It’s one of those shared beliefs. A vision statement. A guiding principle. You have those in your marriage when two tightly wound wonky types get married. Benchmarks. Milestones. Strategic Plans. If Chris and I ever did go into marriage counseling, we’d have to bring a whiteboard to the session to get our hypothetical therapist up to speed. It’s true. Our family life is built on stated core values.
One of those core values is that Christmas Is Supposed To Be Tacky. It was seventeen years ago, and we were stringing lights on our very first Christmas tree. The conversation went like this.
“White lights or multicolored lights?”
“Oh, definitely the multicolored string!”
“I was worried you would think they were tacky.”
“Oh, of course they are. Christmas is supposed to be tacky!”
Christmas is Supposed to be Tacky.
It’s become the core value of how we decorate for Christmas chez Rose — not to be tacky on purpose, but not to fret about it. It’s a freeing core value to have. When we decorate for Christmas, we just do whatever the hell we want to, without stopping to consider whether it’s “too much,” or “in bad taste.” We don’t second guess ourselves, ever, which is why the wreath on our front door is an artificial one featuring a large teddy bear in a reindeer scarf, and gingerbread men. It’s adorable. I’ve noticed a couple of people looking sideways at it. True, we usually have a real wreath on the front door, and I usually just tie a big bow on it, but I adore our teddy bear wreath, and this year, at least until we get around to going to the Christmas tree lot to buy our tree and real wreath, I put the teddy bear on the front door instead of inside the house in the family room where it usually goes.
You know those plastic nativity sets? The light up ones? Life size? Oh yeah. We have one. Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the shepherd, sheep, ox, ass, three wise men and their three camels. It’s taken over our front porch, and, for added effect, we spread a couple of bales of hay around to make it look more like a manger and less like painted light-up plastic figures on our front porch, but the hay only highlights the plasticky plasticness of the Holy family. Our intention was to have fun and make the kids happy, but if I had wanted to make the point to everyone who drives by our street looking at the Christmas lights, “Christmas is about JESUS, in your FACE,” I would not have failed. I keep hoping our hooliganish neighbors will stick Groucho Marx glasses on the key players, or pirate hats, or clown wigs, but so far, it hasn’t happened.
I’ve seen other houses in other neighborhoods, neighborhoods where the houses sell for twice what houses in my neighborhood sell for, with the same idea, but done differently, with non-electrified, non-plasticky nativity sets in the front yard, spotlighted. Yes, it’s prettier than the one I have, but I priced one, once, and it was more than our monthly mortgage payment, so I didn’t buy it. That’s when it dawned on me.
“Tacky” is a label we throw around a lot, especially in Dallas, when what we really want to say is “I can afford a nicer one that that.”
It’s not a nice sentiment, but it’s one that runs as an undercurrent through a great deal of what we do, especially in the way we dress and decorate our homes, and especially at Christmas.
I heard it from a good friend this week, worried that her husband would not do a good enough job with the lights, that her house would look, “All Redneck-ey.” That her neighbors would be mad at her about it. It’s a vague undercurrent, that the single string of (multicolored) lights strung in a hurry looks “trashy.” Then there’s the opposite fear, the house where someone has gone to a huge amount of time and effort to string up as many electric lights in as many configurations as possible. There’s a house like that on my way home, and I love driving by it — but I’ve heard it derided by more than one neighbor as “tacky.”
There’s a cottage industry in Dallas, installing Christmas lights. It’s not uncommon for whole streets of houses to have their lights “professionally” done, which, to the credit of the crews of men who do the work, does look absolutely amazing, with strings of bulbs clipped onto the ridges and eaves of steep roofs, and trees wrapped in lights to the tip tops of the branches. I’ve never priced it out, but I have heard it starts at a thousand dollars to wrap a tree. You don’t often see it done in “multi” light strings and you don’t often see the professionally lighted house with a blowup Frosty on the lawn, either.
Me? I love it all. I love houses that look like the Las Vegas strip, and I love the professionally done houses, the tasteful ones. I love the blowup Frosty and the blowup Snoopy and the reindeer and sleigh all tricked out in white lights. I love the single string of multicolored lights on the apartment balcony — especially with the big bulbs, and I love the Italian nativity sets with the spotlight on Mary’s face on the front lawns of the multi-million-dollar mansions. It’s a reminder that Christmas is for everyone, young and old, rich and poor. Christmas is for people with great taste and terrible taste, and people with no taste at all, who just buy the lights and string them up without even thinking about it at all. Yeah, Christmas is for people, including me, who sit around and pass judgement on others for their taste, or lack thereof, or their excess, or lack thereof.
Christmas isn’t about good taste. It’s about exuberance, and joy, and magic — and it’s a reminder, even (especially) to people like me, people who are uptight and perfectionistic enough to subjugate romance into a strategic plan complete with benchmarks and metrics, that the transformation of God into Man, of Numen into Viscera means that God really and truly does “get” us in all of our messy humanity: our fears and insecurities and pompous self-posturing, and tendency toward judgement.
It’s the one time of the year when joy transcends everything else. Tacky? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as exuberant.