My Gay Tortonto - We Recommend

Retro Festive: camp and the Christmas spirit live in Oakville and Pape Village

by Drew Rowsome -

In a sudden bizarre outburst of Christmas spirit - I kept waiting for the air to fill with the dulcet tones of "You're a mean one, Mr Grinch" - Raul's heart grew three sizes and we hauled out the box of Christmas decorations. The wreath - blue tinsel framing a red stag reindeer - went on the door while I sorted through the ornaments. While not an impressive-sized pile, it was a choice one: the ruby red slippers to crown the tree, the fuzzy Grinch, the smurf wielding a candy cane, dangly antique crystal chandelier snowdrops, disco balls (in both silver and pink), the post-heart Tin Man, and Elvis in his black leather, Hawaii and gold lamé phases.

"We need a bigger tree," I noted. Indeed the little mound of ornaments were almost as tall as the green tinsel foot-high tree from the dollar store. It could not, not even in a Charlie Brown alternate universe, bear the weight of the ornament collection.

"Leave it to me," said Santa Raul.

Pape Village's Stretch Thrift Store, benefitting the Toronto East General Hospital that is now one of my favoured charities, has a basement overflowing with Christmas items, including a selection of trees. There were two that seemed the right size (even though this is our second Christmas without Mickey, the tree still has to go on atop the record player atop the art deco dresser beside the piano: tradition) and our final decision was for the one with a built-in base.

The larger tree, especially now that is fake fir instead of glittery tinsel, needs lights, so stopping at Dollar Blitz we acquire a dazzling string of LED lights that change colour, flash at several different speeds including strobe, and probably sends signals to orbiting aliens. Once strung, the little tree, now in neon glory, dominated the living room.

The nice thing about Christmas decor is that it is impossible to go too far, to be too gaudy or over-the-top. The decorations filled out the tree nicely and - surrounded by a stuffed Grinch, the Elvis ornaments (that proved too heavy for even the new sturdier tree), two gleaming lacquered liquored-up Santas, and the old tree looking glittery but wistful - it is a work of art. But there were still a few small spots where the unnatural natural green of the needles peeked through. We were both exhausted from scouring Pape Village for yuletide necessities, so I headed online.

For years I have coveted many of the items offered by Retro Festive and going online brought on a wave of nostalgia: websites are the Christmas catalogues of the present. The proprietors of Retro Festive would probably appreciate that sentiment, they work hard at creating a kitschy haze evoking the joys of Christmas past. After all the business began because of an obsession with the film A Christmas Story that is itself an exercise in nostalgia. And yes, Retro Festive still sells a selection of Leg Lamps and A Christmas Story themed merchandise.

Like a kid in a campy candy store, I bookmarked (the current equivalent of my childhood pre-Christmas ritual of circling catalogue must-haves) a multitude of fabulous items. I am, alas, very susceptible to the beefcake charms of underwear models, but the down home appeal of the Retro Festive stable of ugly sweater models also proved enticing. I would never wear an ugly sweater out of season but I also, unusually, don't own one. And Retro Festive has many choices: the hilarious and either sacrilegious or seasonally respectful Baby Jesus Sweater, the Halloween crossover Zombie Santa Ugly Christmas Sweater and the cutely vulgar South Pole Sweater all earned an intense perusal for potential.

There is also, more delightful shades of Halloween, The Grinch Deluxe Costume With Mask. What fun to wear on Christmas Eve and when the children sneak down to spy on Santa, they instead come face to face with a full-size living breathing Grinch all ready to stuff them in his sack and cart them up the chimney. Alas, though I am grateful, there are no children involved with our Christmas this year. so The Grinch Deluxe Costume With Mask is a no-go though the idea of some grinchy furry cosplay fuelled by rum-spiked egg nog is a persistent fantasy. Perhaps I can settle for the Grinchmas Grinch with Sisal Wreath Ornament that is vaguely provocative: just what is under that wreath?

The one clothing item that is utterly irresistible (aside from the, again with the underwear, tacky Well Hung Christmas Boxers or the Nice Balls Men's Christmas Boxer Briefs Underwear, perfect Secret Santa gifts) is the Krampus Scarf. Aside from being modelled by a terrified refugee from A Christmas Carol, it looks smart and vaguely vengeful. Though Krampusnacht has already passed for this year, though oddly the neighbourhood is still full of children, the scarf would provide brimstonian warmth for the entire winter season.

The Krampus section of (and there is a section for every taste) contained the ornament I was looking for: the Krampus Glass Christmas Ornament. Though the Krampus Tree Topper also appeals (as does the hilarious Doctor Who Light-Up Tardis Tree Topper and the hilariously creepy Weeping Angel Tree Topper - Dr Who), the ruby red slippers (which Retro Festive also has many versions and variations of) are already gleaming atop the tree. And for the Christmas season, "There's no place like home" trumps "Drag you to Hell" and even "It's bigger on the inside."

The Krampus ornament added to the shopping cart, I continue scrolling and opening what seems to be an endless number of pages filled with wonders. Who could resist a Kiss Gene Simmons Nutcracker - The Demon? Especially now that the pompous fire-breathing rock star is the only vaguely musical personality willing to perform at Trump's (reputedly small nuts barely worth contemplating cracking) inauguration. I can't resist the gothic glory of the Kiss Gene Simmons The Demon Ornament though I would logically be more drawn to the Kiss Star Child Paul Stanley Ornament. If it had chest hair that wasn't just painted on, I would have given it a place of honour on the tree.

I also can't resist, despite our plethora of Elvis ornaments, the Elvis in Eagle Jumpsuit with Cape Christmas Ornament, the blue lining of the cape emphasizing the obvious angel, how Christmasy, reference. But the piece de resistance is the Wicked Witch of the West Christmas Ornament - Wizard of Oz, every Christmas should have a little green added. I order online and, after adding a last minute Christmas gift that must remain secret (and that is substituted for the Gene Simmons ornament that I will just continue to covet for the moment), the process is surprisingly simple. As the order is shipped from beautiful downtown Oakville, it shouldn't take more than a few days - they estimate three to eight but there are always the vagaries of Canada Post. 

If one doesn't want to order online there is not only the Retro Festive Flagship Store in Oakville at 1100 Invicta Drive that is open until Dec 24 at 5pm, but also two Toronto locations: the Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District until Thurs, Dec 22 at 9pm, and the Holiday Fair at Nathan Phillips Square that also runs until Thurs, Dec 22 but with two extra hours. Merry campy Christmas!


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