What this year’s Christmas decorations tell us about U.S. sentiment

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I haven’t talked a lot about rhetoric on the blog yet (more of that in 2017), but rhetorical analysis is one of my true loves. I studied it in grad school, and I taught it at the college level. Most of the time, we hear the word “rhetoric” associated with politics, when really, rhetoric is all about persuasion and subtext—the underlying meanings, intended or not, that accompany everything. And I mean everything—the clothes you wear, the pitch of your voice, the neighborhood where you live, the car you drive, and the job you have all carry their own messages to others.

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So it’s been interesting to see what kinds of Christmas decorations are resonating with Americans this year. Good old-fashioned plaid is ridiculously popular. The holiday colors of choice are traditional red and green. Fresh greenery with simple red bows is preferred to faux garlands. And more and more featured homes in magazines and blogs are leaning toward a sparer, less cluttered look. I smiled a little every time a trendy blogger wrote, “I can’t believe I’ve gone so traditional this year, but I’m really loving it.”

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The subtext suggests this: We as Americans are craving a lifestyle that feels safe, dependable, familiar, and simple.

That’s why we’re opting for the kind of Christmases popularized in classic movies and carols. That’s why we aren’t trying extra hard to make turquoise or pink a Christmas color. That’s why we’re using unfussy, living greens to decorate our homes—and much of it can be cut right in your own backyard. That’s why 12 of the 18 Christmas cards hanging on my pantry are emblazoned with a plain ol’ “Merry Christmas” instead of some clever holiday greeting.

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We are getting back to basics. Maybe it’s because of a tumultuous election year or maybe it’s because a lot of people still don’t feel like we’ve entirely rebounded from the 2008 recession.

Let’s contrast this year’s trends with those from a few years back. Remember upside-down Christmas trees? That weirdness caught on quick enough to be sold in stores, even in less populated areas like southeast Idaho. Remember a rainbow of Christmas colors hanging on department-store trees? Remember all those wreaths made out of deco-mesh? Not so long ago, life felt more secure financially and otherwise in our country. So we weren’t afraid to take risks. If you wanted to display your tree upside down, you did it in trailblazing fashion.

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Now we are seeking what’s safe. We don’t feel like taking risks. And that’s okay. But that’s why rhetoric is fun: There’s always a message to be discovered, even in your Christmas décor this season. •

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