When Carol Connolly, St. Paul’s first poet laureate, recently downsized from a large apartment to an assisted-living facility, there was no room for all her holiday decorations.
Her daughter Kate Connolly of Minneapolis kept some handmade dolls and paper flowers “for sentimental value.” She expected the 13 grandchildren in the family to adopt the remaining angels, wreaths and other decorations. None of them did.
“I was surprised,” she said. “We put it out there and said, ‘Come take what you want.’ They didn’t even show up.”
Mary Kate Rice, one of the grandchildren who opted out, said her grandmother’s decorations just weren’t her style.
Rice, 23, is part of a generation that’s more interested in technology and experiences than trinkets — and that’s changing the look of Christmas.
Holiday decorations, once cherished heirlooms passed down from one generation to the next, are now ending up in secondhand shops, thanks to changing tastes, lifestyles and the evolution of Christmas itself. Sales of decorations have stagnated in recent years. And millennials, in particular, are decorating less than previous generations.
“Every year Christmas rolls around, and I feel a bit like the Grinch because [we] don’t sprinkle holiday decor around our apartment,” said Megan McCoy, 28, who rents a loft-style apartment in the North Loop.
“It’s not a lack of excitement about the holidays, but personally I don’t like having clutter around our place,” she said. Seasonal trinkets are “just added work,” and she lacks space to store them the other 11 months of the year.
Carly Winslow, another of Carol Connolly’s grandchildren, wasn’t surprised that her family’s younger relatives didn’t want the holiday decor, much of which ended up at the Empty the Nest thrift shop in Golden Valley.
She sees changing tastes firsthand as vice president of Ampersand, a gift shop in the Galleria. “Sentimental things don’t have value for that [millennial] generation,” said Winslow, 37.
The ornate decor of their grandmothers’ era doesn’t fit millennials’ preferred aesthetic. “They like a more minimal Scandinavian look — very clean,” she said. “Midcentury modern is really big.”
And the work involved in setting up seasonal decorations is a deterrent.
“I just don’t think they’re motivated to decorate,” Winslow said.
The numbers seem to bear Winslow out.
Spending on holiday decorations rose significantly during the past decade, then leveled off, according to data at Statista.com.
“Millennials are still decorating for the holidays but they are not into ‘overdecorating,’ ” said Tina Wilcox, CEO of Black, a retail brand agency in Minneapolis. “When I was growing up, my mother went crazy at the holidays. Every square inch of our house had a Santa or a reindeer or garland on it.”
Many retailers have embraced the new minimalist style and added modern pieces to their holiday offerings to attract younger shoppers.
Target.com, for example, offers ornaments of “Star Wars” characters, orbs with sayings like “merry whatever” and “bah humbug,” and a Jingle Pop ornament collection, which it describes as “a colorful audacious pop-culture mix.”
Even Santa is getting a millennial makeover.
“There are many more modern and graphic depictions of Santa,” Wilcox said. “No longer the traditional ‘Hallmark-looking’ Santa of years gone by.”
If holiday decorating is less of a ritual, it may be because the holiday itself is becoming more secular than religious for young people.
According to Pew Center research, 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, but only 39 percent of those age 18-29 view it as a religious holiday, compared with 66 percent of those 65 or older.
“For millennials, Christmas is a cultural thing,” said Wilcox.
Amy Lynch agreed. Millennials are “leaning away” from organized religion, said Lynch, a consultant and researcher for Generational Edge in Nashville.
Even so, they also tend to be strongly family-oriented. So not wanting to inherit boxes of old ornaments doesn’t mean they don’t value holiday memories and traditions.
“Millennials prefer experiences they can record and share rather than items they can touch and carry,” she said.
Rice, who declined her grandmother’s hand-me-down decorations, does decorate her Boston apartment for the holidays, she said, but minimally and nontraditionally. “Most of our decorations are pink.”