For years, I have tried to photograph the spirit of Christmas. But photography only goes so far. The most I could get were the Christmas lights. Those lights are great for cards and prints. However, they always seemed to end up a bit “flat”. Christmas trees in Holland were a very intimate affair. Tucked away inside the house or perhaps just in front of the front window, the best decorations towards the inside.
Here is our Christmas tree from 1980, doing my own developing and printing of the negatives in a simple darkroom. For now I also have to contend with the dust on the scan, let’s call is angel-dust in the spirit of Christmas.
Then came the time that I had my own apartment and decoration to do. It was a period of my life I’d rather leave behind, so no pictures of those “trees”. Needless to say that the “taste” for Christmas lights came back in a different place and time. A time of happiness and lack of money.
But lack of money never dampened my idea of Christmas, even if the dates for celebrating it were slightly different in Ukraine (Jan 6-7). All we needed was a small tree in our apartment and we were good to go. It may seem childish to take pictures of a Christmas tree, but finally I am happy I still have them.
I grew up in a spirit of restraint. With that, I mean that “showing off” was frowned upon. Saying that you’re the best for a job was quite a “sin”, even if you were the best for that job. Decorating for Christmas was done with taste and very little thought of showing off. A few candles came out of the attic for the days around Christmas, and after New Year, everything was gone before the first week of the year was over.
In other words, we were protestants in the “purest” sense of the term. Not that we went to church every Sunday, far from it. It was more a sense of “everything with moderation", “no excesses”. That included getting drunk by the way. Heavily frowned upon. I kinda lost that part of my upbringing around the time I was seventeen, funny, it also never came back…
Today, in Winnipeg, Christmas decorations range from “intimate” to “outrageous”. As a photographer, I go for the outrageous; it makes for better pictures. The lights in Lindenwood, a neighborhood in Winnipeg are somewhat famous. A whole neighborhood is either competing or working together to put up a great light show.
It also overshadows the other displays a bit and you have to search to find them. This year there was a map of great displays available, so I went to explore a few of them. Surprisingly, some of them were close to my home.
I wanted to wait with shooting them until there was some snow cover. Snow this year was late. And what is the fun in shooting Christmas decorations when there is still grass and mud on the ground? No, I needed to wait for some snow. This week we got some, and out I went. I should have taken my lined trousers, though. As it turned out, –26C with a stiff wind made for a very chilly experience in my jeans .
Some displays are bigger than others. This one for example benefited from a huge fir tree in the yard, an ideal candidate for hanging strings of lights. As I could see, even the back of the house was decorated, but it was not in my mind to go and ask permission to shoot their private parts of the show. I guess that was my upbringing poking its head through the snow…
Then I found a tree that was not a Christmas tree in the proper sense. These people didn’t have a fir tree in the yard, just a simple tree. I guess you take what you have and use it as you can.
I was out that night to capture the light of the spirit of Christmas, but I think I captured the spirit of the lights instead. The radiance around this tree was so big that even with my eyes I had difficulties seeing it as it was.
If you have a camera, try to find the decorations in your area and show them, perhaps the spirit is there too.
Until next time…