The holiday season has felt a bit underwhelming this year. Maybe it's the lack of snow in Colorado -- which rules for those of us (read: grumps like me) who think weather below 65 degrees is pointless (but still results in this weird depression caused by a depletion of the feeling that I'm in Catholic school again and this is supposed to be "Christmas vacation" time). Or maybe it's that I quit my job at Shirt Folding Store before the holiday shopping season really even began, and to me, nothing says Christmas like the mall.
Luckily, in the commune where I live, we have the kind of friends who still send out handwritten letters for the holidays. We received a letter last week from our dear friend Alex, currently stationed in Brattleboro, Vermont, where she makes music and tiny cakes and sends us detailed accounts of her magical, everyday hooliganism. But it was in this multi-page mini-tome that Alex said something that explained exactly why I don't feel like it's going to be Christmas this year:
"I'm sick of Xmas not being psychedelic; I don't like these blow-up things on people's lawns."
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And I couldn't agree more. Give me an ill-complexioned baby Jesus in a manger half his size, give me Santa and his elves with bulbous noses and deviant smiles working away in a mythical toy workshop, and for Christmas's sake, give me the psychedelia that is Christmas lights. Just don't give me an air balloon-style Spongebob SquarePants tethered to a mailbox. I hate that shit.
What's so Christmasy about an overzealous cartoon-lawn ornament puffed up by a generator? Nothing. Christmas in America is supposed to mean weird religious and commercial symbolism crushed by the overwhelming glow of hundreds of twinkling bulbs that may or may not set your house on fire due to faulty wiring. It's supposed to mean the stop-motion Rankin/Bass story of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer told in the form of homemade front yard interpretations.
I guess I have a soft spot in my tropically-warm, winter-hating heart for blow-up Peanuts characters -- but that's only because, well, how could I not love A Charlie Brown Christmas? Secretly, I wish there was a way to recreate the "Christmas Dance" in wobbly yard-art form, but that would take a lot of motorized plywood and paint and energy I don't have.
Then there is the rise in recent years of these sorts of synchronized lighting displays. They are definitely more fun to look at than a yard full of air-bloated nylon figures, but they still miss the ultimate point of Christmas lights -- to seem unprofessional. Even the most strategically placed strings of lights and Three Wisemen should be a little off-kilter.
The Wisemen should not align perfectly with the sidewalk; the lights should hang unevenly from each eave and not quite make it around window and door frames. That's what makes the whole decorating-for-the-holidays thing special -- you get the idea that some person spent hours and hours unpacking boxes of carefully wound strings of lights to create a mythical moment strangers can enjoy as they creep by in their cars.
And I don't just love Christmas lights at Christmas time. I love them year-round. They have an incomparably nostalgic glow that simultaneously feels like Christmas, my high school bedroom shrine to the Smashing Pumpkins, my first apartment and the eternal quarrels of Milon and Panna II in the the East Village -- two restaurants where Christmas lights and chili lights hang together in one gorgeous display of fire hazardry and complete nonsense.
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Seriously, if you're at all a stubborn wisher of a time when Christmas was still psychedelic or you just appreciate the appeal of the best kind of lighting ever created, eat in both of those restaurants next time you're in New York City. The food is okay and the bathroom is like any other public restroom in the city (non-existent) -- but the lights? Definitely psychedelic. And you couldn't fit an obese snow globe made of parachute material and hot air in there if you tried.