An Inflated View of the Holidays

An inflatable Christmas at Jason Jones's Muskogee, Okla., home.
An inflatable Christmas at Jason Jones's Muskogee, Okla., home. (By Jason Jones)
By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 17, 2005

The holiday inflatable blew onto American front yards about five years ago, and now no neighborhood can be truly festive without a towering Rudolph or Frosty or Caroling Pooh. This year, inflatable groupies, who now have a collectors club, are getting pumped about the latest innovation: eight-foot snow globes featuring Santa or Snoopy smiling amidst a swirling storm of Styrofoam snow beads.

National retailers such as Linens 'n Things, Wal-Mart, BJ's Wholesale Club and Costco are pushing these snow globes on steroids as the yard art must-have for Christmas 2005. Electric fans keep the globe upright and the snow swirling, while interior lights provide an eerie nighttime glow.

"Inflatables have been extremely popular for the last few years," says a spokeswoman for Lowe's. "The inflatable snow globe is the most popular style this year, and since we put it out on October 1, people have been excited to get it off our shelves. We expect to sell out."

Inflatables are particularly big in Florida, where holiday revelers must make do without hope of snow. But they appear on cul-de-sacs and porches throughout the land, wherever yard-art enthusiasts like to make a major seasonal statement, whether neighbors think it's tasteful or not.

"They have that nostalgia feel," says Sharlene Jenner, marketing manager for Gemmy Industries in Dallas, the animated-novelties company that also brought us the Dancing Hamsters, Singin' Dancin' James Brown and Big Mouth Billy Bass.

Gemmy now makes hundreds of themed inflatable styles that bob up throughout the year on Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving. (It's not too late to plug in a seven-foot turkey with a green tail for next week.) The firm spent years developing the snow-filled inflatables. "Everybody wants to remember Christmas in their grandmother's house and all those collections of snow globes," Jenner says. Prices for the snow globes range from $19.99 for a 12-inch desktop model to $150 for an eight-foot hulker (Check http://www.gemmy.com/ for retailers.)

The inflatable fad has spawned a collectors club in Muskogee, Okla. Members can click on http://www.airblownclub.com/ to buy or sell various Gemmy models, find out how to repair and clean them, post photos and enter contests to win rare models such as the eight-foot Nativity snow globe. Club founder Jason Jones, 29, owns hundreds, which he displays in front of his home all year, from the Super Bowl through Christmas. (Don't miss Jones's personal Web site at http://www.kingofholidayinflatables.com/ .) "The great thing about the club is that people post where to buy the hard-to-find ones," Jones says. The Tickle Me Elmo of 2005 inflatables is the rare Charlie Brown Christmas six-foot snow globe that landed briefly at certain Sears stores and is selling for $200 and up on eBay.

And in Grand Prairie, Tex., a theme park called Prairie Lights Airblown World is scheduled to open on Thanksgiving evening with 700 holiday inflatables displayed on a three-mile route glittering with hundreds of thousands of lights ( http://www.prairielights.org/ ).

But wait, there's more: Word just reached us of an inflatable villa, an art installation designed by Venezuela-born architect Luis Pons to be moored in Miami Beach Nov. 30 to Dec. 4. The 30-by-30-by-20-foot model was designed by Pons "in response to/inspired by the excesses of the Miami real estate culture" -- meaning "inflated architecture, such as pseudo Palladian McMansions with columns and capitals."

No word whether it will have an inflatable snow globe resting atop one of its columns.


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