Saturday, December 06, 2008

Chkristmas aint what it ought to be

from w, aka Ba Humbug Mrs Scrooge
Stories about decorations and all the carry-on about pre-Christmas parties don't go over well with me. An Age writer explains:
When Santas dance in the yard, it must be Kitschmas time againPeter Munro
December 7, 2008

"People drive by and say my place is lit up like a fairy park." Bob Langley stands among his festive season creations outside his house in Ibottson Street, Watsonia. Photo: Pat Scala

SANTA Claus is crooning Jingle Bells and gyrating his hips alongside a plastic priest praying in front of a plywood chapel, as the North Pole express chuffs into a toy station bearing gifts.

A second Santa spins round a lazy susan, while a third snores like a bullfrog in a tiny bed. One Santa is lit up like a Christmas tree atop a see-saw in the ‘‘Australian corner’’ of Bob Langley’s front lawn, next to cement statuettes of two Aborigines, a koala and kangaroo. Flashing lights snake through the grass below 800 fairy lights and three reindeer, standing by an empty sleigh while Santa climbs a chimney towards a crucifix that lights up the night sky. "They call me Mr Griswold. People drive by and say my place is lit up like a fairy park," says Mr Langley, a 70-year-old Vietnam War veteran.

Gaudy and glorious in equal measure, his home is a celebration of Christianity and kitsch, and that peculiar passion Christmas brings out in otherwise unremarkable people. Houses that lie dormant for 11 months of the year — typically in the outer suburbs, where front fences are lower — suddenly burst from the Christmas closet dressed in a full-length Santa suit and flashing, red Rudolph nose. ‘‘My parents died when I was young and I never had a Christmas, so I made sure our children and grandchildren were going to get the best,’’ says Mr Langley’s wife, Violet. ‘‘I am obsessed with Christmas. This is a must-do or die.’’

It started small, like most obsessions. One Christmas they co-opted their eldest granddaughter’s doll into playing baby Jesus on the front lawn of their fourbedroom house in Ibbottson Street, Watsonia. Almost 30 years later, the lawn is full of figurines and there’s a posse of plastic penguins in an illuminated crystal igloo, muscling in on the manger.

‘‘It just drags you in. If I see something that suits the theme, I’ll buy it,’’ Mrs Langley says. ‘‘Every year it’s a different colour theme. This year it’s ‘multi’ — purple, silver, red, green and gold — I haven’t done ‘multi’ in a long time.’’

Czech novelist Milan Kundera called kitsch ‘‘the absolute denial of shit’’. Much worse than simply sentimental, kitsch was a sanitised, bowdlerised, Disneyfied slice of life. But it’s a safe bet he’s never been to Melbourne’s north for Kitschmas.

‘‘There’s so much gloom in the world, you’ve got to make something happy, and Christmas is the best time to do it,’’ Mr Langley says. His wife points to a life-size, singing and hip-swivelling Santa, and adds: ‘‘What do you want adull Christmas for?’’

Why indeed, when you can go online to buy an inflatable Mickey Mouse on a rocking horse or the Simpsons in a sleigh; an inflatable crucifix and nativity scene, or a 3.4-metre inflatable Hannukah bear for the annual Jewish festival. At the Christmas Cave store in Brunswick, red plush Santa suits are sold alongside Santa bikinis. Christmas trees come in green, purple, gold, blue and upside down.

The Skidmore family stop to buy a chicken that clucks ouy Jingle Bells. Their home inNumurkah, in northern Victoria, lights up like Tullamarine at night.

Flashing icicles dangle from the eaves and an illuminated Santa in a sleigh flashes in Geoff and Kathleen’s main bedroom window, keeping them awake until midnight in the week before Christmas. ‘‘We started off doing it for the kids, then it kind of just grew,’’ Mr Skidmore says. ‘‘We’ve got schoolkids coming for visits and each year they expect something different.’’

He reckons he’s spent about $4000 on Christmas decorations in the past two years, while on a disability pension. The Christmas Cave’s most expensive item is an $18,000 animated Santa in a sleigh pulled by moving reindeer. But store manager Robert Passador says customers are spending less on expensive outdoor decorations this year amid the economic downturn. And yet, Kerry from South Morang confessed on Fox FM last week to spending $20,000 on Christmas lights for her home and the homes of her parents and sister.

Dr Peter Cotton, spokesman for the Australian Psychological Society, says such spending could point to an unhealthy obsession akin to problem gambling. ‘‘Some people can be inclined to overdo it,’’ he says.

‘‘Where it becomes a problem is where they spend so much time and money on it that it has a negative effect on other aspects of their life.’’

Chris Ellis, 45, assistant store manager of the Reject Shop in Wyndham Vale, west of Melbourne, says she has spent about $1000 on Christmas decorations inside and outside her home. Her dirt-dry front yard is filled with giant inflatable snow domes, which sprinkle white polystyrene balls over blow-up figurines of Santa Claus riding a reindeer, and a revolving carousel of penguins. Singing and dancing penguins form a guard of honour up her driveway, next to an illuminated reindeer.

‘‘I went really corny this year. I bought a wooden planter box and filled it up with hay and put little carrots in for the reindeer,’’ she says.

Santa dangles from the end of a white rope outside her front window. Inside are two Christmas
trees and Max, her cocker spaniel, struggling to fit into his Santa suit. ‘‘I think I do it because my day-to-day job does my head in,’’ Ms Ellis says.

‘‘It goes back to making other people happy. And I suppose it doesn’t matter how old you are — you can still enjoy that child in you.’’

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