Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why decoration is relevant

Decorations change the environment, break us out of the routine, and help us recognize the significance of the occasion.
Winston Churchill said "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." It's not just buildings that shape us. Churchill could have been even more broad. It's our environments that shape us, both larger and smaller than buildings.
This column has devoted many inches to the large scale issues like the fragility of the environment (we rely on it completely and must take care of it) and the shape of the city (living closely together comes with social, economic and environmental benefits that sprawl can't match).
This week though, we're going to talk about decoration.
On one level, decorations are a complete waste of effort and money. They don't do anything. They clutter up the house. They're a waste of money, and you have to store them all year so that they're ready when they're called upon. Why bother putting them up? You're just going to take them down again.
On a deeper level, especially decorations that change are an outward way of indicating that an occasion is special. Whether it's decorating for a birthday party, christmas, or just changing with the seasons, changing the nature of the environment changes the event.
This is a time of year when many people intentionally change the look of their houses, both inside and outside.
People don't usually have trees in their houses, for example. But at this time of year, lots of them do, complete with lights and ornaments.
People don't usually have coloured lights decorating the outside of their houses. In the midst of a cold winter it brings a warmth and an external reinforcement to the feeling that this time is special. It's nice to feel like we can celebrate together. Although we often don't know our neighbours as well as we should, there's a bond there that helps build and shape the community.
Even if we don't believe in decorating, the way others change the environment helps us recognize the significance of the event. Even if you weren't involved in changing the environment, it's changed. You can't help but respond.
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