Desperate people turn to Christmas decorations to make 2020 suck less
The Grinch stole 2020 — so even the biggest Scrooges are more desperate than ever to salvage holiday cheer in a year trashed by a deadly pandemic, nasty political mudslinging and civil unrest. It’s trending. One only need look outside to see the lights.
On Thursday night, Maya Robinson-Napier put the finishing touches on her first-ever Christmas decorations outside her home near Charlotte, NC. This illuminated display, which includes an 18-foot inflatable Frosty the Snowman and 13 champagne-colored arches that glow above a walkway, not only aims to brighten spirits in general — but also to honor the spirits of her mother and father, both of whom the 38-year-old lost under lockdown.
At the front of her lawn stands a glittering angel paying homage to her mom, Toya Hamilton, who passed away in August, at age 60, after going into septic shock. Next to it, a pine dubbed the “memory tree” invites visitors to hang an ornament in honor of their own lost loved ones. The latter installation takes on raw meaning for Robinson-Napier, whose dad, 61-year-old Reginald Robinson, died Tuesday after battling congestive heart failure and alcoholism.
“So many people have been lost this year, and I wanted something that we could put in our neighborhood for those of us who have shared losses . . . to keep [them] on our minds during the holiday season,” said Robinson-Napier. “It’s all about keeping the memory alive.”
Robinson-Napier is one of many Americans who are decking the halls for their very first time, or have amped up their typical holiday decorations with more extravagant lights and figures, to end dark 2020 on a bright note — especially as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, now having claimed 276,000 lives in the US alone.
Beyond deeply personal tributes, a larger national trend suggests Dr. Seuss’s iconic words — “The Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day” — are coming to fruition.
Americans are hungry for sweet seasonal relief
A new survey of 2,000 Americans found that 2020’s non-stop flood of bad news took a toll on 75 percent of respondents, with 70 percent of the study’s pool revealing they are “desperate” to do something positive to spread cheer each day, even if it’s just to make at least one person laugh or smile.
Or maybe even hang a string of lights? Yeah, it’s probably not just your imagination. A casual stroll or drive around your neighborhood might reveal more hardcore holiday decorama than ever before.
For Robinson-Napier, the battle to bring joy back to her family — comprised of her husband, Sean Napier, and their sons Benjamin, 6, and Christian, 3 — came during Halloween following the death of her mother. It materialized with similar over-the-top decorations, including two of Home Depot’s highly popular 12-foot-tall skeletons, which she also erected for the first time. This effort came about after Robinson-Napier had a discussion with her mom in March about how she could honor her legacy when she was gone, by asking what favorite foods the family could eat or favorite color they could wear.
“She couldn’t answer any of those questions,” said Robinson-Napier. “She always invested herself into others. My mom always went all out for us despite other things going on.”
So, Robinson-Napier realized that “If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it to the best of my abilities. I’m going to go all out for my kids.”
Benjamin and Christian also have their own Christmas trees in their bedrooms, and two other decorated trees shine on the home’s entertaining areas. Previously, while living in Oakland, Calif., the family didn’t have the space to decorate — and Robinson-Napier, who worked as a health-care appeals specialist, didn’t have the time. Moreover, she lost her grandmother to pancreatic cancer about a week before Christmas in 2004, which she said put a lingering damper on the holiday season.
“I didn’t intend on it being a whole thing,” she said of her 2020 decorating spree. “Once you start, it’s kind of hard to stop. So, we just keep putting more stuff out.”
Even cynical New Yorkers are going ‘holiday HAM’
This is the time of year when native New Yorker Deanna Testa would typically be jet-setting on holiday to the Maldives, Thailand, Cuba or Italy. But in the doomsdays of 2020? She’s just piling on the Christmas lights, garland and blow-ups.
“I’m such a busy Grinch, I always forget to decorate and get gifts — but, this year, I went holiday HAM to make sure all my family and friends will get a little extra cheer, too,” said Manhattan-born Testa, 33, who runs the video department at Betches Media, an online destination for millennial memes and pop culture news. “Hell, after months of being bored, lonely and stressed out, I desperately needed a pick-me-up.”
The Yonkers transplant decorated inside and out for the first time ever — and even bought her new toy poodle the ultimate gift that keeps on giving: a treat-propelling Furbo. (FYI: Testa works remotely during the coronavirus lockdown and is fully available for hand-treating 24-7. This is peak holiday 2020 indulgence.)
“I got so many decorations for my COVID puppy, Sailor — who is basically getting me through this pandemic,” Testa says with a chuckle. Yes, Sailor is also sporting Christmas jammies — and even has her own inflatable tree and snowman.
We need brighter days to look forward to
Tara Reid, a 34-year-old pharmacy technician who lives in Hopewell, Va., opted for a spooky theme for her first-ever outdoor Christmas decorations — including 11 skeletons, figures from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” film and a projection of Santa Claus dropping off presents with bats flying around.
“I hope that I can give [visitors] a second not to think about it,” said Reid of the pandemic. “To bring them back to how things were and just be happy.”
Reid — who lives with her fiancé Jake Rotz, 45, and four children ages 8 to 16 — previously didn’t have the time to set up Christmas decorations. “But this year changed . . . our perspective,” she said, adding that after winning a local Halloween decorating contest this year — a similarly spooky effort loved by many — “I wanted to give it a try for Christmas, just to give them something to look forward to.”
This front-yard spectacle took the family a few days to install — and one night included making three trips to Target to buy more lights. Although they previously hung stockings and kept a Christmas tree inside, it’s a far cry from the zero decorations they had outdoors. Now, Reid said, the family can look forward to a new annual tradition to ring in the season.
“It’s definitely an addiction and, yes, it’s going to keep growing,” she said.
You’re never too old to get into the spirit
First-time decorator Amber Goss, a former litigation attorney who lives in Thompson’s Station, Tenn., is laying down the law in front of her home.
“It’s not something I would have ever imagined at the age of 47 that I would have a yard full of inflatables at Christmas,” said the mother of two. “But why not? I’m definitely of the [mindset] now that . . . this makes the kids happy.”
Goss, who’s now involved in a hyperlocal blog for area moms, previously didn’t have the time to dedicate to this kind of effort.
“I think, once upon a time, I bought those net lights when they were new, and I took them out of the box, and it looked too hard, so I threw them away,” she quipped.
Now, however, her yard includes a 20-foot inflatable Santa, an inflatable Baby Yoda holding a candy cane, two nearly 6-foot-high nutcracker figures and a blow-up Christmas tree.
The kids, 7-year-old son Brett and 5-year-old daughter Casey, can’t get enough of them.
“They go up and hug the blow-ups,” she said.
Size matters in 2020: Big box stores are selling out of hot decorations
“Once you’ve crossed the inflatable barrier, why not?” Goss said. “You’re there.”
She’s not the only person with an insatiable appetite for festive decor. Among this year’s hottest holiday merch: Goss’ 68-inch nutcrackers, now sold out at Walmart; Robinson-Napier’s 18-foot Frosty the Snowman, now sold out at Hammacher Schlemmer and a 4-foot reindeer unavailable at Home Depot.
While neither retailer commented on the rush they’ve faced so far this season, a Home Depot spokesperson told The Post other in-demand decorations include a 6-foot inflatable Buddy the Elf and a 12-foot inflatable Santa, both of which are in stock.
Brian Birt, a 35-year-old resident of Huber Heights, Ohio, stocked up on several thousand more lights and 10 more figures to add to his typical Christmas tableau.
“We went a lot bigger this year,” he said, adding that 2020 upgrades include two 7-foot nutcrackers from Lowe’s.
Instead of using his full display, which rocks blinking lights synchronized to music, solely to entertain his 37-year-old wife Sarah and their six children — who range from 3 months to 13 years old — the family wanted “to make this fun for the city” in an effort of giving back to the community.
For Goss, the inspiration to decorate also represented a way to stay busy these days — and her 45-year-old husband, David, has been a good sport about it. But she also drew motivation after joining a Facebook group run by a friend, the Griswolder Christmas Decorating Club, which has decoration-aficionado followers post images of their own festive flair. Thanks to its success with her children, it’s a tradition she thinks she’ll keep going.
“After the year we’ve all had, seeing families pull up to your house and looking at the display and seeing the joy in their faces of watching everything, it’s nice,” said Birt, who works as a custodian. “They can have family time together, drive around and see some cool houses. It’s nice to be able to help any way we can.”
The local feedback has been positive, and in the holiday spirit, has been full of gratitude, added Birt. One visitor messaged him on Facebook after making a recent visit, thanking him and his family for “bringing joy to our family.”
“That was nice to get a message like that,” said Birt. “It makes it feel like the hard work was all worth it.”
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