There is Christmas, and then there’s Dixie Christmas. There are entire towns whose displays are utterly tasteful. I think particularly of Oxford, Mississippi, where the decorations are classic, and the carefully appointed historic homes are utterly elegant — lots of red velvet ribbons, evergreen branches and tasteful white lights. Vicksburg has a lovely tradition, where they place candles along a number of roads in bags (think Martha Stewart craft project, not a fraternity practical joke), and people drive down the streets without their lights on at five miles an hour, following the path of these bags of light. That is far better than any Far Rockaway household’s dancing santa doll. However, there is the other Dixie Christmas, the one that is fraught with reasons that Jesus cannot be held responsible for the season.
Understand that there were plenty of tacky iterations of Dominic the Christmas Donkey in New York City, but there is a kind of a boundless high-end rococo kitsch that is entirely unironic and completely unconscious expressions of tastelessness that cost money in the South.
These are best typified (look for reruns) by HGTV’s astonishing special Donna Decorates Dallas. If the title of this show reminds us of that 1970s porn flick Debbie Does Dallas, so much the better, as it really is a triple penetration of bad taste over at Donna’s high-end Dallas clients’ houses.
I suppose I am a taste class bigot. I have no problem understanding the person who has limited choices because of limited income and decorates as best they can with the Dollar Store tchotchkes they can afford, but when the rich, and the smug, and the altogether Republican, display a phenomenal lack of good judgment in design choices when they are willing to spend enough money on their expensive abominations to feed a dozen hungry children in the Ozarks for a year, and these are the same people who will probably vote for candidates who will cut the school lunch programs in their area, I am morally as well as aesthetically offended.
In a season where we should be remembering the homeless — no room at the inn for the Holy Family — when people turn to Donna, she offers the gilding of the lily in so many iterations. Why not hang animal print ornaments on your two-story Christmas tree? I am not kidding. Why not have a nativity scene where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are decked out as if they were headed for Mardi Gras?
Donna and her two daughters look like ex-Cowboy Cheerleaders. Each is blonde and pretty in that particularly expensive Texas way that is lovely without being elegant. One of the daughters had trouble identifying the figures in the nativity scene — and Donna said they should go back to church. I agree. Donna and her daughters decorate a peacock colored Christmas tree. Donna seems to decorate everything in peacock colors, including herself. See her photo here. The tree reminds one of nothing more than Priscilla Presley‘s bad taste in decorating Graceland — there is a peacock room there, and the tree is as bad as the one in Memphis, with nothing to do with the lovely preening bird but a plastic imitation.
People pay her a lot of money at her Dallas Boutique called That’s Haute to do this kind of thing for them, and they think they have bought something that makes them look refined. Admittedly she hasn’t used false advertising in the name of the boutique. What is haute, after all? Is it haute couture or haute vulgarite? She doesn’t tell us, and people who have clearly never learned that bedazzling doesn’t make a person look wealthier, only more desperate, can’t tell. Donna is convincingly former homecoming queenly in her sales pitch, so I guess the real housewives of Dallas don’t know that they are getting a sequin tiara instead of a diadem for an imprimatur in taste.
During the rest of the year, this is just part of the conspicuous consumption of the filthy rich — the Enron executives who cashed in before the fallout, the Halliburton shareholders who have profited from the blood of G.I.s — you know, the American dream, Republican Texan style. It seems crueler, however, when this same esthetic and philosophy is applied at Christmas to the veneration of the man whose first words of ministry indicated that he had come to bring good news to the poor. Instead of the soup kitchen, this money went toward things to be torn down in a month, and they don’t even confer the nobility that the buyers hoped they would to onlookers. They remind me of the homeless, the hungry, and the underserved in our country and how utterly contemptible the attitudes of Donna Moss and her clients are to these honest people.
There is an old Latin maxim: “De gustibus, non est disputandum” which means, “There is no disputing matters of taste.” However, in Christmas decorations, it occurs to me one might say, “De gustibus, non est habenandum.” The translation roughly would be, “There is no having good taste,” at least around here. I want to embroider this sentiment in peacock colors on throw pillows and put these words on the sofas of all of Donna’s clients. I’ll tell them that the phrase comes from the Bible, and they won’t question this or look it up.
Again, this is not everyone’s Christmas taste down South. Some people are tasteful and remember the poor. I find that these two qualities tend to go together, too. Tacky is as tacky does, it seems, down here.
Let’s remember the poor this season. Let’s be grateful for things that cannot be made with a glue gun — friendships, relationships. Peace on Earth, even in the gun-toting South. Goodwill toward men, even toward women. God rest ye, preferably in a tastefully appointed room, but God rest ye, wherever you are.