Sometimes after a day of shutter-bugging, you come home with a surprise that just clamors to be blogged. Yesterday Gary and I took a daytrip to Boston, where I snapped pictures with my $300 Sony digicam and my $50 Aiptek pencam. To my increasing frustration, my digicam refuses to take decent pictures inside. Outside, my Sony takes crisp, clear photos even when said photos are snapped in my usual haphazard fashion: one-handed in midstride, often while an energetic dog is tugging me in the opposite direction. Inside, however, my Sony takes fuzzy, blurry images: the world as seen through the bottom of far too many margarita glasses.

Until I break down and read the damn Owner’s Manual to figure out what setting I need to change to take decent indoor shots with my $300 digicam, I’m learning (slowly) to use my cheapo pencam to take indoor shots. Although the pencam doesn’t have a flash and thus also demands well-lit conditions, at least the pencam takes decent, non-blurry pictures without a flash. The above image, taken off-handedly at Boston’s Prudential Center, is a case in point. Although the colors and lighting are a bit funky, the overall image made me sit back and say, “I gotta figure out some way of blogging that!”

Looking back through the various out-and-about shots I took with my works-outside digicam, I found that many of them, like that surprise pencam shot, featured wreaths. Many retailers snatch down their holiday decorations the second after the Christmas buying rush ends; as Kathleen recently noted, many retailers have already started displaying their Valentine’s Day wares (ugh). When I was a child, though, my family made it a habit to keep our Christmas decorations up through the New Year until my birthday on January 6th. This was partly in deference to my wishes that we observe the entire span of Christmas, New Year’s, and my birthday as one continual trinity of festivity, the merriment not ending (damnit) until my arrival on the planet had been properly feted. My family’s practice of keeping Christmas decorations up until January 6th also has liturgical significance, with January 6 marking the feast of the Epiphany, the day when the Three Kings visited the Christ child in Bethlehem. In the Christian calendar, Epiphany (also known as Three Kings’ Day, Twelfth Night, or Little Christmas) is the culmination of Christmastide, the day when Christ was revealed to Gentile as well as Jew and the liturgical return to Ordinary Time.

Regardless of the official reasons why, my family kept our Christmas decorations up late, from December through the first week of January…which of course is the exact opposite of the retailers, who start decorating in October and then whisk away every last trace of tinsel and mistletoe on, say, December 27th. Having worked in retail in the past, I can understand why shop clerks, for one, would be eager to sweep Christmas under the rug as soon as the shopping crunch ends: having reached the point of “been there, done that” the week before Christmas, retail workers are more than ready to be spared cheesy Muzak renditions of Christmas carols ad nauseum.

This being said, I’m always sad to see Christmas decorations headed for the trash bins right after Christmas, right about the time I feel I’ve “properly” gotten into the holiday spirit. As much as the days before Christmas are a hectic nightmare of last-minute preparation, the days after Christmas are a time for serious unwinding, relaxing, and de-toxing. If Christ’s birth is the “reason behind the season,” it only makes sense to enjoy the days after Baby’s arrival, a time for congratulatory visits and, yes, postpartum recovery.

I mention all of this by way of looooong introduction to a simple observation: yesterday the streets of Boston felt more “Christmasy” to me than did the pre-holiday streets of New York. When Gary and I were in Manhattan, the city was decked to the rafters with pre-Christmas hype, photos of which Gary duly blogged. Given the massive pre-Christmas crowds, though, Manhattan did little to get me in the Christmas spirit: I went to the Big Apple feeling semi-spirited, and I left feeling pretty much the same way. Yesterday in Boston, though, the smaller crowds and more low-key atmosphere allowed me adequate room to enjoy the minimalistic Christmas decorations that still remained. Rather than feeling beaten over the head with Christmas hoopla, yesterday I felt appropriately warmed by the remnants of holiday spirit. Presumably, I’m a less-is-more kind of girl, and the quiet afterglow of the holidays seems more festive to me than than the orgiastic frenzy the retailers feel is necessary to get consumers in the mood to buy, buy, buy.

Given my less-is-more proclivities as well as my fondness for late-lingering holiday decorations, it’s probably little wonder that I snapped these various images of Boston wreaths. Compared to the pyrotechnic splendor of lit Christmas trees, the corpulent opulence of gift-laden Santas, and the glitz and sparkle of animated shop-window figures, wreaths are low-tech, low-key, and downright, well, boring: just my speed. Festive in a non-sectarian way, wreaths allow retailers, public institutions, and the Average Joe alike to display politically correct holiday spirit: you needn’t be Christian or even nominally theistic to appreciate the tidings of an evergreen circle cheerfully hung.

Compared to the usual retail Christmas displays, wreaths are subtle, warmly sharing their cheer without cramming it down your throat. It is this subtle aspect that makes late-hanging wreaths so darn effective as they gently remind the world of the real message of Christmas: there are, don’t forget, only a couple of shopping days left before my birthday, and there are probably plenty of stores that are offering good sales on quality digicams.

    If you want to see what my pictures of the inside of the Boston Public Library should have looked like, check out Gary’s pictures of the restored main entranceway and Bates Hall reading room. Gary’s pictures of the latter inevitably bring back memories of the many hours I spent in the BPL doing research while I was a first-year Masters student at Boston College, before I started juggling my own academic research with the demands of teaching. I’m glad that at least one of us captured the appropriately over-the-top splendor of this precious treasure, a place that puts me in a festive spirit no matter what the season.