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The Real Deal 

by Ann M. Colford

It's that time of year..." time for Christmas trees and creches, Santa and reindeer, snowflakes and angels. Few moments of the year are more heavily invested with symbolism than the end-of-year holidays, when everywhere you go, it seems, signs of the season crowd in.

The way we choose to decorate for the holidays says a lot about how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us. When we adopt decorative symbols and traditions, we're making a statement about the meaning of the holidays for us. But it's more than an individual choice. Months ago, trend-watchers predicted what kinds of styles, colors and textures consumers would want now; designers and manufacturers went to work, and retailers ordered their merchandise. The eye-catching products that look fresh and new have lots of careful market research behind them; ultimately, though, individuals make the final choices about what to buy.

So what's out there on store shelves this year? What kinds of symbols are people buying? Nationally, marketers say consumers want holiday decor that reminds them of old-fashioned, family-oriented celebrations of years past. This trend is tied in part to the "nesting" movement that began a year ago, following 9/11, along with a desire for items that look unique or handcrafted. A quick perusal of local holiday decor shops found applications of these ideas in full supply.

1. Seeing Red -- The ever-present red and green are out in full force, but these are not your standard poster-paint colors. "Red is big, anything red," says Nanci Williamson of Stanek's at Lincoln Heights. "The shade doesn't matter." True enough, red is everywhere, from candy apple red to burgundy to black cherry. Greens tend to mimic natural foliage tones, and blues place a distant third, most often when paired with silver.

2. All That Glitters May Be Gold -- Metallic finishes are popular this year, with bright, shiny shades of gold leading the way. Gold ribbons and beaded garlands bedeck trees while gold-brocaded fabrics drape tables, chairs, even dolls. Many wide ribbons have subtle threads of gold or silver running through them; others are made entirely of metallic-hued fibers. Metal accessories like bowls and candelabras also have sold well. "We have hurricane lamps with an antiqued copper base that have done very well," says Bunny Cronkhite of Joel. "We had matching candelabras, but they've sold out."

Favored finishes -- like antiqued copper, brushed stainless or verdigris -- have the patina of old family heirlooms, even when brand-new.

3. Touchable Luxury -- Richly textured, luxurious fabrics abound for the season, with plenty of heavy velvets, tapestries and brocades. "In textiles, people want texture, something they can feel," Williamson explains. Table runners, complete with thick silky tassels, are popular additions to the well-dressed table, while a tree skirt completes the look for a fashionable evergreen. Stuffed, fleecy Santas and angels have made a hit, too, as have elegant figures of the old-world Father Christmas.

4. People of Snow -- The single most purchased icon for the December holidays has nothing to do with religion or even with Santa. "Anything with snowmen just flies out the door," says Cronkhite. Dishes, tree ornaments, figurines, stuffed toys and towels all bear images of Frosty's kin. But what does a snowman have to do with Christmas?

"Snowmen are always popular because people can put them up early and leave them up late," explains Melanie Powers of Mel's on North Division. "They're not just for Christmas, so they can stay up all through the winter."

5. O (Insert Theme) Tannenbaum -- The latest trend in Christmas tree decor is the theme tree, a tree dedicated to one particular decorative theme, such as angels or snowflakes, or one color theme, like white, red or gold. But what happens to the eclectic family collection of ornaments?

"People are doing four, five or even six trees," Powers explains. "They'll do theme trees in the living room, but then they'll have one tree in the family room with all the old favorite ornaments on it. Nobody wants to get rid of those, because they're full of memories, and that's a lot of what Christmas is."

6. Into the Woods -- While more people are opting for an artificial tree these days -- "Maybe they want to save a tree, or they just want to leave it up longer," says Powers -- images of nature are filling those trees' synthetic branches. Gone are the days of bottle-brush plastic trees; today's artificial trees can be hard to tell from the real thing. Adding to the illusion are mossy twigs (called "picks"), bunches of red berries and garlands of leaves -- all manufactured -- that turn any tree into a vision of woodsy delight. A variety of potpourris can extend the illusion into the realm of scent.

Despite the bumpy economic ride of the past year, Spokane shoppers seem to be buying as many holiday decorations as they ever have. "Last year, after 9/11, some people didn't decorate as much because they thought it seemed frivolous," Powers says, "but other people did more because they wanted to do things at home with the family. This year, the average person is coming in and doing just what they've done before."

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