The Geographical Center of Christmas

Christmas is the one time of the year when designers needn’t be true to their mission to save the world from mediocrity or waste. Christmas is both the great leveler and an official end of the year. For instance there is a bar and restaurant in my New York neighborhood that I would ordinarily never drink or eat at because its food and décor insult my aesthetic values.  But at Christmastime it is transformed by thousands of little white lights, hundreds of evergreen branches, and scores of silver bells and balls covering every last millimeter of wall and ceiling into a cavern of joy and wonder. Every tired visual cliché in the book is critically fused into this fantasyland extravaganza. The Nordic-prepared food is still as heavy as an iceberg and just as tasty, but who cares (a week in the gym will remove most of it). The Christmas experience is worth the heartburn.

Christmas is to design what mashed potatoes is to food – comfort. It is a time when (assuming you have not just been laid off or felled by illness), as the saying goes, all’s right with the world. I know that not everyone subscribes to the religious implications (I don’t), but like all things that have been deracinated, or separated from its original historical context, we must agree that the religious symbolism is pretty much neutered. What is left, however, are the Western images and icons that express in semiotic terms the mass suspension of reality.  Christmas is manufactured fantasy, from the birth of the celebrated baby to the flying through space with reindeer (one with a little cherry nose). Although psychologists warn of holiday stress more intensive than any other holiday, at Christmastime the everyday mundane is put on hold. For those who can submit willingly to the bombardment of signs, symbols and icons of Christmas, and can roll with the onslaught of commercial messages, the design of the season can have a palliative effect. Whatever you call it, whenever you celebrate it, Christmas is the gift some of us get for surviving the year.

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