By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
PASS CHRISTIAN – It was a painting on black velvet. Half a dozen or more boats, one of them a huge Biloxi schooner, all bedecked with colored lights, moving slowly through the darkness.
So far away, they might have been toys, no division between ebony night and sea, the Christmas parade of boats from Pass Christian’s picturesque harbor moved noiselessly as lightning bugs. If you could have matched it with music, a Gershwin tune would have played.
I felt privileged to see such a sight again after many, many years.
I am a fan of Christmas parades, any size or stripe, on land or on sea. The week before, in fact, I had been watching in Iuka – the other end of this most underrated of states – as decorated tractors anchored that town’s more agrarian approach to the holidays.
Tractors are lovely, too, and come predecorated in hues of bright red or green. The only thing lovelier rolling by than a tractor has to be a boat. They are the kings and queens in the parade deck of cards.
The best thing about those Christmas boats were the colors they were wearing. Gaudy, glittering, go-for-broke colors.
I’m not sure when the style police decreed that only white lights are tasteful, or, for that matter, that Christmas should be “tasteful.” Taste, as my cousin prone to the profound once said, is a matter of taste.
A snooty Memphis suburb once tried to outlaw anything but white lights. Someone sensible reminded the white-lights-only proponents of the U.S. Constitution. Last year a Doylestown, Pa., neighborhood association tried the same in an effort to make its area “classier.”
Christmas decorations are for the children foremost, is my theory, and they like color, the more color the merrier. I don’t have a child, but I can vaguely remember being one. Bring on the red and green, the Elvis blue, the halo gold. Bring on the bubble lights and the spinning color wheel reflected on tin foil boughs.
Christmas can be a bag of mixed metaphors, with Santa kneeling at a creche, or elves and wise men marching side by side. It can be whatever tickles your fancy, or makes you smile. Rudolph was a red-nosed reindeer, not a brown-nosed conformist.
I know from experience that this beautiful coastal town, or most of it, used to subscribe to its neighbor New Orleans’ flat-out approach to holiday decorating. Nothing meek or mild or coordinated.
After 20 years away, I worried that the taste mavens might have moved in to monitor the free spirits and temper its multi-color tendencies. Let’s put it to a vote – a vote of the children.
Folks are always trying to keep things in Christmas; I say let’s keep the Junior Leagues and garden clubs and neighborhood associations out.
The world has more pressing problems, yes. And I’m free to decorate my home like a Delta honkytonk expecting the return of Robert Johnson. White is a choice, and that’s fine if it’s what you really want.
But don’t let anyone tell you that white makes you a Carnegie and red makes you a redneck. Go with your gut, not your lily-liver.
Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.