Toyota Camry turned winter wonderland


Karmen Kirker

Christmas decor envelops the dashboard of Karmen Kirker’s car with tinsel, ornaments, elves, and a small plastic house

Jingle bells ring from the interior’s ceiling, a tiny plastic house sits on the dashboard. The smell of cranberries wafts from the car air freshener on a center air vent, and Taylor Swift’s “The Very First Night” plays through the speakers. Karmen Kirker’s car is her Winter Wonderland.

Since this past summer, Kirker has decorated her beige 1997 Toyota Camry for every season and important holiday. From summer flowers and greenery, to spooky skeletons and fall leaves, to jingle bells and a hanging stuffed animal of Santa, the decor adds a bit of joy to her car rides.

“I like my car to look happy because, a lot of times, driving is something that I do when I’m kind of down. I just kind of go on drives. And so it’s nice to have nice scenery when I’m kind of feeling that whatever,” Kirker said.

The idea came to Kirker from videos on social media of people with decorated cars and the previous owner of the car, her older sister.

“So my car is actually hand-me-down from my sister when she was a teenager, and she would always decorate her car. She would put little push pins on the ceiling, and I was always so interested in that,” Kirker said. “She just got a pack of colorful ones and put them all over the ceiling. I feel like mine’s a little bit more in-depth and seasonal.”

Allison Escamilla, Kirker’s friend, and frequent passenger, loves the car, and more specifically, how it smells.

“There’s this certain scent once you get in her car. It’s just very homey, and it’s comforting in a weird way. It’s not like the typical smell that you’d be like, ‘oh, this smells good.’ Like it smells good because she has car scents,” Escamilla said. “But it also has this weird, kind of old, cozy smell to it. I feel like I’ve smelled it before somewhere else, but I was like, ‘that’s Karmen’s car.’”

Erin Thompson said her favorite decoration in the car is the long-legged Santa stuffed animal.

“Every time I think he’s an Elf on the Shelf, but he is not. Sometimes he’s in a different place, but that’s because I moved him,” Thompson said.

Another important part of the decor is a soundtrack, filled with indie pop and one of Kirker’s favorite artists, Taylor Swift.

“For Christmas, I’m asking for some CDs for my car. I’m only asking for Taylor Swift CDs so I’m hoping that the car is going to have a more Taylor Swift vibe,” Kirker said. “I don’t have any decorations of Taylor Swift. But I have a playlist on Spotify, and my car’s name is Shelly, so it’s called Shelly’s playlist. It’s like the vibe of the car.”

Thompson describes Shelly as an older soul.

“She has this very old-lady persona to her,” Thompson said. “And so I think she’d be like the nice grandma who bakes cookies. But she was a crazy teenager back in her day for sure.”

Outside of close friends, Kirker also received praise from strangers during her commutes. In October, Kirker had a string of skeletons across the interior of the car for Halloween, and she wasn’t the only one who loved them.

“One time I was at a stop sign, or a stoplight, and the car next to me was like, ‘roll down your window,’ and I rolled it down and they were like, ‘I love your car.’ And they were talking about the skeletons. Like, ‘thank you!’ It was so cute,” Kirker said.

As the Christmas season moves on, Kirker looks forward to switching up her decor from Christmas to a look that fits more with the winter season than a holiday.

“Right now, it’s kind of a red and green theme. I’m gonna switch into more like, blue and white, wintery theme,” Kirker said.

No matter the decor, Escamilla finds spending time in the car to be comforting.

“When I get in her car, it’s just good vibes. Like I know that it’s gonna be a good time and I know that it’s gonna be fun hanging out with her,” Escamilla said.