With memories of warm, active street scenes from past holidays tripping through my mind, my wife and I drove around sections of the City of Goleta before Christmas to see what kind of exterior decorations were on display. I was also curious to glean what the investment of time and electricity by this basically middle class community might suggest about current economic pressures.
While far from definitive, the forays showed that some residential areas are about the same as in the last few years, a few were downright defiant, but darkness had swallowed a lot of homes. Still, the resulting impressions of resiliency left me hopeful.
The neighborhoods through which we slowly drove struck me as large, dark areas lit mainly by street lamps and punctuated by individual or infrequent clusters of lighted houses. At various points in the city, it seemed that fewer homes and yards were festooned with colored lights and presentations of secular and religious icons.
The cul de sacs of Santa Barbara Shores, where once many houses had light displays and even animated trains or carousels, were reduced to a few isolated splashes of color. Gone, too, were most of the mobile visuals.
Elsewhere, some people installed inflatable Santas and snow people with, I presumed, the hope of adding a touch of life to their night scenes. It worked in some places; others not so much, especially if the large bags of air had sprung a leak. We saw one group of three snowmen doubled over as if sharing an uproarious joke, or perhaps stomach cramps.
Happily, we also discovered oases where the traditional spirit of the season presented itself, giving the home, and usually its neighbors, a friendly, welcoming glow. On Alameda Street, across from Dos Pueblos high’s parking lot, is a sparkling example of Goletans’ creativity: a one-story house with a high-pitched roof webbed to the ground in a tent of blue, yellow, red, and white lights. Luminous animals graze in front of its enclosed main entrance and a small, cheerful roller coaster crests the door.
Other abodes were just as elaborate. On the 6200 block of Cathedral Oaks Road, a two-story house’s decorations showered light on street side representations of elves astride carousel animals, inflated snow people, a polar bear, deer, and other secular and religious symbols of the season. The 300 block of Kellogg Avenue had a blue-green herd of deer, a bear, and a Santa.
Except for an elevated woody station wagon in an Old Town used car lot, none of Goleta’s commercial centers evinced much imagination. The Calle Real mall wrapped its palm trees with strings of white lights, Goleta Valley Community Center lit up its front trees, and Calle Real Marketplace concentrated its monochromatic touch on trees and building fronts near the multiplex cinema.
Some decorations were designed for daylight. The mailboxes mounted with wooden, red-nosed reindeer heads along Manzanillo Drive off Cathedral Oaks were a charming case in point. There must have been a score of heads, cut from the same template, along the 6100 block alone.
Inquiries to three long-time residents, Ken Just and Ron and Diane White, disclosed that the Rudolph tradition (my term since all had red noses) began as much as two decades ago. A retired Delco employee with a wood shop made and gave them to his Manzanillo neighbors; as new residents moved in, they were also provided with Rudolphs.
“In a way, you inherited the reindeer along with the house,” said Just, a 20-year homeowner on the street. “Generally, they start appearing after Thanksgiving.”
The craftsman from Delco died some years ago, but the Whites have carried on the tradition. They have made and painted heads following the original design and bestowed them on newcomers. “I still have a couple of spares,” Ron told me.
It struck me that private individuals and families have found ways to push back the darkness during the holidays. These people may not have had as plentiful or elaborate displays as in the more prosperous past, but, by their efforts, they have thumbed their noses at economic calamity.
With or without colorful lights, they proclaim their determination to do more than endure, but also to help others enjoy the spirit of giving. Every one of these visual celebrations is a gift to neighbors and an invitation to passersby to pause and share the cheer. May that spirit of goodwill in the face of adversity guide us as we confront whatever 2012 holds.