
My next holiday hurdle is to try to figure out why absolutely everything has to be covered in glitter… Could it be the urge to bring the effect of real snow on a blue-bird day inside? Bear with me while I try to work these things out. Or, if you have any insights, please help me out!
Speaking of football – I saw something else which confirms my ‘individual expression/bumper sticker’ theory. It was a so-called flocked tree. Flocked trees in general rub me the wrong way for so many reasons. I figure with beautiful Mt. Hood less than an hour away, why not escape for a day trip up there to get your fill of real snow-laden trees?
Even if there were no nearby place to take in the pure, white loveliness of a snow coated landscape, doesn’t it strike anyone else as odd to put a fake snowy tree in an environment where nothing else is flocked? I mean, shouldn’t everything else be frosted too? It just seems kind of incongruous to me when it isn’t… Or, maybe I’m just an old fogey who needs to lighten up. Anyway, I digress… The particular flocked trees to support my ‘decoration as bumper sticker’ argument were flocked in the colors of Oregon’s two rivaling football teams – the Ducks and the Beavers. I just about DIED when I saw them! Really – you’re going to take a perfectly good tree down to do THAT to it??? Unsolicited, it made me think of the idea of ‘Death With Dignity’ – which apparently does not apply to trees.
That said – today is Thanksgiving – the day that officially kicks off the Holiday Season here in the US. It has none of the weirdness surrounding Christmas. Besides a reason to enjoy good food and drink in the company of family and friends, its name gives cause to stop and reflect on all the things we have to be grateful for. I think it’s a really lovely Holiday, and I wish all you readers a wonderful Thanksgiving. Savor it well – the madness that ensues doesn’t let up until January.