‘Tinsel’ examines Christmas traditions

  Christmas is a time for traditions, and every family has their own particular, if not peculiar, way of preparing for and celebrating the holidays.
  In 2006, Washington Post reporter Hank Stuever journeyed to Frisco, Texas, a booming suburb of Dallas, to follow three families as they prepared for Christmas. Stuever would spend the next three holiday seasons with these folks, observing and participating in their celebrations, the results of which he reports in his new book, “Tinsel: A Search For America’s Christmas Present.”
  Stuever begins his story as so many people start off the Christmas season: standing in line with the people waiting to find the best bargains of the season on Black Friday.
  There he meets single mother Caroll Cavazos and her family as they wait to get the best deals on computers and video game consoles. Cavazos hopes that she will be able to give her family the gifts — tokens of her love — that she works so hard all year long to be able to afford. Active in her children’s lives as well as her local megachurch, Cavazos represents what seems to be the most “normal” interpretation of the season to Stuever.
  From there, Stuever follows two more of Frisco’s true holiday believers as they get ready for their own unique style of Christmas celebration.
  He works with Tammie Parnell, the owner of Two Elves with a Twist, a one-woman enterprise that decorates other people’s big houses for Christmas. With the perpetually perky and overenergized Tammy, Stuever gains access to some of the area’s McMansions, and gets a glimpse into the lives of the outrageously wealthy, and the amazing overabundance that often hides a lot of heartache and sadness. Exhausting herself to make Christmas perfect for her clients, Tammy’s own family seems to suffer from her absence, which she valiantly tries to make up to them.
  Stuever also is introduced to Jeff and Bridgette Trykoski, the couple who owns the house that every town has: the one with the visible-from-space, most awe-inspiring Christmas lights. Helping set up the ga-gillion lights for their home display, as well as assisting Jeff with the lighting of Frisco’s town square, Stuever learns there is a lot more involved with just running a few extension cords to a bunch of lights. This is a project of love for the Trykoskis, even if their own family doesn’t quite understand the obsession.
  Stuever picked Frisco for the simple reason that the town had one of the highest concentrations of retail square-footage in the country, providing the perfect setting for him to report on the economic impact of the holidays. But over the three holidays that he spent with the three families, Stuever found that overall the holidays meant much more than just dollar signs in the North Texas town. Christmas still held deep traditions and meaning for the families and the community, no matter how funky or bizarre some of those traditions seemed.
  “Tinsel” is a fascinating look at how we celebrate the holidays today and perhaps provides a lesson or two on how to avoid the pitfalls and problems others might have experienced trying to create the “perfect” Christmas.

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