It’s Christmas Eve, and I thought I’d share a few of the things that make this time of year work for me. True, these days I’m a practicing Pagan and celebrate Yule, which I did the other night with flame and food and reading and watching most of the night through for the sunrise. But I was raised vaguely Catholic, not to mention generally American, and Christmas has always been a big part of my life whether I was celebrating the birth of Jesus or not. (Mostly not.)
I try to be a deeply thinking person, with depth of feeling and a giving soul and all of that good stuff. But it’s also true that I was brought up in the ’80s, and media has always suffused my holiday celebrations in a way that is indelible to my adult self. Thus, I give you my Top Eight Shows, Movies and Music Without Which It is Simply Not Christmas. Warning: this list is going to be extremely conventional. Enjoy.
I’m talking original, Boris Karloff stuff here, none of this Jim Carrey movie or whatever this godforsaken musical is. 2-D cartoon, Thurl Ravenscroft (true story! awesome name, right?) rumbling through “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes and making me cry. Oh, yeah.
7. A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Even if I don’t get a chance to watch the classic cartoon, with it’s still-supremely-odd real kids’ voices saying frightfully adult things, I always manage to give a listen or twelve to Vince Guaraldi’s fantastic jazz soundtrack. The wistful “Christmastime Is Here” always bespeaks to me the complexity of trying to celebrate peace, light, and the spirit of giving in our anxious modern age.
6. George Winston’s December.
Some years ago I picked up this album by the minimalist piano composer, and have always loved his icy, contemplative take on a number of traditionals, plus a few originals of his own, which sparkle. I can’t listen to this without imagining ice-coated branches and the sound of boots crunching and creaking in fresh snow.
5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
This Rankin-Bass classic stop-motion special is full of sexist language, weird violence, bad lip-matching and strange messages about conformity, not to mention one of the most annoying Christmas carols ever. It’s AWESOME.
4. Frosty the Snowman.
Rudolph and Frosty were my big two back in the day. Sure, it was important to see the other specials, but if I missed these when they were on, it was all over. I cried every time Karen found Frosty as a melted puddle in the greenhouse. Plus, dude, Jimmy Durante.
3. It’s A Wonderful Life.
I almost never see this movie in its entirety; it’s really long and front-loaded. But I almost always catch at least some of it this season. It truly is a fantastic movie, corny as it may seem. Thomas Garvey, my current favorite theatre reviewer, has a fantastic, fresh review of it here.
2. The Bishop’s Wife.
Folks might not be familiar with this movie, which was remade maybe ten years ago as The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington. The original, though, starred David Niven as an Anglican bishop, the radiant Loretta Young as his increasingly discontented wife, and Cary Grant as an extremely dapper and charming angel. This movie is so splendidly corny and wonderful, and everyone looks so luminous. It’s really a must.
1. Alastair Sim’s Scrooge (1951).
There have been countless adaptations of Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, but for my money none of them matches this sublime effort by Alastair Sim, who with goggle-eyed specificity makes both a perfect pinched, cruel old man, and the most delightful, fleet-footed redeemed Ebeneezer you ever saw.
Whatever you celebrate, enjoy your holidays, everyone!