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Washington Voices

Tinsel, Rat Pack hip for the holidays, again

Unless you’ve been living under a rock – and given our tumultuous times you might wish you were – I’m sure you’ve noticed that, thanks to a popular television show, we’re having another big resurgence of nostalgia. I’m not talking about “Downton Abbey,” whose styles and fashions define elegance.

No, I’m talking “Mad Men.” We’re swinging in the ’60s again and nuclear age retro is everywhere – only without the bomb shelters, and the air raid drills in which we practiced “duck and cover” under our little school desks that would protect us when the bombs rained down. And the cheap white bread slices you could squish and roll into tiny balls to bounce off your friends.

Making their comeback are fondue, headbands, fur bedspreads and pillows, madras plaid, animal and bold prints, eye-popping primary colors and dusty pastels, digital Donna Reed-style kitchen appliances, bubble and geometric shapes, circle panel lampshades, troll dolls, lava lamps, and dark boxy furniture. Even multi-thousand-dollar cameras are featuring bright metal trim again, so you can take pictures of your ’60s-style stuff with a ’60s-style digital camera. The head spins.

We have Rat Pack record rereleases, ’60s song covers, vinyl albums, and in the ultimate kitsch, I saw a tabletop 22-inch LED HDTV housed in a retro console.

Everything 50 years old is new again.

While I have mixed feelings about this, ’60s nostalgia isn’t aimed at me, but at young hipsters to whom it’s fresh and new, who love the home fashions, colors and particularly the clothes, hairstyles and heavy eyeglasses that amuse me when I look through my high school yearbooks.

The trend also extends to Christmas. Red has made a big comeback, I notice, and so have vintage-style ornaments. Frankly, I’m scratching my head over the return of “space age” colored tinsel trees. Big light bulbs are back, too, and I wonder if they’re as energy sucking and problematic as they once were. (Dad would balance on a ladder while putting up exterior lights, charging us kids to find the single bulb shorting the entire string. Those bulbs put out the heat, and we could burn our fingers if we bumped them. Sometimes a light would pop and make us jump.)

And it wasn’t Christmas without Rat Pack albums serenading us with martini-soaked carols. They’re available again, so let irony deck the halls.

Last year I wrote about my memories of hanging tinsel – that favorite of the times – on our Christmas trees, and how Mom would instruct us to do it carefully, one strand at a time. She might as well have spoken Swahili to three impatient youngsters who would inevitably end up tossing it, with happy giggles, on the branches in globs. Tinsel, like a nefarious life form, migrated to every part of the house, and we’d dig it out of the carpet and furniture for months.

After reading about my tinsel memories, former Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite and her husband, Rick, invited Richard and me to see their tree this year. For the Wilhites, tinsel isn’t a retro statement.

“I love tinsel,” Diana said. “My mother tinseled the tree; for me it’s a tradition. I think it adds to the beauty of the tree, so I save my tinsel from year to year and reuse it.” Diana has about three different kinds, 15 years old and older. “One year I left the tinsel off, and I couldn’t stand it,” she said. “I ended up tinseling it a couple days before Christmas because it just didn’t look right.”

I was charmed by their live tree scattered with shiny heritage balls and tastefully festooned with the tinsel garlands and icicles I remember from childhood. As we sipped tea and chatted next to it, I felt like I’d gone back in time, a surprisingly peaceful feeling.

Thus I feel inspired to wish you a Merry Christmas – in vintage, contemporary or cutting-edge style – and, as the Rat Pack might say, a ring-a-ding New Year!

You can reach Deborah Chan at Previous columns are available at columnists.