You know how some places, no matter how public they are, seem so special that you get the feeling they belong just to you? Places that despite teeming crowds seemed like the best kind of secret? As a 7-year-old walking around Disneyland, I remember thinking that everything in the park was constructed for my amusement alone. For that brief day, everything Walt Disney dreamt was made a reality for my personal enjoyment. It occurred to me that the thousands of other people in the park were strategically placed just to add color, character, and ambient noise to my visit. In fact, I felt very benevolent allowing them to share in my experience - as long as they didn't cut the line.
For as "perfect" as Disneyland was, as a child, it didn't take as much from other places to make me experience the same feeling of ownership. There was a house, extremely simple by Disney standards - comparable only as a humble apple to Disney's dazzling orange - that for every year of my existence came into a life of its own at the holidays. I can remember our family trips driving through several different neighborhoods exploring the displays of fervently-glowing Christmas lights. My dad would slowly make his way up hill and over dale searching for the best houses as our breath steamed up the windows of our mini van. I don't know exactly how old I was when I first caught a glimpse of the "Snoopy House." I do remember, however, that to date, it was one of the best days of my life.
The Snoopy House
|The Snoopy House|
Driving by the Snoopy House on any day outside of the holiday season, one would be hard pressed to find something even slightly-remarkable about the facade. As a teenager, I would try and track down the house in the Fall just so I could tell friends about the magic that was right around the corner. (Remember, I have already mentioned that I am a huge square). A more clever person would have memorized the address or at very least the cross streets but I never thought that far ahead. As a matter of fact, I quite enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. I should mention, just so you are aware that I am not a total goon, that the rather-nondescript house resided on a very long stretch of road surrounded by many charming but equally-nondescript dwellings. Only after Thanksgiving did the little house transform into something miraculous; from that time through the beginning of the following year the house was unmistakable and unmistakably my Christmas spot.
Lucy & Chrlie Brown really skate!
|The Peanuts Gang Band|
I remember pulling up to the house for the first time. I can still feel the thrill and frustration of my maneuvering through the crowd. I could catch little glimpses over the heads of smaller kids and through the legs of adults as I pushed my way to the front. It was an eternity waiting for other families to disperse so I could take in the full spectacle. The entire yard (a large, corner lot with an L-shaped yard) was filled with a moving, interactive diorama of The Peanuts Gang at Christmas time. A children's choir sang, a rock band played, Lucy was ice skating, Snoopy was dancing, and the Christmas story was being told inside a barn that changed scenes when the barn doors opened and closed. In short, it was magic. The characters, including Peppermint Patty, Pig-Pen, Marcie, Linus, Charlie Brown, Woodstock, and Sally, placed on tracks among lovingly hand-painted sets were more than two-dimensional, plywood silhouettes, they were actors performing their Christmas spectacular! Santa's house was also a fixture and the week leading up to Christmas, Santa himself was there as chief naughty-and-nice checker and wish-list confidant. The tableau varied slightly from year to year as the homeowner introduced new sets, additional characters, and bigger ideas, but the feeling of joy was as consistent as the yearly extravaganza.
|The revolving Christmas story|
|The revolving Nativity|
I wonder, is it a sacrilege to wax nostalgic about Disneyland and The Peanuts Gang in the same post? I don't know but the reason I discuss the Snoopy House is because this wacky tacky institution and lifelong part of my Christmas tradition, sadly, is no longer. Today, there was an article in our local paper detailing the foreclosure of the little house; it briefly outlined the financial details but the real focus was on the demise of a local holiday tradition. The owner was most upset by his inability to maintain his yearly commitment to the neighborhood. The victim of a tanking economy and unscrupulous lenders, it appears that there is to be no "It's a Wonderful Life" moment for the (former?) owner. You'd think that such a neighborhood hero would automatically get a pass from the title holder but I guess they don't take into account sentiment. Corny as it seems, if smiles were money the house could be bought and sold one thousand times over.
Why do things seem so vivid and magical to a kid? Why is a kid able and willing to see past the paint and plywood? I think that is a cornerstone of wacky tacky for me, trying to recapture the wonder and easy-going nature of a child. It would be very easy to peg me as a victim of arrested development. On the contrary, I have little desire to be a kid again but I certainly wouldn't mind trading some of my sarcasm, pettiness, and judgment for the enthusiasm, the unbridled joy, and the simple faith of a child.
I had every intention of featuring the Snoopy House as a blog post this season, but as with most things my timing is far from perfect. I will admit, I am pretty bummed that after 44 years of holiday magic, the Snoopy House is now fated to become just another nondescript house residing on a very long stretch of road surrounded by many charming but equally-nondescript dwellings. However, I am grateful for the chance to have known the Snoopy House and to have experienced this seasonal installation of contemporary folk art.
|This is the only photo I could find of us visiting the Snoopy House!|
While I never knew the man who owned the Snoopy House, I am thankful to him for his generosity of spirit and the time and energy he exerted every year to make my Christmas better and brighter. It is funny how something as simple as one man's Christmas decorations can shape the imagination of multiple generations and broaden their understanding of community, of beauty, and of Christmas.
"Christmastime is Here"