It's hard to be convincing about Christmas decorating in Florida even if you're a native. But if you have retired from anyplace where winter temperatures are less than your age, Florida just can't compete. The colorful twinkling lights are still pretty, but hoisted up among the coconuts, they just seem comic. In some ways all the decorating attempts feel a little desperate. On top of that sad truth, everyone here starts decorating early. The Thanksgiving turkey carcass is barely discarded before Yuletide items begin appearing on lawns and rooftops.
More disconcerting than the sheer abundance is what, at first glance, seems to be a huge collection of victims, lying everywhere. Driving to the ubiquitous Publix grocery stores, wherein you are nearly assaulted by the determined goodwill of elderly (always elderly) greeters, you pass by innumerable tidy lawns upon which you witness immense plastic corpses, as yet uninflated, lying in wait on cropped lawns. These flaccid monstrosities, which look like shooting victims from some Stephen King hell, usually have something to do with Christmas, but from a very broad brush.
There Frosty and Jesus, or at least his parents, lie awaiting a breath of air. The unwritten rule seems to be to let these heroic plastic personages languish on the grass for at least ten days until someone finds the pump. Some of the characters are destined for the rooftop. It is not their mythological status which determines their elevation. Instead, it seems to have more to do with how garish and off their natural hue they are. Floridians cultivate inflatable plastic figures with a reverence one might bring to a tropical botanical garden. Neither the plastic people, nor the assorted ungulates and cartoon animals, have a Christmas color scheme, or any other unifying theme I have been able to recognize other than toddler's nightmare.
Our family has a tradition of driving around a bit on December 23rd, carols determinedly blasting, eighty degree temps be damned, and witnessing, celebrating even, the neighbors' fierce urge to display holiday fervor. Mary always seems to be a swimming pool blue, never found in a grotto anywhere. Ineluctably, she absent-mindedly attends a little caucasian Jesus, his arms and legs folded serenely like a roasted chicken. Joseph, of course, looks properly cuckolded, perhaps by Snoopy who might loom menacingly off the edge of a roof in the manner of the Deity in vengeful mood. Reindeer stand ready to descend and graze upon the landscaping, while Santa's elves lurk in crannies, maybe even lugging frogs.
It's not so bad after December 25th when you expect them all to gradually deflate, die, and return to the garage crypts whence they came, having made their annual valiant effort at spreading peace on Earth and goodwill towards men. But in the ten days before the night of Christmas Eve, which somehow always does manage to retain a humid air of solemn sacredness even in Florida, these outsized inflatables appear to be allegorical figures of this wrung-out, deracinated holiday, in their lack of sufficient air to inflate fully, their inablity to fulfil over-inflated expectations of festive cheer. Likewise, their off kilter colors from the nightmare edge of the Noel spectrum seem to be symbolic of disparate families insisting on drawing the strained strands of kin speciously close, marching fervently toward another Christmas achieved and duly crossed off the calendar.
I can no longer remember whether we ever used these alarming inflatables up north. But then, we could rely more on twinkling lights sometimes reflected by snow, or on the power of holly and ivy, spruce and pine, which embody the Anglo-American Nativity meme with a more authentic voice. In those cooler climes, Santa might actually be chilly; might want a mug of warm cocoa and a chocolate chip cookie. Lacking the perquisites of climate, Florida must bring its own vision to this time of year: larger than life, tropical bug-colored, determined to succeed on its own terms, even as things deflate one more time.
Liane U’Prichard was given a globe at age four and told by her family, “this is your home.” She spent the next 71 years wandering all across the world by freightship and other transport, writing about every place she lived. You can read her other piece for Memoirist here. Photo shows the author straddling the Tropic of Capricorn in South Africa.