I've made a career out of carping about what an unsightly city we live in, and bitching about our hellish, nine-month-long summers has become my avocation. But in December, I find it hard to be cranky about anything, because the weather here is idyllic and because so many of the ugly houses are obliterated by monster-size, cheerfully cheeseball Christmas displays.
I truly love Christmas. But not the tasteful, glazed-goose dinner and swell cocktail parties part; not the elegantly wrapped gift and theme-decorated pre-lit tree version. You can have that colossal Victorian gingerbread village built by the culinary team at the Scottsdale Marriott — it's all yours. My highest holiday cheer comes straight from the "Holiday Aisle" at Walgreens, and nothing says "Christmas!" to me like an oversize inflatable nativity scene attended by Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck, with a SpongeBob SquarePants Baby Jesus staring up from the manger.
Don't laugh — I saw it with my own eyes, just four doors down from the little yellow brick house where I used to live, right up the street from that guy who's in the news every year for covering his house and yard with 12 billion strings of lights. You go ahead and get in line to ogle his cutie-pie cutouts of Big Bird and Dora the Explorer. I like my cheap, tasteless Christmas décor to be more inadvertent. And lucky me! I live in Phoenix, the nation's big-city leader in inadvertently tasteless Christmas crapola.
Last year, my favorite holiday horror was one that sums up both the stunning naiveté and the delightful tackiness of American culture. I'm talking about the statue of Santa Claus kneeling before the Baby Jesus, a shameless mash-up of icons that I first saw five years ago when my sister bought one for my mother, who loved it on sight, just as Sissy had. This preposterous pairing has remained rare; I see them only occasionally on lawns and fence posts, usually over on the west side, and they never fail to terrify and delight me.
Seriously: Santa, with his red-flocked, cotton-ball-topped cap in hand, bowing to the just-born Jesus. It's a Yuletide yard ornament with perplexing implications that please me so much I nearly levitate with joy every time I see one. I mean, if Kris Kringle, a white-haired fellow well into his dotage, is paying homage to the infant Christ, then doesn't that imply that he's been around longer than the nation's savior? And that, therefore, the tradition of gluttonous gift-giving is older than the birth of Christ and, therefore, the real "reason for the season"?
Last year, I was smitten with those enormous and terrifically vulgar inflatable snow globes, the kind that play Christmas carols and shoot an endless stream of Styrofoam flurries onto vignettes involving paperboard elves and blow-up Santas. These ran a close second to the giant wire-and-twinkle-light angels that always look to me like colossal inverted shuttlecocks, and their brethren, the White Barbed Wire Reindeer, especially the animatronic ones that bob their hollow heads slowly up and down as if they're nibbling a winter lawn.
This year, my favorite holiday lawn desecrations are the mixed-up nativity scenes that are taking over our town. I love a good crèche, and, perhaps inspired by that Santa-bowing-to-Jesus thing, there appears to be a new trend in nativities that conflate time and confuse locales to come up with an impossible away-in-a-manger configuration. I love the one I saw on West Thunderbird Road that surrounded Mary, Joseph, and their pious progeny with big, smiley, blow-up snowmen. Apparently, we're to believe that Jesus' parents took a break from virgin birth to build a couple of Frostys, complete with knitted scarves and pointy carrot noses, and that among the other miracles on that special night was the appearance of snow (and top hats!) in the Jerusalem desert.
I've seen this season a crèche with a mixed-marriage Mary and Joseph; one with a spring-loaded North Star printed with a smiley face; and another in which Jesus' birth is attended by one wise man, two sheep, and Elmo. But this year my heart has been won by a large-ish but relatively mundane nativity involving the usual suspects, flanked by a pair of those crazy animatronic reindeer. The holy people are made of the usual hollow plastic, badly painted and lit from within, and the presumptuous Christmas tree behind them is decorated with the usual tinsel and twinkly stuff. But I found that if I stood long enough before this scene that has inspired awe in so many, one of the barbed wire reindeer very slowly reached forward, over and over and over again, and gently sniffed the crack of the Virgin Mother's ass.
Mary Christmas, indeed.
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