It’s December 1990. The setting is south suburban St. Louis. Our house is one of many single story brick ranch style homes lining our street. Each house is approximately 1,200 square feet and built in the 1950’s during the Eisenhower administration when urban sprawl began. It’s the very definition of a blue collar neighborhood and like hundreds of other blue collared households around us we are spending this chilly Saturday afternoon decorating for Christmas. I’m outside with my dad helping him sort and untangle strands of lights. Later we step into our garage which is so jam packed with junk that it would be impossible to park a Radio Flyer wagon. At that point I am brimming with anticipation as he pulls out an object which has practically been the very embodiment of Christmas for me over the years; a blow mold illuminated plastic Santa Claus on sleigh.
Nearly 30 years ago our neighborhood was filled with these types of decorations. Driving up and down the residential roads it seemed that every third house displayed at least one. There was the smiling Snow Man holding a Christmas wreath and candy cane. There was the overwhelmed looking Santa Claus staring at his list which sprawled all the way down to his boots. Who could forget the toy soldier’s lined up the walkway between the front door and the driveway? Everyone knew somebody that had a set of blow mold Noel candles. And of course there was the ubiquitous nativity scene.
For decades these cheerful looking plastic figurines illuminated our dark winter streets in celebration of Christmas. While standing in line waiting to check out at the department store I can remember seeing the overstock shelves along the front wall of the building brimming with boxes stacked to the ceiling with these decorations. I assumed they would simply always be available. Unfortunately through the years these once extremely common adornments have become somewhat difficult to find. Over time they have fallen out of favor as households have chosen to display wire framed LED decorations, giant inflatable caricatures that can be squeezed into a small box, or simply have opted not to decorate at all. Stores that once carried these warm and inviting lawn ornaments have gone out of business or exited the market. The companies that once produced them by the hundreds of thousands have shuttered their doors for good.
In an effort to immortalize the once time honored tradition of displaying blow molds on holidays, I’d like to reflect on some of my childhood favorites and what they meant to me. Most of these are no longer being produced and can only be procured on the secondary market. Some of them are still being manufactured, albeit with inferior paint applications compared to their vintage counterparts. All of them are guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of those who remember.
Flying Santa Claus with Reindeer
This is the big dog. The cream of the crop. As a kid I used to get excited every time we drove past a house displaying this particular decoration. The set came with Santa on his sleigh and a single reindeer. Additional reindeer could be purchased separately. A lot of houses would pick up an extra one. Some of the more enthusiastic would attach 4 reindeer. The hardcore enthusiasts would have a line of 8 (or sometimes 9) of these leading Santa on his annual journey which looked amazing; especially when flying via a steel cable or mounted to a roof. I begged dad to mount ours to the roof as a child but that wish was never granted. Therefore as an adult I’ve made sure to make my childhood dreams come true. Fortunately the pitch of my roof is quite shallow.
In case you’re wondering, the secret I used is to build a frame of PVC pipe and mount the reindeer to pipe also. This makes the display expandable and gives me more control as I can adjust the height of the reindeer making it look like they are “taking off”. The frame is held down by bags of play sand on the back of my roof which can’t be seen from the road. I’ve been trying to track down some extra reindeer for some time now, but they are no longer being produced and the price on the secondary market has increased to insane levels. I’m holding out hope that the mold is picked up by a new company and made available at retail again sometime soon but I suspect that my dream of lining up nine reindeer on my roof will never reach fruition.
Empire Snowman with Wreath
I never owned this but I’ve always enjoyed it. Simple but happy looking I’ve long considered this to be the definitive blow mold snowman. There was a house on our morning school bus route that had this snowman tied to their front lamp post and I made sure to look for him every day. In the early 90’s this was already becoming more rare as the shorter 30″ snowman or the crooked winking snowman were being produced in greater numbers. That leads me to believe that this snowman stopped production before or shortly after I was born. My parents did pick up a smaller table top version for my little sister after I had already moved out of the house which is the closest I’ve come to having one. Someday I hope to find an affordable one at a flea market or yard sale and add it to my small collection.
Santa Claus with List
Not as iconic as the flying Santa in sleigh, I always considered this my #2 Santa Claus. If you couldn’t afford the sleigh or didn’t have enough space to display one, this would’ve been the Santa Claus I’d recommend buying. The overwhelmed look on his face as he reviews his naughty/nice list is fun and it’s a tall mold that looks good mounted on a roof. In fact, I finally picked this up last year at Menards and have tied him to my chimney each Christmas since. Santa Claus has probably been the most produced blow mold over the years with numerous companies trying their own interpretation of the iconic character, but this classic looking piece has always struck a chord with me. Since it is still being produced I’d recommend picking one up if you have the opportunity as I don’t expect them to be around for much longer.
Having been produced by every blow mold company ever, my favorite version of the nativity scene would have to be the Empire version. Most houses that displayed one had only the base set that included Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus with all of the other pieces being sold separately. Nothing looked more boring at the store than the box with big bold letters enticing a prospective shopper to buy an “ILLUMINATED COW!”. Once the full set was compiled though it was impressive looking.
Numerous houses displayed the Santa in sleigh blow mold set but I only saw this train a handful of times growing up, and I haven’t seen it at all since the 1990’s. That’s part of what makes it so cool. Additional cars could be purchased to lengthen the train, just as the sleigh could be made more impressive through adding more reindeer. I used to take special note of the few houses that displayed this mold. In particular I recall one house that had a Santa sleigh with full compliment of reindeer on the roof and this train with three or four additional cars in the landscaping. I’m not sure when Santa became a train conductor but it’s a nifty looking and fun set all the same. I’d love to add this to my front yard but it’s near impossible to find affordably on the secondary market and you can forget about finding more cars.
These toy soldiers have been made by a variety of companies and with numerous paint applications through the years. I own a pair of these white hatted toy soldiers currently and would love to pick up several more to line my front sidewalk. At present time I’m alternating these toy soldiers with a couple of blow mold candy canes I picked up at The Home Depot. Not a “main event” player on it’s own, these soldiers still do a great job sprucing up a display. The larger the quantity the better, I consider these guys the Stormtroopers or Foot Soldiers of blow molds as it’s impossible to have too many. Unfortunately I haven’t seen any available at retail in years although they routinely show up on the secondary market and in front yard displays.
Ghost with Black Cat and Jack O Lantern
It wasn’t as common to see blow mold’s on display for other holiday’s but this ghost with black cat was one of the more visible ones. There were only a few houses in our neighborhood that did more for Halloween than tape cardboard cut outs to the windows but I always enjoyed driving past a house and seeing this ghost illuminated on a crisp autumn night. When my age was still being measured in single digits I had a real fascination with ghost and skeleton decorations and was very intrigued by this specific blow mold. I asked mom and dad to pick one of these up numerous times but they weren’t as eager to purchase halloween items as they were Christmas. I’d still like to buy one some day for our front porch to give my kids something to look forward to every fall.
I used to see this pumpkin headed scarecrow and think it was a take on Samhain from The Real Ghostbusters. Obviously that was misguided as he’s got a big goofy grin on his face and is holding a Trick or Treat sack, but this made an imprint on me all the same. Far more uncommon than the typical ghost or witch blow mold, these only dotted the landscape of my childhood neighborhood. In recent years there is only one house that I drive past on my way to work which puts this out in the front yard for Halloween. I don’t even recall seeing it in stores growing up which would lead me to believe that it was produced before my time.
Unfortunately I don’t see blow mold decorations making a return. They are bulky and thus cost quite a bit to ship when compared to an inflatable decoration which expands to a far larger size but can be stored in a relatively small box. As the price of raw materials continues to increase they are also more costly per decoration than other alternatives. As far as I know, most of the major producers of blow molds have gone out of business leading to a trickle of only a few of the same molds being released to the same retail outlets annually. Lastly I think they have gained a reputation for being somewhat tacky or low brow leading to a lack of demand. Although I would love to see a resurgence in the blow mold industry I think these decorations have already been relegated to the memories of Christmas past.
This has been a difficult year for a lot of folks, and I imagine we could all use some more Christmas cheer. I’ve had a few people ask me how I mounted the Santa Sleigh and Reindeer set to the roof, so I’ve included my reply and some photos I just took hoping it helps/motivates someone else.
Essentially you can either build a frame and screw the metal reindeer legs and sleigh rails to the frame or choose to modify the reindeer. I opted to modify the reindeer because I wanted to be able to adjust the height of each reindeer to make them look like they are taking off. I built what basically looks like a ladder with 1/2″ PVC pipe. One long side of the rail rides along the peak of my roof and includes the tee’s necessary to place the pipe connected to the reindeer. The other side of the ladder lays on the back side of my roof which I weigh down with sandbags. Between the long rails are struts to help keep the PVC from wobbling or separating. I simply lay sandbags across the struts and the long rail on the back side of the roof and I screwed the sleigh rail directly to the PVC pipe. It sounds more complex than it really is. If the price of reindeer ever comes down and I’m able to add more than 2, my plan is to rebuild the rack so that half of the pipe lays across the front side of the roof and half across the back with 45 degree elbows joining the long sides of the rack together at the roof peak. This way I could put the reindeer side by side on each side of the roof peak. Unfortunately the price of blow molds has skyrocketed and I think my dream of assembling a team of 9 reindeer will remain a dream. My only regret is that I would use 3/4″ PVC next time as the 1/2″ is a little too malleable. I’ll try and post some photos when I dig the rack out of storage.
You can either glue or screw the PVC frame together. I used screws in the hopes that I could expand the frame for use with future reindeer, which hasn’t happened. I also used fittings under the reindeer not only to mount an individual reindeer to a PVC post, but could also allow for a piece of CPVC in between reindeer mounted side by side to add stability.