Are inflatable yard decorations the reason for the season?
The carolers. The cookies. The peace on earth, goodwill to men. The hustle. The bustle. The inflatable nativity scenes with the blow-up baby Jesus wrapped in plastic swaddling clothes.
"God reaches us in many strange and wonderful ways," said Monsignor Richard Soseman, the pastor of St. Mary of the Woods Catholic Church in Princeville. "Some might be offended by the sight (of an inflatable manger scene), but if it is not sacrilegious, then to me it fits within the spectrum of expression of a person’s faith."
Go ahead, tear open the shutters, throw up a sash — whatever that is — and take a listen. Mixed now into 21st century America, among the more recognizable sounds of the season — sleigh bells, "White Christmas" on the radio, bar code scanner beeps — is the low hum and whir of countless fan-driven Christmas decorations that have proliferated and plumped to life on lawns all across this great nation.
You’ve seen them:
Waving Santa. Santa in a sleigh. Homer Simpson Santa. Santa in Desert Storm camo. Shirtless Santa in sunglasses on a deserted island drinking from a coconut with his back against a palm tree, seated next to a penguin. SpongeBob Santa. All that traditional stuff.
The visionaries at Gemmy Industries, a company based in Coppell, Texas, humbly introduced the first blow-ups in 2001 — a pumpkin, a Santa and a snowman — to a mostly ambivalent marketplace. That’s all changed. The company now makes more than 400 different Christmas inflatables, including versions of all of the ones listed above and many more.
Ken Hupp has done his part to boost Gemmy sales. He has six crammed into his small front yard on Norwood Avenue in Peoria, and two more in his truck that he just bought half-priced at Lowes.
Two small inflatables anchor each end of his deck. Frosty waves next to a saluting Nutcracker that stands behind an inflatable snow globe populated by a caroling and carrot-nosed snow-family.
"We do it because it’s fun," said Hupp. "For the goofiness of it all."
The Journal Star took an area tour recently looking for lasting inflatable memories, but mostly hoping to find the home in Pekin, perfectly located on Holiday Drive, that in years past has boasted a display of 37 blow-ups in a small yard. Found the street. Found the address. No inflatables. Disappointed, we moved on.
We noted the Santa Claus on Oklahoma Court in Morton suspended from a basketball rim that was more a deflatable than an inflatable. He was doubled over, flapping in a cold wind, and looked more like the result of some mischievous elf-spiked eggnog at the workshop Christmas party.
There was the home on Courtland Avenue in Peoria with four inflatables, but only one with air in it. The three other inflatable carcasses puddled on the ground nearby, resembling the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy had mistakenly doused her with water.
Inflatables aren’t for everyone.
"We don’t go the inflatable route," said Linda Gavin, a horticulturalist with Green View Nurseries who also designs outdoor holiday displays for customers. "We’re all about ‘bringing in the greens’ and embellishing them with bright ribbons and colors. A ‘Currier and Ives’ and ‘home for the holidays’ feel. A little more subdued than (National Lampoon’s) "Christmas Vacation" or SpongeBob SquareFace."
"What?" Gavin said.
SpongeBob SquarePants. Not SquareFace. SquarePants.
"Oh," she said, then continued. "You know I think inflatable decorations are really a lot of fun. Children love to look at them and that’s all a part of Christmas. Personally, they’re just not my style."
Now that Hupp officially owns more inflatables than front yard, he said he’ll rotate figures in and out of his annual display.
"When we moved into this neighborhood 22 years ago, nobody decorated their homes for Christmas. Now little by little just about everybody does something. I like that," Hupp said. "I realize that some people prefer the classic all-white-light approach to decorating — personally I’m a multi-colored light guy — and that’s fine with me, knock yourself out. But do something, anything you like to show your spirit. That’s what it’s all about."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at (309) 686-3244 or at email@example.com.