If there’s one thing we could all use in 2020, it’s something to look forward to. Which could be why holiday decorating has gone into turbo mode this year: Elaborate Halloween tableaux lit up yards in August, and Christmas and Hanukkah decorations started popping up in July.
Among the usual tinsel, star toppers and pine cones, topical decor also abounds this year, like ornaments rendered in the likeness of Dr. Anthony Fauci and menorahs featuring an even-more-miniature Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There’s also the inevitable flurry of objects making references to the Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020.
Vendors who deal in seasonal cheer had to make a choice this summer: proceed with business as usual, or lean into the grief, anxiety and nihilism of this year, and hopefully make people laugh in the process. “We had no idea what the holidays were going to look like,” said Chelsie Rowlett, chief technology officer of Houston boutique Biscuit Home. “We all joked at the time that Christmas was canceled.”
In July, the store cautiously ordered three pandemic-related ornaments, unsure how they would be received; when the items went on sale in September, Biscuit sold more than 1,500 in the first day. “We were blown away,” Rowlett said.
Ann Sinclair, owner of the Fig Tree in Chicago, said the choice to sell topical ornaments, dark as they may be, was a “no-brainer.” “Humor and snark have always been part of my brand,” she said.
In addition to ornaments featuring Fauci and toilet paper, she’ll be selling tiny dumpster fires and bottles of hand sanitizer to hang on the tree. The store also has a “Pandemic Collection” of greeting cards, some with “sentiments that I’m pretty sure are not fit to print,” Sinclair said.
It may be hard to imagine hanging a dumpster fire figurine next to your great-grandmother’s blown-glass vintage Santa, but for many people, holiday decorations are about commemorating the past year, and as 2020 comes to a close, a dumpster fire seems pretty appropriate.
On sites devoted to artisanal goods and crafting, people are avidly searching for such items. Dayna Isom Johnson, a trend expert at Etsy, said there was a 260% increase in searches for mask decor between August and September.
Swasti Sarna, an insights manager at Pinterest, said that in years past, people started searching for holiday décor in September, but this year, searches began in April. Many of them were on brand for 2020: ornaments featuring toilet paper, face masks and messages for home-schooling moms.
Kristen Hatfield, an Etsy shop owner, started making and selling hand-painted wood pandemic-themed ornaments in July. Hatfield, who lives in Kentucky, said crafting and painting the ornaments has become a form of therapy for her during a tough time. “I wanted to make something that might give others a chuckle to remember this crazy year,” she said.
Laura Davis, owner of online shop Needlepoint by Laura, said her business has increased fourfold in 2020. Initially she was worried about making light of the year’s vast devastation, but the more sarcastic and nihilistic offerings in her shop have become bestsellers.
Even more traditional holiday outlets like Old World Christmas, which has been selling handblown glass ornaments for 40 years, are seeing big sales of 2020- and pandemic-related items. “Our Santa with a face mask ornament is outselling anything we’ve ever made,” said Neal Applefeld, chief executive of the company.
Applefeld said that in past years people have gravitated toward items that commemorate new babies or anniversaries. This year, it’s ornaments in the shape of comfort foods like mac and cheese and ramen, as well as martinis, wine and beer. There has also been a spike in travel- and gardening-related ornaments.
“It’s interesting to watch, because I think people are buying ornaments that reflect things that gave them comfort at home or things we’ve been missing in our lives,” Applefeld said.
Sinclair, of the Fig Tree, said she finds solace in these 2020-themed decorations. “I think about hanging them on my tree in 2060 when I’m a little old lady,” she said. “I guess it gives me hope that one day, this pandemic will be in our rearview mirror.”