Raise your hand if you have one of these in your yard.
C’mon. Some of you do, be real. Enormous Santas and Rudolphs and elves looming over the hibernating rhododendrons, swaying gently in the crisp winter air, benignly surveying their vast suburban domains–you know you love ’em.
When I was a girl–in the mists beyond time and history–we didn’t have such things. My dad decorated our house with those old bulbous coloured lights from the 70s. I see versions of them sold as “retro” now, but they’re not the same. The old ones were solid, man. If you broke one of the bulbs it was an event, not an inevitability. We used those same lights for many years. Good luck saying the same thing about Christmas lights sold today. [Grumble.]
When I was ten years old we moved into the house my parents built, which my dad had designed. The front of the house was dominated by a central dormer with a huge arched window. The single mullion and transom of the window formed a perfectly proportioned cross. The first Christmas we were in that house my dad built a wooden cross covered with tiny white lights. Each Christmas he raised the lighted cross to the window on the second floor–a decorative proclamation of the Gospel. Sometimes he’d also add white icicle lights along the front porch roofline (remember those? are those still a thing?), but mostly we just had the one white cross. Simple. Elegant.
I can’t remember the first time I saw one of those big inflatable figures. But they started appearing, what? a decade ago? And as much as I don’t want one in my own yard, I think I understand the impulse behind them.
They take up space and announce place. They say “Hey, we people in this house? See us? We live HERE.” The paradox of the thing is appealing, too. Like an enormous balloon, their sheer size suggests a heavy weight and mass, but they’re filled with air and the fabric is soft and silky.
They’re whimsical, really–these lumpy, goofy creatures–and whimsy invites wonder.
Scripture, too, often invites us to wonder. When God announces his name “I Am that I Am” we wonder at the inscrutable mystery of Being beyond Being, at the one who exists “from Eternity to Eternity, whose choral Echo is the Universe,” as Coleridge beautifully puts it.
But like Moses, we might also tremble a little. Because if wonder is at the heart of what it means to be human–to encounter both the mystery of Being and the mystery of our own being– wonder can also be overwhelming, intimidating.
So sometimes we have to approach wonder through whimsy. Balaam’s ass rather than the burning bush.
Or Giant Inflatable Baby Jesus rather than
begotten, not made
of one Being with the father
through him all things were made
for us and our salvation
he became incarnate
by the power of the holy spirit
he was born of a virgin
and was made
Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English literature and writing at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.