Despite what you might have heard, there is no “War on Christmas.” Christmas is alive and well, and in full force everywhere you go at this time of year. And that’s great. It’s fascinating and exciting to watch entire cities transform to get into the holiday spirit. It seems like every business, building, and public space is doing something to acknowledge the holiday season. But more and more it seems like that “spirit” has gotten lazy, relying on tired tropes, and increasingly irrelevant symbols. For public places this is the one time of the year they make a change to their appearance, so why not make that change more meaningful, more impactful?
Why is Christmas in the United States so reliant on imagery from Victorian England and 19th century Northern Europe? Why are decorations so focused on the material aspect of gift-giving? This is not to say that there is no place for traditions, but there are as many holiday traditions as there are people and families celebrating. And there is a lot of room for more creativity in how we express those holiday traditions through decorations.
Exploring some of the holiday decorations in downtown Los Angeles recently, I couldn’t help but think how out of place all of the snowflake decorations are in a city that almost never sees freezing temperatures, and where rain is considered a severe weather event. We do have our own distinct seasons here in Los Angeles (and no, I don’t just mean “pilot season” or “award season”), so why do we have to import someone else’s winter?
But mixed in with that parade of incongruous snowflakes, there are also some signs of real risk-taking peeking through. At a half-finished development called The Bloc, where a square motif permeates the signage and marketing materials, an abstracted Christmas Tree is made out of painted wooden boxes. If you’re thinking this tree of blocks at a place called The Bloc is too on the nose, just remember that we’re talking about holiday decorations and everything is cheesy. At least they were thinking outside the box (pun intended).
Even those laser projector lights that exploded onto the scene last year mark a refreshing reboot of the home Christmas lights tradition. Even if some other urbanism writers find them disconcerting, they are at least more interesting than those “icicle lights” that never even looked like icicles to begin with. (Full disclosure: I have icicle lights on my house.)
Or maybe we should all just aspire to be more like Descanso Gardens—which I only learned about thanks to an Instragram-storm from a couple friends—where they take the idea of holiday lights to a whole new, mesmerizing (and made-for-social-media) level.
The possibilities are endless, and we shouldn’t be afraid of being new or different in how we spread our holiday cheer. Doing something the same way everyone else does, just because that’s how everyone else does it, doesn’t make it tradition, it makes it boring. And if it sounds like a crazy idea to break with established holiday imagery, just remember that somewhere in our past, someone thought it was a good idea to put lit candles on a dead pine tree, and it completely changed how we think about Christmas.