Visiting Winter Wonderland at Coleman’s Nursery, near my grandparents’ house in Portsmouth, Virginia, was one of my favorite holiday traditions. I am a big believer in enforcing a change of scenery during stressful times, and I could usually talk at least a few members of the family—tired from fighting or listening to someone else fight—into making the trip and walking slowly, patiently through the dimly lit Christmas scenes, throwing pennies onto dingy artificial snow and making a wish. Most of the animated scenes—open-mouthed carolers wobbling their heads in slow circles, skunks and raccoons tipping back and forth on a seesaw, inexplicable Christmas clowns that half-inflated—were somehow damaged or aged or strangely conceived in the first place. The whole production seemed a fitting reminder of the imperfection of holiday gatherings.
Then Coleman’s closed, and Winter Wonderland was purchased by the City of Portsmouth and installed in the Courthouse Galleries downtown. Everything has been cleaned and repaired and spruced up—“renovated,” according to one website.
This year, I went with my friends Princess, Cotton Candy, and Chunky (not the names on their birth certificates). I thought it was an over-edited display—where were the demented clowns of my memory?—but my friends, first-time visitors, did not seem to find anything missing.