By Patricia Ellah –
It’s the time of year when the city gets into the holiday spirit. One of the first celebrations is the tree lighting ceremony at the annual Distillery Winter Village. Last year, the ceremony required proof of vaccination against Covid-19, but this year it was open to all, vaccine passport or not.
On November 17th, the winter wind was chilling, people lined up around the block for the free event with hands gloved and hoods up. Security was letting in a handful of people at a time. When I got closer to the front of the line, a speech was followed by a countdown from 10 to 0, accompanied by loud applause and hoots from the crowd. The tree was lit!
Inside, the Distillery District was much busier than usual. Decorative lights were strung up, neighbourhood restaurants were packed, happy chatter and Christmas carols filled the cobblestone streets. People were treating themselves to hot chocolate, churros and warm socks, and writing messages
for the wishing tree in the outdoor pop-up stands.
Up in front, I could see a dense crowd of people and the line I was in slowly marched towards the tree. I heard a mother say to her son, “Are you ready to see the biggest tree ever?”
His response was giggling, clapping and a party dance. After what seemed like forever, I could finally see the 51-foot Christmas tree – and it’s Dior, the high-end fashion company.
A few branches below a modest pentagram gold star was the Dior logo, lit with a white backlight.
On the other side of the tree was the exact same Dior logo. There were various sizes and designs of gold and silver star ornaments and more shiny or reflective Christmas baubles, only smaller. The Christian Dior logo, a conjoined C and D was made into an ornament with a gold finish and sprinkled all over the tree. It was the most luxurious tree I’d ever seen, perhaps the most luxurious tree ever at the Distillery Winter Village.
Then I heard a young woman speaking to a group of three friends. “This is lame and capitalistic,’’ said a woman who identified as Aqsa. She felt that though the Christmas tree lighting ceremony brought city residents together, the decoration shouldn’t focus solely on luxury and symbols of wealth.
“With a homelessness crisis going on, the last thing you’d expect to see is a Dior tree,” Aqsa added. Her friend Iman chimed in: “This (she says pointing at the tree) is exactly what the Grinch talked about” in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
In many ways, their statements rang true. Dior is a notoriously expensive luxury brand, selling candles for over $600 and bags over $4,000. Seeing the tree for the first time made me think “is this it?”
Christmas tree decorations can mean different things to those who celebrate. Anyone who has passed down ornaments from generation to generation is aware of the symbolic nature they hold. In other words, decorating a Christmas tree is a custom that reflects the space and the people who design it.
So, what does the Dior tree say to us? People like Aqsa aren’t wrong when they see blatant consumerism masquerading as a holiday symbol. The tree’s expression of luxury and refinement doesn’t make it sentimental, or one that highlights family, community, love and togetherness; all things a Christmas tree has historically been about.
On my way to the exit, a mother with two prams had a different take on the event. When she asked her kids, “Do you want to touch the tree?”, bright smiles were the response, and up they went. She felt the tree was simple, yet beautiful. “The kids just love it. They are excited to be here, and they are excited to see the big tree.”
Oh, the innocence of children.
If you want to see the 51-foot Dior tree, the Distillery Winter Village is open Tuesdays to Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. After 4p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, tickets cost $11, but children 9 and under are welcome for free. The Winter Village is closed on Christmas and Boxing Days but open to midnight on New Year’s Eve.