Peacock Lane bills itself as "Portland's Christmas Street." You can't really argue the point.
Every year, a street of reproduction Tudors in the Sunnyside neighborhood hangs Christmas lights. Every house on the block participates, with, ahem, varying degrees of enthusiasm.
The attraction draws so many visitors that the street is closed to cars for the first weekend the lights are on, and the neighborhood erects a hot cocoa stand to collect "donations." TV crews interview people in parkas. Choirs stroll through singing carols. This year, a Santa who appeared to be homeless brought his two pitbulls and set up outside the entrance to solicit funds for "a women's shelter."
Earlier this year, in what may go down as the greatest accomplishment of NIMBYism in Portland history, Peacock Lane parlayed the goodwill around the event into a successful drive to get the street added to the National Register of Historic Places. This was done to prevent someone from building much-needed housing—during a housing crisis—that didn't fit in with style of the street. But, in a town without much nationally significant architecture, a street of repros built in the '20s is apparently worthy of preservation by our federal government.
But there's something that's mostly gone unsaid: Peacock Lane is pathetic.
While a few of the houses show a little creativity and serious commitment (shalom to you, inflatable dreidel bear—you are great) most of the "decorations" on this street look like they were the product of about an hour of work and $46 of decorations from the Boxing Day leftovers at Kmart.
It's for the children, they tell me, and the children love it. Let's not sell our children short. I have a 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter. She loves Christmas lights, and I want her to expect more from the world.
I don’t want my daughter to be a pathetic rube who thinks this low-wattage street is all the world has to offer her—I want her to see a “Christmas street,” where she’s awestruck by the ambition, creativity and gaudy display of excess.
Which brings us to the most ambitious setups on Peacock Lane. Rather than demonstrate any genuine creativity, they all incorporate bootleg cartoon characters with all the restraint of a Tijuana street vendor. Not only are the bootleg cartoon characters one lawyerly letter away from disappearing, they haven't been updated in a generation. Today's toddlers have never seen Linus or Gonzo. If Peacock Lane's residents actually cared about kids, you'd see a bootleg Elsa and Olaf.
Look, I have been to Peacock Lane all seven years that I've lived in Portland, and I'll probably go next year. I live nearby, and in a town short on tradition, why not pop by?
But let's stop pretending Peacock Lane isn't a pathetic, half-assed display of Christmas cheer, and a fossil of a time when this was a smaller and less worldly city.
GO: Peacock Lane's meh Christmas-light show runs through December 31. Nightly, 6-11 pm. peacocklane.org.