Anyone who’s been in a mall, big box retailer or grocery store since Labor Day has bumped into an artificial Christmas tree or 10, along with seasonally packaged bulk candy, ornaments, cards and the other paraphernalia of the three-month-long holiday season.
It’s somewhat hypnotic, and the other day I actually came to and found myself lifting a package of two stuffed felt candy canes on plastic rods toward my shopping buggy, thinking how cute they would look on the little white hatchback.
Sales resistance kicked in and the canes were returned to their display box, with no small pang for the cute holly-and-berries accessory that would’ve adorned my car’s grille. Next to these items was a large box of stuffed reindeer antlers, with puffy red noses for a grille accent.
At least 2 million or 3 million vehicles in the United States have been playing Rudolph for the past few years, according to sales figures from Mystic Industries Corp. Andy Marcus, principal of the Wakefield, Mass. firm, says demand for the kitschy costume kits is steady, with tens of thousands more likely to be snapped up this month and next.
“Christmas is definitely our best market,” said Marcus. “But we have about 24 designs covering the whole holiday spectrum. Halloween does pretty good and Easter isn’t bad.” Bunny ears, pumpkins, bat ears, the Jolly Elf motif and the like sell for about $20 through Mystic’s site, CarGetUps.com, as well as Amazon, eBay and other outlets.
Increased competition from imitators has its frustrating aspects, Marcus said. “People think the merchandise is ours and call up to complain, then it turns out to be some copy that uses cheap plastic that snaps off. And we’re taking the rap for it.”
Operator error is a problem, too. It irks him when drivers call to complain that the antlers fly off at highway speeds. “You drop your window and you lose an antler and try to blame us? Come on!” he said. “The smart thing to do is put them in your rear windows. And we clearly say they are for 40 mph or less.”
Despite the growth in copycats, there still is plenty of scope for creativity and competition in the car costume arena.
Sites like Pinterest and YouTube are rife with tutorials for adding that holly, jolly spirit to vehicles with everything from cheap see-through window clings to battery-operated light sets to, for the hard-core, full strands of household Christmas lights powered by a DC inverter.
Upping the, er, ant(ler)e last year, Mystic began offering a lighted reindeer kit with seven battery-operated LEDs per side. “They are doing really well,” Marcus said. “Of course, we can’t offer a lighted red nose — we don’t want to go down that road.”
Neither do you, if you’re into car costuming. State law prohibits the display of most colored lights at the front of a vehicle (white and amber are the exception) — and laws restrict what you can flash at the rear of the car, as well. Take heed unless you want a lump of coal in your stocking and a hefty hole in your bank account.
“Basically, you don’t want to make your car appear as an emergency vehicle,” said First Lieutenant Mike Shaw, a public information officer with the Michigan State Police. “And use some common sense, make sure your decorations don’t obstruct your vision.”
Beyond safety issues, Shaw said, it’s unlikely that police officers are going to Grinch your car decor; reindeer antlers and wreaths and other festive touches won’t make you more likely to be pulled over or ticketed.
“A plain red nose on the front of the car or anything like that — it’s not going to be a problem,” he said.
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com.