In May, I celebrated my birthday by going to O Street Mansion with friends (you can read my blog post about it here). Now I have gone back, this time with family, during my uncle’s week-long Christmas visit.
The mansion was full of Christmas knickknacks, both in May and in December. In December, there was also a bit more deliberate holiday decorating: a large and brightly adorned tree in the entryway, garlands and lights in the dining areas. There was also a display of menorahs in one of the main rooms on the first floor. I have photographs of a few menorahs in the mansion from May, but I don’t remember this particular display, which may have been put up recently in honor of Hanukkah.
It makes sense that a museum full of delightful clutter (really, this site is not a traditional museum; there is nothing else like it) would have lots of Christmas and holiday objects. Christmas is a time of objects, a time that confronts people with considering their relationship to objects. We have our seasonal decorations, for which we must find storage space for the other 11 months of the year. Then there are the new objects every year – the ones that are purchased, wrapped, and given as gifts.
Christmas makes people wonder, and debate:
Can it still be Christmas without presents? Without the nutcracker that used to be Grandma’s? Without a tree in the public square? Without calling it a Christmas tree?
Is Christmas just about obtaining more stuff, more objects?
Museums, with their expertise in collecting and displaying objects, have the ability to decorate for the holidays in a way that isn’t merely decorative, but that invites visitors to consider the role of particular objects in their own and their neighbors’ holidays. There are certainly many objects associated with Christmas, but people find deeper meaning, both religious and secular, in Christmas. Objects, too, hold and reflect meaning. Seeing the unique, filled-to-the-brim rooms of O Street Mansion raises the question, does every object in our lives have meaning? How many of these decorations brought out one month of the year, how many of these new gifts exchanged each year, just become more things that need a storage space?
The beauty of O Street Mansion is, as my father said, “it’s not our clutter!”
Here are some of the holiday trimmings and objects I saw on my recent visit: