Come to the Table: Shopping for Easter

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Easter! a time to buy chocolate, stuffed rabbits, hide eggs, and refresh your spring china collection. (Oh wait, that’s not the origin of Easter? It’s not originally a consumer holiday? Right.) One could be forgiven for imaging the origins of Easter lie solidly in bunnies and baskets.

Easter window displays at a shop in Asheville, NC.

Consumer culture marks holidays and signals seasonality, as Jack Santino describes so well in his work on holidays (New Old-Fashioned Ways: Holidays and Popular Culture ).

And so we know  Easter is coming when weird yellow marshmallow bunnies and Cadbury eggs arrive at the grocery store, and when home goods stores redesign their displays for the coming holiday.

Pier One (“Hoptown” Easter display)

 

This spring, so far before Easter that I wasn’t even sure what date the holiday was this year, I wandered by a Pier One and stopped short, called in by the  fantastical appeal of the Easter decor. Quirky rabbits, bright colors, matching china and decorative but pretty objects with no purpose (e.g.fake bird nests and wreaths with eggs) create a festival of Easter experience  all about the look and the stuff.

 

Just being in the store is an experience in itself; a few steps in, the Easter aesthetic subsumed me and I felt, as I was supposed to feel, lured, comforted, attracted to and compelled by the artful displays with their suggestion of order, conviviality, comfort, and pleasure. Browsing these displays is akin to a vicarious Easter celebration, and too much time spent here is an overdose that nearly negates the need for the holiday itself or its attendant products (an effect that undermines the store’s intentions!). If only they served food, the vicarious holiday would be complete.

The table settings were the most engrossing feature of this holiday cornucopia. Like other such stores (Pottery Barn offers similarly intricate Easter table displays), Pier One models the Easter table to its customers. Here, the store says, is how to have a holiday and how to set a table. These tables invite viewers (potential consumers) into an imagined dinner, encouraging us to envision our own experiences made better, made special—indeed, created at all—through  this aesthetic.

These displays follow in a long tradition of hostess how-tos. Even before 1869, when the Beecher sisters published An American Woman’s Home , housekeeping was never morally neutral (the good housewife, to Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, was also the one who maintained a moral Christian home).

The Easter table is about many things: food, community, perhaps faith, family, friends, and tradition. The table is never free of meaning, and the table aesthetic at Pier One helps convey these meanings. Some of the meanings are about money: the store’s Easter tables assume a certain income. If you can buy it, you, too, live this Easter dream (or maybe just a few place settings of it).

The store carries on the fantasy on its website, expanding the “hop town” theme and welcoming us virtually to this imagined space.

Real or virtual, the holiday table at Pier One offers a recipe for success and a prescription for how to produce the ideal holiday. And the way to produce that is to consume an interrelated family of products  that promise us the same kinds of emotional synergies and cohesive, bright holidays for ourselves.

*(In closing, I will disclose that though I managed to leave without any Easter paraphernalia,  I did spontaneously buy new wine glasses.  Pier One’s strategy worked.Once I was in, I went from looker to buyer. )

Paddington for Sale

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I took these photos at Paddington Station in London. I was excited to go to Paddington, partly because it was the way to get to Oxford and partly because, I had grown up loving the Paddington tales and their stories of the bear left at the station with the note around his neck: “Please look after this bear.” Stories of Paddington were part of the fantasy of London, and England, for me as a child: elevenses, tea, imposing train stations, strangers who acted proper but had great heart, always willing to look after the bear. So finally getting to Paddington almost forty years later was fun on many levels and also evoked a nostalgia for childhood. I was not surprised to find a Paddington Bear store at the station, because of course, in our consumer world, what other way would there be to commemorate the intersection of literature and reality? I didn’t shop at the store. Perhaps I should have.

Platform 9 3/4. And Some Things For Sale.

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These photos are self-explanatory: snapped at King’s Cross Station in London, at the spot commemorating the mythical Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter fame.
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Here, visitors can stand in line to get their photo taken pushing a trunk on a luggage cart through the wall (stuffed owl in place), as a helper pulls back their scarves to suggest the effects of racing full-tilt into wall, and to make the scene look more realistic for photographs. Of course, even writing about making entry on Platform 9 3/4 “more realistic” seems odd.In any case, a long line (or queue) of people awaited their opportunities to try their luck at the wall and take the photo.
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Conveniently located right next to the “platform” entry is the Harry Potter Shop.
Now I can’t believe I didn’t go into the shop, but I didn’t. At the time, I was happy enough to watch people file up to pose with the cart and participate in our shared fantasy of making Harry Potter’s world come to life. And I was pretty sure I knew what was in the shop. . . wands, posters, clothing. Lots of things nobody needs but that can help them temporarily participate in the shared fantasy of making Harry Potter’s world come to life.

This experience offers fans ways to get closer to the Harry Potter stories. We know we can’t make them real, but we can try: we can enjoy the fun of a gimmick like the trunk-in-wall designed to bring the fantasy in the everyday, or we can become consumers of products that bring us closer to Harry’s world. Consumer-fans can, like Harry, buy a wand, or a book, or a scarf; the act of buying fuels imagined access to the world of wizards and muggles.