Not so many years ago when I was working in downtown Chicago I decided to sample Christmas ornaments and immediately noticed that most of them were from China. There were still some from Germany and Eastern Europe, but the count of Chinese-made Christ Childs grew as my survey continued.
I had an idea. I would become the biggest importer of glow in the dark Christmas nativity sets in America. I found a Chinese company that would actually make them for me if I sent a prototype, then sell them to me for a pittance as long as I bought them in pallets of 80,000 or so. I got cold feet at that point and abandoned the idea because, after all, who is going to buy a glow in the dark nativity scene?
Now I know who.
It’s the people who pack their lawns full of inflatables that have not much to do with Baby Jesus at all and a lot more to do with the worst cliches the Western world has invented about the birth of Christ.
First of all, I don’t want to criticize them or their taste. It’s just what has happened to Christmas these day. Chinese manufacturers are very astute and they know we will buy almost anything, so they go for it.
And so do we!
So MERRY CHRISTMAS to all the inflatables people. Here’s hoping they don’t deflate because the image is a little provocative, like a post apocalyptic Christmas on the front lawn.
I confess to being a hopeless traditionalist when it comes to Christmas.
A simple five foot tree, some white cool lights and all the ornaments we have collected over 50 years of marriage and family raising. Everything on that tree evokes a memory, even the little one-legged cookie form of one of our sons painted a bright Christmas red. It was intact at some point, but one of the dogs chewed the foot off. I still hang it on the tree and delight in it each year. It reminds me of the child (now a man) and the dog (now long gone) and the afternoon we baked them in Atlanta.
But I have watched the Christmas scene evolve over the years to the point at which not much at all seems authentic. My wife and I took a frigid walk the other night to look at Christmas lights on houses. We saw lots of those, very nice. We also saw some pretty sad flopping plastic things dead on front lawns, as though Christmas itself had passed away. They were inflatables deflated by the strong winds that swept through town a few days ago.
What despairing symbols they make, these deflated Snoopy dogs and deflated trees and deflated ornaments and deflated nativity scenes. I went digging on the internet to see if I could find out how this happened. I learned from one website that inflatables that used to be considered crass and distasteful were now just as okay and as jolly as could be because people were buying them up like candy canes in the old days (with 1990 representing the old days!)
So, The Marketplace has decided!
And so have the Chinese manufacturers.
On the Alibaba website, which I am told is like China’s Google or something, there are endless samples of inflatables, everything from full nativity sets to Christmas trees lighted inside to big gassy candy canes that glowed. The prices were not bad, but you had to buy, like, 8,000 of them. Christmas commerce is now inflatable! Who knew that was going to happen?
Perhaps me, but not specifically. In my quest for ornaments years ago I realized that Christmas, already immensely commercial, had stepped into the unknown of commercialism, where anything you can think of might happen. We are not far now from a Mickey Mouse nativity scene, with the plunky Disney rodents looking lovingly on the Baby Jesus.
We have also created an unbreakable bond with the Chinese over our biggest religious holiday! That has to be good for foreign relations! Monetizing the relationship makes everyone happier!
And nothing is sacred.
When I was a little younger, my wife and I began each Christmas season with a ritual stomping through the Cook County Forest Preserves to and pull down long ropes of vines to use for making wreaths. It was quite a process but it always led to something fabulous for the front door, something unique.
But during my ornaments and inflatables search, I ran into a webpage that offered an endless collection of Christmas things, including a wreath that looked like real grapevine, a little smaller than my own but very snappy. They were selling for something like three cents each if you bought a couple thousand of them.
Merry Christmas to us one and all. Peace and joy to everyone, no matter what you put on your lawn!