Somehow it is December. I’m not sure how, or when this happened, but it must have been awhile ago, because we are at least six days into this final month of the year. And about 1,952 days into the holiday shopping season, if you care to follow commercials on TV, radio ads, newspaper flyers . . . it’s closing in on Christmas, all right?
And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, we’re also nearing Hanukkah, Kwanzaa (I don’t really know what that is) and the winter solstice (arise, fans of Stonehenge!), so I think it’s perfectly appropriate to say we are approaching the holiday season.
This year it was very difficult to find cards that didn’t say “Christmas” on them, although Kara tells me it’s because I didn’t go to Tractor Supply. I did, but I must have been “shopping like a man” because the only really Christmasy thing I saw was a $20 toy directly above a $149 price tag. The price tag was for a toy tractor or something that you could sit on and drive and was already sold out before December even started.
So Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday (that doesn’t sound right: Small Business Saturday?), Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday have already come and gone, so you would think that should mark the definitive onset of the holiday shopping season, but here in Gunnison we are ramping up for the real action: the Night of Lights.
Which is tonight. But while I have gone to at least one store every day this week, I still don’t feel particularly prepared. I’m not sure Dollar Tree is much more ready for the holidays than I am. Either that, or tariffs are very hard on a business that sells everything for one dollar. Whatever the reason, the store has a fraction, perhaps a fifth, of its usual holiday offerings. Wrapping paper usually abounds; instead it’s in one tiny corner, and none of it was terribly appealing.
I suppose we’re reasonably ready for Night of Lights, which in our case at least is much ado about not much of anything. We put up a card table and fill it with snacks, and the people who come in are employees and our friends. No customers. The table gets left up all month, through all of the holidays, including the last bit of Kwanzaa (which I don’t even know how long it lasts — one day? Twenty?), and it makes the employees and our postal carriers happy. If we can keep the postal carriers happy enough that they’ll keep bringing me checks, then it’s well worth it.
Gilly is the one who’s been doing all the heavy lifting for tonight. Every year there’s a window decorating contest, and every year there’s a different theme, and every year the prizes go to Miller Furniture, which decorates a window that’s a literal quarter-block wide, and to Hope and Glory, a home accent/floral store that puts the same gilded white tree with the same gold and white decorations. It’s a pretty window, but also pretty predictable.
This year the theme is CandyLand, a choice in which Kara was beyond disappointed. But Gilly rose to the occasion, and we have an entire gingerbread family, cat included, waving from our window (not a quarter-block wide). And this year it seems that the judging is being thrown open to The People, who can vote on-line. One little problem: the ad telling people to vote fails to mention there’s supposed to be a theme. Cue the gilded white tree!
One year for Night of Lights someone directed a giant fire truck to park at a diagonal that completely cut us (and Miller Furniture, one block farther up) out of the festivities. I did go point this out to the firefighters, who were kind enough to reposition their truck. Last year some group with really fun light-up toys like Hula Hoops and juggling sticks set up in the street in front of us, which could have been fun — but they brought a gigantic sound system and boomed techno-disco non-holiday music so loud you could barely hear the arts center singers as they performed over two blocks away. Gilly, manning (or womanning) the store, went home with a headache and no holiday spirit.
But Night of Lights is, like Downtown Trick or Treat, an event that people love and flock to the streets for. This event used to be a parade (for which I stuffed hundreds of Baggies into chicken wire to make a light-up Christmas tree), but liability insurance quickly overwhelmed our small chamber, so it became a parade of residents and visitors alike milling all across the street, theoretically shopping but mostly just gawking at all the lights.
And waiting for Santa, of course, who comes down the middle of the street with his Elk-reindeer (members of the local service club) pulling his sleigh toward the giant tree culled from somewhere within the city limits and decorated by the school kids who get to go up the tree in a city bucket truck. (I never got to do that in school!)
As Santa heads south (seems appropriate, doesn’t it?) from somewhere above Miller Furniture, everyone in the streets falls into step behind his sleigh, until all are congregated in front of the tree by the arts center. Then Santa lights the tree and every year — every year! — whether I am standing out in front of Pat’s or down at the arts center, I am looking away at the exact moment the tree is lit.
Other people are watching, however, and it’s as if the biggest firework of the year has gone off: ooooooh!
And with that, the holiday spirit is officially upon us. Whether it will mean increased downtown shopping or not is a crap shoot. The Gunnison Greenbacks program, where you pay $80 to get $100 worth of greenbacks that can be spent anywhere locally, did not sell out this year, suggesting perhaps that free money is not worth it if it can’t be spent at Amazon.
If nothing else, it does mean it’s December, somehow when I wasn’t looking (just like the tree lighting), and the holidays are a-comin’. Whichever ones you choose to celebrate.