I come from a Christmas-tradition-heavy childhood.
Annual chocolate advent calendars from CVS. PET eggnog. A Christmas tree adorned by preschool-crafted ornaments. That claymation movie about an elf who wants to be a dentist.
But our favorite Christmas tradition (besides opening presents, come on guys, this is America) was the James Center Christmas lights.
If you’re not from Richmond or you just hate holidays, I’ll fill you in: the James Center decorates every inch of their city lawn with Christmas-lit trees, reindeer, and this HUGE Christmas tree (that I’ve literally seen people propose in front of).
I don’t know when or how the tradition began, but every single year, my dad took my brothers and me to the James Center to soak in that sweet, sweet Christmas cheer (that we somehow made time for in between the advent calendar chocolates and Hermey the elf).
First we’d start at the model train.
I’m not like, into trains, okay, but the first building at the James Center always held this immaculate model train that was…so cool. The train went through all these tiny towns and there were all these people hanging out and doing things like ice skating on the lake and sunbathing by the pool (okay, the train also went through different climates which I’m just now realizing was strange and unexplainable).
We would look at all the little figurines and point out all the tiny details to each other, all the while avoiding eye contact with the old man running it because he would inevitably try to make conversation with us about his longtime hobby which had ultimately led to his divorce. When really we were just trying to look at the kids having a snowball fight (next to the kids playing beach volleyball).
Then we’d go and hang out with all the lit up reindeer.
Nothing infuses a child with joy and holiday spirit like dozens of wire-framed reindeer coated in white Christmas lights. My brothers and I would run around through all the reindeer and show our dad the coolest ones and think about how great Christmas is mostly because of the toys but also because of stuff like this.
And we’d find the one reindeer that was Rudolph.
Whoever found the reindeer with the red Christmas light bulb on his nose first sucked the least!
Then we’d go into the other building attached to the one with the model train.
This building had this amazing fountain that wrapped around the corner, and for the holidays, the James Center Holiday Decorating Committee (is what I’m assuming they’re called) would put up animatronic fishing penguins and ice skating polar bears on said fountain. Then my dad would take me and my brothers up the glass elevator to the second floor balcony and he’d give us coins to throw into the fountain.
And no, we weren’t supposed to do that, and yeah, we did get in trouble for it most years by the security guards but it was tradition.
But, you guys, something terrible has happened.
The James Center Holiday Decorating Committee…has almost completely given up.
Yeah, I still go every year.
No, my dad doesn’t take me. He’s been banned from the James Center for life because of the coins in the fountain thing. (That’s a joke but it’s way funnier than the truth, which is that he isn’t banned from the James Center.)
But it has significantly lost its Christmas cheer – and I don’t think it’s one of those lost-its-charm-because-I’m-no-longer-a-child thing, like the final time we went on our annual summer vacation to South of the Border.
It’s like half of their Christmas team has stopped showing up for the Grand Illumination, and the James Center just powered on like nothing ever happened.
And just in case I was wrong – or like, in case the past two years the Holiday Committee went on hiatus but then they came back in 2019 – I went by the James Center this week.
This is what I found. And please note this disclaimer: all of these photos are real and none have been doctored or photoshopped in any way.
First I started at the model train.
Not only was the model train not even there BUT THE BUILDING WAS COMPLETELY LOCKED SO I COULDN’T EVEN GO AND PRETEND TO LOOK AT THE ICE SKATERS AND SUNBATHERS AND WEIRD OLD MAN TRYING TO MAKE CONVERSATION.
Whew. Okay. Sorry about that. Let’s move on to the
Lit up reindeer.
So apparently half of these reindeer have lost their will to glow (live) but the James Center Holiday Decorating Committee couldn’t afford more light bulbs or something so they just set them up with the rest of the lit-up reindeer.
I guess thinking no one else would even notice.
WELL JAMES CENTER HOLIDAY DECORATING COMMITTEE I HAVE BEEN COMING HERE SINCE I WAS THIS TALL (I’M HOLDING MY HAND TO ABOUT MY HIP HEIGHT) AND *I* NOTICED. SORRY IF KIDS THESE DAYS ARE TOO DUMB TO SEE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIT UP REINDEER AND **DEAD** ONES.
Whew. Okay. Sorry about that. At least you made sure to prioritize lighting for
WRONG. NO PICTURE HERE BECAUSE THAT REINDEER IS DEEEEAADDD.
OH OR MAYBE THIS WAS RUDOLPH, THE ONE WHO GAVE UP SO HARD HE TRIED TO CLIMB INTO THE SOIL AND GET SWALLOWED UP BY THE EARTH. THEN HE REALIZED HE HAD NO WAY OF DIGGING BUT UNFORTUNATELY FOR HIS DIGNITY THE JAMES CENTER HOLIDAY DECORATING COMMITTEE IS TOO LAZY TO PICK HIM BACK UP.
Whew. Okay. Sorry about that. At least we can go inside to the other building and see the
The penguins and polar bears and fountains and shit.
NOPE JUST A “CAUTION: WET FLOOR” SIGN THAT ACTUALLY SHOULD HAVE SAID “CAUTION: NO HOLIDAY CHEER HERE.” ALSO JUST FOR THE RECORD THAT BUILDING WAS LOCKED SO I COULDN’T EVEN GO UP THE GLASS ELEVATOR AND THROW COINS INTO THE FOUNTAIN IN HONOR OF MY DAD WHO’S BEEN BANNED FROM THE JAMES CENTER.
Okay, ha, again, he wasn’t banned, but I’m just saying that to uphold the joke from earlier.
Oh…you already got that? Okay sorry I had to ruin it by explaining it. Sorry, really. I’ve just been very distracted lately because of my childhood Christmas illusions getting destroyed by the James Center Holiday Decorating Committee. It’s just one of those things that’s hard to accept as an adult, you know? Like, you know when your whole life has been built upon this one thing and then it’s just ripped out from underneath you like a rug?
Anyways, good thing Santa Claus is a real thing. Merry Christmas, Richmond!