Thursday, December 10, 2009

Suburban Archaeology #7: The Design of Christmas

While I believe that goodwill to men, peace and selfless giving are good things, I'd be a liar if I didn't come clean and say that the thing that gets me revved up most about the Mother of all Holidays is the design aspect of the whole thing. Christmas is absolutely bathed in a richly diverse and rewarding amount of eyecandy and giddy sentimentality. As an artist and designer who himself works year 'round with blazing color, whimsical shapes and whose inspirations come from primarily nostalgic sources, Christmas never fails to disappoint me in how its dense, omnipresent visual symphony so dynamically and completely transforms the entire built (and unbuilt) environment.

Take a drive down any street...and I mean any street...whether it's lined with houses, shops, office parks or strip malls, no single place escapes the wrath of Christmas decoration. The beautiful thing is that no one WANTS to escape it. It's a shared passion and it makes us feel good. Our popular culture celebrates it. Movies, songs, television commercials and marketing & advertising all gleefully feed into and further the collective energy of Christmas Design. I believe it's this love for the collective design and everyone's willingness to support and maintain it is what's kept the holiday so strong and unwavering in popularity for so long. Like a stroll through Disneyland, the casual stroll through this "Winter Wonderland" is a breathtaking internal process that takes most adults back to feeling like a kid again and makes kids very happy to be kids. So what is it exactly about this seasonal aesthetic that makes us feel so euphoric? Certainly at the most primal level it's bright lights, shiny surfaces and outrageous color schemes. But at a higher, more cerebral level, it's the invisible thread of commonality running through it that pulls it all (and all of us) together like a neatly wrapped gift.

The connectivity to youth. Warm and fuzzy childhood feelings. The gifts, the lights, the trips to the mall, the sights, the smells. It's a shared social Pavlovian response that tends to last from late October well through December. The sleeping, dormant child awakes in all of us and is elated at the prospects. Lights going up against the backdrop of snowflakes and Bing Crosby on the radio. The comfort of familiarity, the comfort of another year of traditions welcomed back again. We remember Christmases past. Mom crafting colorful jello molds and Dad putting up the tree. We remember holding big, parental hands while strolling the mall absolutely bursting at the seams with tinsel, ornamentation and the latest to-die-for toys.

The connectivity to our fellow man. Neighbors, friends, the stranger down the block. Seemingly what begins at the living room tree carries out and into the street, meandering its way through neighbors' homes as well as the shopkeeper on the edge of town and beyond, ad infinitum. Be it thoughtful artistic installations, creative interior design or washes of inescapable capitalistic commerce innocently disguised as whimsy, this annual aesthetic collective helps to bind us as a society to both our shared past and each other.

The design of Christmas is a gift that year after year, generation after generation, joyfully keeps on giving.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't you think X-mas decorations come out of an innate need to escape the winter darkness... i.e. holiday design = better mental health. Think about it all those beautiful lights help us deal with the seemingly eternal darkness of winter.