I don’t have many family heirlooms, but I’ve somehow managed to retain a mangy red tin wreath with faded and broken Christmas balls that made its holiday debut over half a century ago. So each December, I drag out this sorry little specimen as part of my increasingly diminished Christmas display. It may be tattered, but it has become a tradition.

A similar preference for the traditional over the tasteful has apparently gripped St. Helena. Despite pleas from the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Renaissance and the hovering specter of Martha Stewart, downtown streetlights are once again festooned with faded, broken and rodent-nibbled holiday wreaths dredged up from the décor deep-freeze by nostalgic locals. It’s easy to understand the chamber’s frustration. Under new leadership, the chamber is trying valiantly to tart up the city’s image with a new visitor center, updated logo and tourist-tempting website. But now it’s as if the chamber bought a new dining table, covered it with beautiful French linens, set it with the finest crystal and sterling and laid out a sumptuous gourmet feast, only to have an enormous plastic poinsettia centerpiece plunked down in the middle of the table.

The trouble is that many holiday treats and decorations are, by their very nature, hopelessly tacky. No one eats fruitcake or ice cream snowballs because they look or taste good, but because, darn it, that’s what we’ve always done. Santa costumes are used and reused until they disintegrate or spontaneously combust. Every household I know has at least one unspeakable bit of ugly looming in storage waiting to be unleashed: the faded plastic reindeer for the front lawn, the flaccid inflatable snowman, or the papier-mâché nativity scene that’s been missing the baby Jesus since 1972. And these are the professionally manufactured items. Add to this display the generations of handmade, hideous, but sentiment-stirring concoctions fashioned from Styrofoam, glue, glitter and pipe cleaners and dragged out once a year like holy relics, and the holidays can appear more flea market than festive.

And then there are the sweaters. Not to sound like Scrooge-meets-Tim Gunn, but one should seriously reconsider leaving the house wearing any item of clothing that: 1) includes bells that jingle or sound chips playing Christmas carols; 2) requires batteries and features operational lights or a reindeer whose nose blinks; 3) is decorated with elves, nutcrackers or Santa; or 4) is covered with red and white stripes causing the wearer to resemble a barber pole or giant piece of candy. Such costumes are most appropriately worn by individuals volunteering at hospitals, raising money for charity or competing in the “ugliest possible holiday sweater” contest at their place of employment.

But is retiring your “Meet Me Under the Mistletoe” necktie and upgrading your Snoopy Christmas stocking the answer? I’m tempted by the catalogs featuring designer outdoor holiday décor, with their elegant snow-white grapevine-lighted deer sculptures with sparkling antlers. They look so clean, bright and shiny now, but after a season or two of exposure to the elements, not to mention the neighbor’s dog, followed by consignment to some dark corner of the garage between the tiki torches and the unused trampoline, today’s holiday showstopper could become tomorrow’s neighborhood shame.

Still, I must admit that I see both sides of this wreath thing. It would be lovely if our town could hang holiday décor that didn’t make us look like a city in Eastern Germany during the Cold War, or suffer by comparison to glittering downtown Yountville; even Calistoga decorates its tractors with more gusto. On the other hand, as someone who cannot discard either a broken ornament or the box it came in, I sympathize with those having a lingering attachment to these shabby un-chic outcasts from the past. So for now, the wreaths reign triumphant in all their faded glory, a testament to tradition and continuity and the indestructible quality of commercial-grade plastic and tinsel. It is comforting to know that even in a nuclear winter wonderland, these ancient artifacts from our civilization (and some rodents who love them) will survive. I heard a downtown merchant start to complain about their appearance last week, when he suddenly stopped himself and asked me: “Are you in the pro-wreath or anti-wreath camp?” The fact that Christmas wreaths could become a cause so divisive that they have spawned dueling constituencies is perhaps the most traditionally St. Helena thing about them. And that’s a holiday tradition we might consider consigning to the seasonal scrap heap in 2012.

Meanwhile, it’s the first anniversary of this column. Thank you for your readership and encouragement, and here’s wishing you peace, prosperity and laughter in the New Year!

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of Pennaluna Napa Valley, a resident of St. Helena, an attorney and former theatrical producer, and an author and columnist. Read more at laurarafaty.com.)