Vintage plastic Christmas lawn decorations go from tacky to trendy

Calvin Bursey of Dartmouth, N.S., takes a week off from his job each year to build his impressive display.    (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)
Calvin Bursey of Dartmouth, N.S., takes a week off from his job each year to build his impressive display. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)

There are subtle ways to show your Christmas spirit. Then there's Laura Stewart's lawn.

Dotted across her property in Bridgewater, N.S., are about 100 blow moulds — hollow, hard plastic lawn decorations that light up from the inside.

"We just love Christmas, and we love them," said Stewart amid the glow of dozens of snowmen, Santas, candles, nutcrackers, candy canes and other assorted holiday staples.

Once written off as tacky and outdated, blow moulds are enjoying a resurgence in holiday displays across Canada and the United States.

Tens of thousands of people in both countries are members of blow mould groups on social media, where they share photos and videos of their impressive holiday displays, brag about rare finds and post items for sale.

Aly Thomson/CBC
Aly Thomson/CBC

And what once sold for a few dollars at yard sales, or could even be found in the trash, is now fetching several hundred dollars on buy-and-sell websites and in vintage stores.

Stewart, 40, is a longtime collector.

Aly Thomson/CBC
Aly Thomson/CBC

She received her first blow mould from her neighbours when she was a young girl — a Santa Claus she still proudly displays next to the back steps of her mini home. It's a testament to just how long the antique decorations last.

"I'd put it out every year at my mom's and then kind of just carried on with the same tradition and just kept collecting over the years," she said.

Aly Thomson/CBC
Aly Thomson/CBC

It takes Stewart and her husband up to three weeks to set up the display every year, bringing out each blow mould and strategically placing it in either their front or back yard onto a stake before tying it down. The process involves hundreds of extension cords.

"It's what we enjoy and we like to bring joy to other people," said Stewart, noting she also has about 25 of the classic Christmas accessories inside her home.

Blow moulds gained popularity in the late 1950s

Blow moulds have been around since the mid-20th century, and their origins may be more familiar than you think.

The process to make them was invented in the 1930s, but it gained popularity in the late 1950s, when a man named Don Featherstone created the iconic pink lawn flamingo.

Companies eventually started making Christmas-themed lawn ornaments, earning spots in the familiar household staple — the Sears Wish Book — throughout the 1960s and 70s.

Those same blow moulds are still around today, and some collectors spend years seeking out certain pieces.

Calvin Bursey, 42, was once on that quest. His coveted Santa in his sleigh and three reindeer are now proudly ascending into the night sky from makeshift metal scaffolding in front of his home in Dartmouth, N.S.

Bursey has more than 100 blow moulds scattered outside his house — on his front steps, perched above his garage, lining his driveway, in his windows.

Even more are piled high inside his garage — he just hasn't found a place to display them yet.

Bursey conceded that buying blow moulds in this day in age is much more expensive than it was when he started collecting about 15 years ago.

Aly Thomson/CBC
Aly Thomson/CBC

But it's something he enjoys, and seeing cars slow down as they drive past his house makes it all worth it.

"My nieces and nephews are just blown away by it and it just feeds the fire when they go screaming, hugging the blow moulds as they come up the steps," said Bursey.

Aly Thomson/CBC
Aly Thomson/CBC

Mike McKenna, owner of The ReFound Shop in Dartmouth, N.S., knows that blow moulds have exploded in popularity over the last several years.

He used to acquire them quite easily, but it now takes him all year to stockpile for the holiday season. He's paying a lot more for them, too.

"It's difficult for us to find them because they're becoming more and more popular, and people are hanging on to them," said McKenna, standing next to a gaggle of illuminated snowmen and Santas inside his small shop.

"People are always coming in asking for blow moulds or ceramic Christmas trees — anything nostalgic or that brings back a memory is what people are after these days."

Aly Thomson/CBC
Aly Thomson/CBC

Across the harbour on busy North Street in Halifax, Joe Huntley's home is hard to miss.

His front deck is brimming with Christmas blow moulds. And if you were to pass by a few months earlier, you'd find a similar onslaught of plastic characters for Halloween.

Huntley has limited space, and so he's made a habit of trading up his blow moulds throughout the years, offloading pieces as he brings new ones home.

But he has a few rules: he only buys locally and he does not buy the new blow moulds now being sold in stores.

Dave Laughlin/CBC
Dave Laughlin/CBC

Companies have caught on to the craze and have started making blow moulds en masse, but Huntley said there isn't anything like the originals.

"I enjoy the nostalgia," he said, noting the superb quality of the antique blow moulds — they were made to withstand weather and harsh winters.

"I like standing on my doorstep and watching the little ones stop and look. But even adults, it reminds them of when they were younger when they had them at their house or their neighbours had them.

"They're simply whimsical."