30 DAYS OF GRATITUDE (PART III)

Reflect upon your present blessings—of which every man has many—not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. – Charles Dickens

I will skip a wordy preamble and just encourage you to check out Parts 1 & 2 if you have not already done so. 

11 What holiday are you grateful for??

I really love holidays. Sure, some are more meaningful than others, but each & every occasion we celebrate annually is marked on the calendar for a reason. A few go back centuries, while others are only several decades old. A handful are uniquely American observances, while others are recognized across the globe. I have a healthy respect for all of these days, but there are four that I am especially pleased to acknowledge. Obviously the entire reason any of us are participating in these gratitude exercises is due to Thanksgiving. Someday I’ll take the time to do a deep dive into the holiday, but for now I’ll just say that I believe it is fantastic to set aside a day to really appreciate our blessings, mark the very beginnings of our great country, and of course munch on stuffing & pumpkin pie. I also love New Year’s Day, partly because it’s a fun reason to go out & enjoy some (safe & responsible) revelry the night before, but mostly because there’s something very cool about fresh starts & new beginnings. As a Christian (though admittedly not a very good one) I love Easter as an opportunity to reflect on the gift of eternal life provided to us thru the sacrifice of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. And of course I adore Christmas, both because it marks the birth of Christ and also for the beautiful things…lights, music, movies, etc….that have become lovely accessories to the Reason for the Season. 

12 What texture are you grateful for??

I’m going to be honest with y’all…I’ve really struggled with the question. It’s just not something one thinks about. Of course I suppose that’s the point…to provoke thought. At any rate, I have a few ideas. First, is a particular texture really what you’re grateful for…or is it what that texture represents?? 🤔 Secondly…are warmth & cool considered texture?? I ponder that query because the first things that popped into my mind were the warmth one feels when you snuggle underneath a cozy comforter on a cold winter night, and conversely, the coolness of a cool summer breeze or the rush of cold as you walk into an air conditioned room on a hot summer day. As far as tactile texture, I immediately thought of my boy Rocco’s soft fur. I really miss that.

13 What abilities are you grateful for??

I suppose we all have abilities, although I don’t feel like I’m all that talented at anything. Perhaps I’m too hard on myself. Anyway, as a person with a disability it is interesting to consider the idea simply because oftentimes the focus…understandably…is on what I can’t do. So, thinking more positively, I am grateful for the senses that I do have…sight, hearing, taste, touch. On a more personal level, I am obviously grateful for whatever level of writing ability I seem to possess, even though I haven’t been smart enough to turn it into a profitable vocation. Also…and this is going to sound strange, but you’ll understand my point…I am grateful for the relatively tranquil demeanor & ability to roll with the punches that I inherited from my father. Trust me…I’ve needed every ounce of that throughout my life.

14 What sight are you grateful for today??

Sight in & of itself is something for which I am deeply grateful. As a wheelchair user I have often said that I’d much rather deal with the disability that I have rather than blindness (or being deaf). There are so many cool things to see. Right now I am looking out my living room window, and even though it’s cold & a lil snowy outside the sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day. Later on tonight I will curl up with a good book, so that’s a sight I’ll enjoy. Soon enough the landscape will be littered with lights & decorations celebrating Christmas, and that’s a sight I look forward to every year. 

15 What season are you grateful for??

My typical smartass answer to this question is football season. It’s true though!! I haven’t been able to attend a lot of games in person thru the years, but on weekends in the fall, unless I am engaged in other activities, there’s nothing better than vegging out & watching hours upon hours of gridiron action!! A more conventional response to the probable spirit of the question would be summer. I hate cold, snowy, icy, dark, depressing weather. Give me hot summer days & nights with plenty of sunshine. 

Okay, let’s pause once again. Stay tuned for more though!!

Sam’s Christmas Carol

No, I wasn’t visited by any spirits last night. However, I have been pondering Christmases past, present, & future.

Yesterday I was feeling a bit wistful…missing my Mom, missing my grandparents, missing my sweet boy Rocco, and recalling so many years of Christmas Eves met with gleeful anticipation of our annual family fish fest & of course Christmas Day revelry. Death, illness, & other circumstances had allegedly brought those old traditions to a close.

Then I remembered a year ago, when I wasn’t even able to get out of bed & The Sickness had the world tied up in knots, along with similar personal circumstances in 2006 & 2015. This year I have been blessed to enjoy some holiday events, and a few days ago had an enjoyable dinner with my family. Last night I hopped in Sammy Claus’ sleigh & went to a couple of lovely church services (after all, it is CHRISTmas). I roamed thru an affluent neighborhood looking at Christmas lights. I stayed up late in Bedford Falls and have been spending today with Ralphie & some football. It’s not Christmas the way it used to be. Those days are destined to remain fond memories. However, I am content in the knowledge that life could be (and has been) much worse, and I am far better off than many. 

I do hold out hope for a brighter future. I hope someday I can attend Christmas Eve services holding the soft & beautiful hand of someone who loves me for who I am, flaws be damned. Well-known sage Britney Spears once sang “My loneliness is killing me”. However, she followed that up with “I must confess…I still believe”, which cannot be overlooked. I hope my nephews get hitched and start producing offspring, because Christmas thru the eyes of a child is a whole different vibe. I hope to begin new holiday traditions & create fresh memories that can eventually stand alongside the old ones. I hope The Sickness is eradicated completely because, although we have found ways to work around it & move forward, it remains an undeniable scourge in our lives. I hope one day to once again eat calimari, oysters, & baccala on Christmas Eve with people who welcome my presence instead of casting me aside. I hope to regain some of what I have lost…self-respect, enthusiasm, & faith. I hope the health of those I still consider family improves enough to enjoy it all. I hope.

Charles Dickens said “Don’t leave off hoping, or it’s of no use doing anything. Hope, hope to the last!”. I’m not 20 years old anymore, but I’m not dead yet. I still have hope, and that’s something.

Superfluous 7: Best (And Worst) Fictional Santa Clauses 

Yes West Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…or atleast there used to be a long time ago. Saint Nicholas was a 4th century clergyman in Turkey. He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, & unmarried people, and is well known for his practice of secret gift giving. That very real bishop gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus (aka Kris Kringle, Jolly Old Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Sinter Klaas, et al). As a central figure in our modern celebration of Christmas he is not without controversy, but unlike some of my Christian brothers & sisters I take no issue with Santa’s role in our merriment. I choose to see him as a friend & servant of Christ, spreading joy, generosity, & good cheer thru his interactions with children of all ages. Pop culture has embraced Santa Claus for centuries, and he ranks right up there with characters like Sherlock Holmes & Dracula in the countless times & ways he has been portrayed. In pondering that very subject I began thinking about all of the great & not so great depictions of Santa thru the years, and decided to present…..

from the home office in Santa Claus, IN…..

The Superfluous 7 Best (And Worst) Fictional Santa Clauses:

7 Worst – Santa Claus (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

It is only thru the prism of adulthood that we begin to understand that this Santa is kind of an ass!! While it isn’t surprising that other reindeer bully Rudolph about his…physical deformity…we expect more from Santa, who essentially says the whole red nose thing might prevent Rudolph from making his sleigh team. But then the weather gets bad (as if snowstorms are rare at The North Pole 🤷🏻‍♂️) and, like so many of us flawed human beings, Santa suddenly warms up to Rudolph when he realizes that red nose just might be advantageous. In other words, Rudolph is disposable until Santa needs to use him, which is pretty disheartening.

Best – Santa Claus (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

For those of us of a certain age the Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated holiday specials produced in the 1960s & 70s are quintessential Christmas and represent a huge piece of our childhood. 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the first of those TV specials and is still shown annually a half century later. While Rudolph, Hermey the Elf, & Yukon Cornelius take center stage, The Jolly Old Elf is there as a supporting character, and, despite his questionable attitude, he is the first Santa many encounter on television as kids. He has the red suit, the full white beard, a deep booming voice, & the requisite “Ho Ho Ho!”.

6 Worst – Nick Claus (Fred Claus)

This one hurts because I freakin’ love Paul Giamatti. From his breakout role in Howard Stern’s Private Parts to the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon to portraying quirky writer Harvey Pekar in American Splendor to my personal favorite Sideways (a critically acclaimed yet underrated gem), Giamatti quietly became one of the most undervalued actors in Hollywood about two decades ago. It’s not that Giamatti is miscast as Sadsack Santa because vaguely depressed is kind of his wheelhouse, it’s the fact that characterizing Santa that way simply doesn’t feel right. Fred Claus isn’t a good movie to begin with, despite the presence of Vince Vaughn, Giamatti, & Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, but a milquetoast Santa with family drama who gets bullied by a bitter efficiency expert (🤔🤷🏻‍♂️👀) isn’t the least bit amusing. To top it off, Santa is unable to deliver gifts on Christmas Eve due to a back injury, so it’s up to his slacker brother to get the job done. And I’m supposed to laugh??

Best – The Norelco Santa Claus

From 1961-89 it was an annual tradition for Norelco (a division of electronics conglomerate Philips) to hawk their electric razor with a commercial featuring Santa Claus. This Santa didn’t say anything, he just zoomed thru snow covered hills utilizing an electric shaver head as a sleigh while a voiceover detailed the latest razor on the market that you might want to gift Dad, Grandpa, or any other man on your list. The irony of a full-bearded Santa shilling for a razor never occurred to me back then, and now those commercials (thankfully available on YouTube) provide a healthy dose of nostalgia, which becomes a huge part of the Christmas experience as one grows older.

5 Worst – Higbee’s Santa (A Christmas Story)

“Find a job you enjoy doing and you will never work a day in your life” is a quote I’ve seen attributed to both Mark Twain & Confucius, but the truth is that the vast majority of adults hate their job. We have bills to pay & oftentimes families to support, so you do what you have to do. Nobody embodies this ethos more than the department store Santa in our favorite 1983 holiday classic. In his brief time on screen he moans about possibly having to work overtime, shows utter disdain for the children standing in line to see him, grows impatient with a very nervous Ralphie, and literally kicks the boy in the face. Far from the jolly, kindhearted, magical elf we think of Santa being, this version is just Joe Sixpack anxiously awaiting the end of his shift, probably so he can go home, smoke a bowl, watch some porn, and eat a bologna sandwich with mustard dripping all over his wifebeater.

Best – Kris Kringle (Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town)

I love a good origin story, and this is the best explanation of all things Santa. Another well done Rankin-Bass production, it shows how a baby named Claus is abandoned, then found & raised by a family of toymakers named Kringle. When he grows up Kris volunteers to deliver toys to children in nearby Sombertown, ruled by the malevolent Burgermeister Meisterburger. Kris meets & falls in love with schoolteacher Jessica, who eventually becomes Mrs. Claus. He is forced to go down chimneys & leave toys in stockings after Meisterburger orders a lockdown (must be a Democrat). Jessica asks the Winter Warlock for help in freeing an imprisoned Kris, and he does so by feeding magic corn to reindeer, enabling them to fly. While in hiding Kris grows a beard, marries Jessica, & builds a toy empire at The North Pole. He decides that he’ll deliver gifts on one special night each year…Christmas Eve. It’s quite neat to have questions surrounding the Santa mythos answered, and seeing him grow from a baby to a red haired young man to the white-haired old man in a red suit we all know & love is delightful.

4 Worst – Emo Santa (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

Men are infamous whiners when we fall ill, but this dude takes the cake. Voiced by the legendary Mickey Rooney, this Santa Claus just isn’t feeling the good vibes or appreciation that he expects, so he sends forth the decree that Christmas is cancelled. It is this sort of thing that makes a lot of religious folks dislike Santa, as if he has the ultimate authority to cancel Christmas. Hollywood notoriously avoids focusing on the true Reason for the Season, something I reluctantly made peace with long ago. However, to insinuate that Santa Claus is in charge of the entire holiday is a bit much. And really, the guy isn’t even physically sick. He’s desperately seeking validation & an ego boost, and perhaps suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder. He should ask himself for some Vitamin D pills or a Sunlight Therapy Lamp for Christmas.

Best – The Coca-Cola Santa Claus

Coca-Cola’s signature red & white colors sync perfectly with Santa Claus, right?? However, it wasn’t always that way. If you look at visual depictions of Santa from the early 20th century or before how he looks varies widely. Sometimes he’s tall & thin, other times (in tune with his role as the Jolly Old Elf) he is seen as…well, elf size. He might be wearing the long & flowing robes of a typical bishop, or even military gear. When Coke began using Santa in advertising campaigns in the 1930s they hired illustrator Haddon Sundblom to create a warm & friendly Santa with rosy cheeks, an amiable smile, & that twinkle in his eye. He appears as a full-grown man with an ample mid-section. Sunblom’s Santa became the standard, and his nostalgic drawings can still give one all the feels.

3 Worst – The Santas That Killed Grandma & Kissed Mommy

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (recorded in 1952 by 13 year old Jimmy Boyd) and Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer (recorded by Elmo & Patsy in 1979) are two of the most enduring novelty songs of the holiday season, and I can’t stand them. Despite the title of the song, the kid’s drunken grandmother didn’t technically get killed by reindeer. The lyrics even indicate that the corpse had “incriminating Claus marks on her back” and warns “they should never give a license to a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves”. Santa should’ve been arrested for vehicular manslaughter!! The other song is only marginally better. No one dies, but a child seeing Mom play tonsil hockey with Santa is likely going to need therapy. He thinks Dad will get a good laugh out of his wife being a skank, but that’s probably way too optimistic.

Best – Scott Calvin (The Santa Clause Trilogy)

I love the origin story of The Santa Clause. Rather than having Santa be one guy who magically lives forever it is depicted as a role that one person takes over when the previous portrayer dies. It makes a lot of logical sense. Scott Calvin is just an Average Joe, a middle-aged divorced Dad navigating associated pitfalls like custody issues & the ex wife’s new boyfriend, all while working 9 to 5 as an executive for a toy manufacturer (convenient). The whole deal with Santa falling off the roof is a little weird, but we soon forget it once Scott & his young son Charlie are transported to The North Pole. When Scott fully embraces his new life and becomes ensconced in the ultimate dream job it is truly magical. It’s a very modern perspective on the Santa Claus mythology, but with just enough notes of enchantment to make it special.

2 Worst – Willie T. Soke (Bad Santa)

Y’all know how much I love Christmas movies. Whether it’s a Santa Claus story, wacky family hijinks, or one of the plethora of adaptations of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I’m always ready to jump onboard the Holiday Film Train. That being said, while I realize there are folks who absolutely love this “modern classic” from 2003, I’m not one of them. Willie is another mall Santa, but he’s even worse than the guy from A Christmas Story because he & his “elf” sidekick are pulling a long con…working at the mall until right before Christmas, then cleaning out the safe. But wait, there’s more!! Not only is Santa Willie a thief, he’s also a drunken, foul mouthed nymphomaniac who has sex with women in the mall dressing room & parking lot. On top of all that he is befriended by a mentally challenged young boy who he proceeds to take advantage of throughout the film. I’m no prude, and enjoy the occasional dark comedy, but come on man…this movie makes Die Hard look like a rom-com. They actually produced a sequel about five years ago, and it’s less amusing than the original.

Best – St. Nick (A Visit from St. Nicholas)

Published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel newspaper in 1823, it wasn’t until almost fifteen years later that Clement Clark Moore claimed authorship. At the time Moore was a middle-aged professor at a New York City seminary. The poem is very descriptive and solidified the Santa Claus persona, creating the perception most everyone has of him to this day. The idea that he is “jolly”. He rides a flying sleigh pulled by eight reindeer (and he gives us their names!!). He arrives on Christmas Eve and comes down the chimney. The twinkling eyes, jiggly belly, white beard, & rosy cheeks. It’s a beautiful story, one that many parents read to their children on Christmas Eve. I have always opined that anything…books, music, film & TV, etc…that we are still enjoying decades after its initial release deserves respect, and in this case we’re talking about a poem & a vivid interpretation of Santa Claus that has stood the test of time for two centuries.

1 Worst – Billy Chapman (Silent Night Deadly Night)

When I was a teenager our church had an active & tightly knit youth group. We shared some awesome times, one of those being our annual Progressive Dinner during which we’d have appetizers at one house, salad at the next, then go to another place for an entree, and finally end up at the home of our youth leaders for dessert. We’d stay there quite late, eating junk food, playing cards, and watching movies (oh to be a teen again). On one of these delightful evenings we watched a slasher film in which a young boy witnesses his parents get carjacked & murdered by Santa Claus. Billy ends up in an orphanage, grows up with…issues (shocker)…and becomes a murderous Santa himself. Look, I know that there are people who love this kind of thing, but horror films have never been my cup o’ tea, and involving Santa in such craziness, while undeniably creative, just isn’t entertaining. Surprisingly enough the movie birthed four sequels, and I think they’re going to remake the original.

Best – Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street)

The first Christmas movie I watch every year actually begins its story on Thanksgiving, at the Macy’s Parade in NY City. When the man originally hired by the department store to portray Santa Claus is found intoxicated, kindly old Kris Kringle is Johnny On-the-Spot and takes over the gig. Along the way he befriends his world weary boss, her precocious daughter, & a quixotic attorney who is sweet on the single Mom. After claiming to be the REAL Santa the good-natured old man finds himself in a looney bin then on trial. Edmund Gwenn won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Kris Kringle, and of all the Santas ever seen on the big screen his is simply the best. He makes you want to believe that Santa Claus could actually be real.

Yippee Ki Yay Santa Claus  

What is a Christmas film?? What are the parameters?? How do we define the sub-genre?? These are vital questions to ponder as one tackles a central question of the holiday season: is Die Hard a Christmas movie?? 

It is a debate that has become an annual tradition on social media every December, with passionate advocates on both sides of the issue. I have jumped into the fray on occasion, but it’s kind of like arguing about religion, sports, & politics…the chances of changing anyone’s mind is midway between slim & none. 

The first thing that needs addressed is the definition of a Christmas movie. In my opinion it’s pretty simple. Context & backdrop are important. Is the movie set at or around Christmastime?? Visuals are a key element as well. Are there Christmas trees & decorations in the movie?? Music is a vital part of any cinematic experience. Does the movie contain Christmas music?? Some folks like to argue about the subject matter or main theme of the film, but that’s a slippery slope. How many of our beloved Christmas films are truly about Christmas?? There are very few movies that even mention Jesus Christ, let alone focus on His birth. Hollywood runs from religiosity, so if you throw out the birth of Christ as a defining characteristic the whole discussion becomes a free-for-all. What about a movie’s release date?? Nowadays most studios will debut their holiday films in November or December, but that hasn’t always been the case, so it has to be eliminated as a requirement. At the end of the day, if a movie takes place at Christmas, shows Christmas trees & other decor onscreen, has Christmas music, & gets alot of play on television in December I think you can reasonably call it a Christmas movie.

Die Hard was released on July 15, 1988, which is something that many use to discredit it as a Christmas film. However, allow me to toss out some truth bombs. It’s A Wonderful Life hit theaters on January 7, 1946, yet nobody calls it a New Year’s movie. Miracle on 34th St. was released on May 2, 1947 and no one is questioning its Yuletide credentials. White Christmas came out on October 14, 1954, yet it certainly isn’t a Halloween movie. Christmas in Connecticut was released on August 11, 1945. Elf?? October 9, 2003. The Polar Express?? October 30, 2004. You get the point. While Christmas movies are generally out in November or December there are exceptions, so release date cannot be used to disqualify Die Hard or anything else from the category.

Let’s dive down the setting rabbit hole. Some folks like to say that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie, it just happens to be set at Christmas, which is a really dumb argument. They point out that it’s about terrorists taking a bunch of people hostage in a skyscraper, and the plot wouldn’t change if it took place in the spring or summer. Okay, I’ll concede the point. However, let’s look at It’s A Wonderful Life, which is one of my all-time favorites. The story is about a suicidal man who is guided back on track by a good-natured guardian angel. It happens to take place on Christmas Eve, but would the story change all that much if George Bailey was going to jump off that bridge in March or September?? Not at all. What about Home Alone, the story of a little boy’s valiant defense of his house against burglars?? What if Kevin’s family forgot him as they were headed to the beach in the summer or to Disneyland in April?? Would it drastically alter the movie?? Not really. And don’t get me started on the ubiquitous Hallmark Christmas movies that the ladies love (okay okay…I’ve watched a few on occasion too). They are basically small screen rom-coms that take place at Christmas, but no one is mocking them. Well, alright…everyone mocks them, but no one whines that they aren’t Christmas movies. The importance of setting cannot be minimized. Die Hard takes place on Christmas Eve during a company Christmas party. Why do some people want to flippantly toss that fact aside??

At one point John McClane kills a terrorist, puts a Santa hat on him, & sends the carcass back to evil Hans Gruber wearing a sign that’s says “Now I have a machine gun…Ho ho ho!”. Are we supposed to ignore that?? Or how about early on, in the limo, when Argyle the chauffeur introduces us to Run-DMC’s Christmas in Hollis?? And the closing credits that feature traditional holiday song Let it Snow?? I’m pretty sure there is a little Jingle Bells & Winter Wonderland thrown into the mix as well. Those moments cannot be discarded.

I shouldn’t bring politics into this, but I cannot help myself. In my experience one side of the ideological aisle tends to support their opinions with logic & facts, while the other side is led by their feelings. I find this is also the case with the Die Hard debate. Christmas movies are generally warm & fuzzy family flicks or kid friendly Santa Claus stories, which is fine. I love that kind of stuff. Conversely, Die Hard is violent & doesn’t “feel” Christmasy. That’s really the only legitimate argument some can offer. Unfortunately for them facts & feelings don’t always intersect. 

In my humble opinion the debate begins & ends with the setting. To argue that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie, it’s just set at Christmas, makes zero sense. The fact that it takes place on Christmas Eve at a Christmas party is precisely what makes it a Christmas movie. Offering hypotheticals that the plot wouldn’t change if the story took place some other time of year doesn’t hold water a) because it is speculative and not based on the reality of what the film actually is, & b) rationale that can be applied to other movies that no one is trying to disparage. This fact & other evidence I have presented form a solid case in support of Die Hard as a Christmas movie. Welcome to the party Pal. 

The Feast & The Familial

When I was a kid I was under the mistaken impression that our local Italian Heritage Festival (celebrated each Labor Day Weekend for four decades) was one of a kind, the only such celebration in the entire country. I’m not sure where I got that idea, but as an adult I learned that not only are there other Italian Festivals, but apparently some are bigger & better than ours. Ah well…so be it. At any rate, a couple of years ago our festival premiered a rom-com called Feast of the Seven Fishes, which was filmed locally just a few miles up the road. I was unable to attend the showing for reasons I won’t bore you with, but recently I found the movie on Netflix, and while it doesn’t exactly mirror my childhood experience it hit enough of the right beats to make me just a bit wistful.

 

My father always called Christmas Eve one of the biggest nights of the year in the Italian culture. My great-grandparents emigrated (separately) from San Giovanni i Fiore in the southern Italian region of Calabria and settled here in northcentral West Virginia. They had a dozen children, all of whom are gone now, but their descendants continued the Italian Christmas Eve tradition.

 

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a celebration commemorating the wait…Vigilia di Natale…for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. It was introduced in the United States by Southern Italian immigrants in New York City in the late 1800s. Eating seafood on Christmas Eve comes from the Catholic practice of abstaining from eating meat on the eve of a feast day. Since no meat or animal fat can be used on such day Catholics instead eat fish (typically fried in oil). The seven fishes allegedly represent different things, depending on which source one believes…the seven sacraments, the seven deadly sins, the seven days of Creation, etc. Seven is an important number in The Bible for multiple reasons. Having said that, the truth is that most Italian-American families deviate from the formula in one way or another…some serve more than seven seafood dishes, while others serve less.

 

Now here is where it gets weird…my family isn’t Catholic. I am sure my great grandparents were, and some of my extended family still are. However, my paternal grandmother wasn’t Italian, and it was she (along with several of my great aunts who married into the family) that was the churchgoer. Back in the day when she & my Papaw got married our small town had only one church and it was United Methodist. Nowadays the trek into the city where there are multiple Catholic churches is about five miles…a ten minute drive. But for Grandma and the rest of the family a century ago it was quite a trip, so it was just easier to go to the church right down the street. When my parents got married my mother started attending the same United Methodist Church, and several of my cousins did the same. I’m still related to half the congregation, which makes it extremely difficult to meet a woman.

 

At any rate, our Christmas Eve fishfest always started in mid-afternoon, and we didn’t get home until close to midnight. My grandparents lived about a mile away in a cozy coal company house because Papaw and his brothers were miners. The cooking was done in the kitchen, but there was a small dining room where we ate. Well…where the adults ate. There wasn’t enough room for everybody at the big table, so there was a kids’ table in the kitchen. My grandparents had to put picnic benches around their table to accommodate everyone because they didn’t have enough chairs…sitting in the living room and eating while watching TV simply wasn’t done back then. As a child my most fervent wish was to eat at the big table with the adults, and when I finally achieved that goal as a teenager it was a proud moment. I don’t recall everything that was on the menu, but we always had fried (breaded) oysters, calamari (squid), whiting, and baccala (salt cod…not to be confused with the Greek dessert baklava). There were meatballs and mashed potatoes as well, and my mother always made a big salad with all kinds of meat & cheese (topped with Italian dressing of course). For dessert we always had German chocolate cake (made from scratch) and my grandmother’s homemade pita piata, which is an Italian nut roll made with raisins, lots of spices, and I’m pretty sure some sort of booze is in the recipe as well. The German chocolate cake confused me as a child because we were Italian. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that it’s a specific type of chocolate.

 

Now you’d think that the food would be the highlight of this extravaganza, but you’d be wrong. My father has told me over & over for decades that nothing is more important than family, and nothing drove that point home more than Christmas Eve. There were so many people packed into that little house. My great aunt lived right next door, and at some point in the evening her kids & grandkids would come over to visit us, and vice versa. Another great aunt lived just up the road, and oftentimes we’d visit that house as well. My maternal grandmother was widowed, so my paternal grandparents were kind enough to include her in our celebration, and only now can I truly appreciate how generous that was. She was our family, so she was family to them too. My grandfather, uncles, cousins, and father would all gather around the table after dinner and play poker, and another rite of passage for me came when I was finally allowed to participate in that game…it made me feel all manly & tough. More than any piece of fish or slice of cake that’s what I miss the most…having all of those important people in my life gathered together in one house enjoying each other’s company…talking, laughing, embracing. I wish I had a bunch of pictures & video of all of those Christmas Eves, but I don’t.

 

At some point when I was in high school or college (my memory is a bit fuzzy) the Christmas Eve fishfest was moved to my aunt’s house. It was still great, but lost a little pizazz since those other households weren’t next door or just up the holler (yes…my grandparents and much of the extended family lived in a holler…and it was a magical place, a great neighborhood). Still, the evening was always fun. But then we started losing people…my Uncle Peck, my little cousin Levi, my second cousin Jimmy, my mother, my Papaw Jim, my Grandma Pigott, my Grandma Mano. We soldiered on until 2019, when my aunt was just too ill to continue.

 

So now I spend my Christmas Eve at home by myself. No oysters, baccala, or German chocolate cake, but more importantly no mother or grandparents. In a perfect world I would have married and continued the tradition with my own children, inviting my Dad, sister, and nephews to celebrate at my house. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, that natural order of continuation hasn’t come to pass, and in a year of isolation due to the global pandemic and my own health issues I am feeling nostalgic. When I watched the Feast of the Seven Fishes film I must admit that it had me a bit verklempt. The 20-something main character has a meet-cute with a pretty girl and invites her to his family’s fishfest, and I can imagine a sequel wherein three decades later they are married and celebrating Christmas Eve with their children & grandchildren. Perhaps someday one of my nephews will marry and we’ll have some vague facsimile of The Feast at their house. I can be the crazy uncle to their bambinos and get to enjoy Christmas again thru children’s eyes, which is the way it is supposed to be. Above & beyond my own desires I want that for my father. As much as I miss our tradition I know it is an even bigger void in his life (although he’d never admit it), and I’d love to see him enjoy another Christmas Eve surrounded by love, laughter, food, & fellowship. Until then I have my memories, and I am so damn thankful for a family that always made the holiday so special. I miss them, but understand how blessed I was to have them in the first place.

 

Merry Christmas Manoverse. I hope now more than ever we all appreciate what is really important. Gifts are nice. Lights are pretty. Music & movies have the ability to touch our soul. Food keeps us alive and is a pleasantly tasty experience. But nothing is more important than family, so hug your spouse, smother the little ones in your life with kisses, appreciate your grandparents while they are still around, enjoy your aunts, uncles, cousins, and whoever else you consider La Famiglia. Take pictures & video. Capture those memories. Decades from now you’ll be glad you did. Viva bene, spesso l’amore, di risata molto. And never forget the true reason for the season…the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

It’s Beginning to Look Alot Like Covid

Citizens of The Manoverse may recall that I enjoy a good parody song, and while I’ll never approach the skill level of Weird Al Yankovic or country crooner Ray Stevens there are occasional moments of inspiration. An old axiom says that sometimes we have to laugh to keep from crying, and I have been quite amused by some of the more creative merriment that has grown out of this global pandemic we have been battling since last spring, so much so that I decided to marry that train of thought with my fondness of parody and love of Christmas carols. I don’t assume the end result is all that memorable, but perhaps it will provide a chuckle or two in the midst of a stressful day, which is all I can really ask. Allow me to give a shout out to composer Robert Meredith Willson, who wrote It’s Beginning to Look Alot Like Christmas in 1951, and Perry Como, who sang the most popular rendition. I seek not to steal their idea, only to borrow & pay homage to it.

 

 

It’s beginning to look alot like Covid

Everywhere you can’t go

Take a look at the emergency room, full of doom & gloom

With shortness of breath and runny noses all aflow

 

It’s beginning to look alot like Covid

Locks on every store

And the only sight to see is a view of the street

From your own front door

 

An N95 mask & hazard pay

Are what essential employees want to assist

Toilet paper & hand sanitizer

Top nearly every grocery list

While Mom & Dad can hardly wait for home schooling to desist

 

It’s beginning to look alot like Covid

Everywhere you can’t go

Social distancing is a thing, unless you are protesting

No church, no weddings, no funerals, & no shows

 

It’s beginning to look alot like Covid

Soon a new year will start

But the thing that’ll change the scene is a brand new vaccine

Until then we must remain six feet apart

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Covid

No crowds anywhere

And the coolest thing will be when each other we can see

Back in the public square

Y’all know what needs cut?? My hair!!

The Year Without A Sammy Claus

In 2009 I conceived the idea for the Sammy Claus Wish List, an irreverent, witty, yet occasionally insightful poke at notable entities thru the prism of what gifts they might deserve for Christmas. The List became an annual tradition for a decade, with the exception of 2015 when I spent the entire holiday season in the hospital. I’ve rarely had a problem finding suitable material, and the project was never a burden until last year when I found myself struggling just a bit to find the Christmas spirit, but I powered thru and Sammy Claus delivered his yearly epistle. However, there will be no such conquest in 2019. Last year I alluded to the 1974 Rankin/Bass classic The Year Without A Santa Claus in which Jolly Old St. Nick isn’t feeling very festive and decides to skip Christmas…atleast until Mrs. Claus steps in and engineers a change of heart with reluctant assistance from The Miser Brothers. A year later, sans aid from a wife or anyone else, Sammy Claus is taking a pass on the holiday.

 

I’ve tried to determine the exact reason for my lack of Christmas spirit, but the fact is that there are a bunch of little things that have built up over a long period of time. After all, I had to fight thru holiday apathy a year ago, so this didn’t happen yesterday, but the feeling of indifference is definitely more pronounced this year. I didn’t even bother to put up my humble little Christmas tree or the few decorations I have. It just felt pointless.

 

I’m not angry at anyone and I don’t feel particularly sad or depressed, but I do admit to feeling more lonely & lost than usual nowadays. The general idea of “Is this all there is??” is something I ponder occasionally. I’m bored with life. During this holiday season that has manifested itself in different ways. There have been a few events that I had the opportunity to attend but skipped for no real reason other than I just preferred to stay home. I have watched some Christmas movies and listened to some carols, but not to the degree that I’ve enjoyed them in the past. I mean really…how many damn times are AMC or Freeform going to air Christmas Vacation, The Polar Express, Home Alone, & Elf?? I always liked those movies, but let’s ease up and not beat the dead horse on a daily basis. Shopping has never been fun at Christmastime, but with my nephews fully grown men now and no other small children in the family I just don’t even bother doing much at all. The past couple of years I actually baked cookies, but in 2019 I took the easy way out and bought treats from others.

 

Citizens of The Manoverse will recall that I lost my beloved dog Rocco less than two months ago, and I think that may have something to do with how I’m feeling. It’s not that I’m curled up in the fetal position bawling my eyes out 24/7. I miss the little guy but life moves on, right?? However, it’d be dishonest to deny that Rocco’s death hasn’t greyed the skies in my world just a bit.

 

You may also remember me occasionally mentioning the annual Christmas Eve Fish Fest our extended family has always had. It’s a smaller version of the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, and our family has been celebrating the occasion since before I was even born. Heck, I think it was a thing before my father was alive. That’s a long time. Anyway, I’ll spare y’all the whos, whats, & whys, but our Christmas Eve tradition is ending. In my 47 years on the planet I can only remember missing it twice…in 2008 when I was laid up in a “skilled” nursing facility, and in the aforementioned 2015. Back in ’08 I remember praying for just one more opportunity to have the Fish Fest because at the time my paternal grandmother was 94 years old. We were blessed to have Grandma Mano until her passing in 2012, so I got my wish & then some. It is for that reason that I have no complaints. Things happen. Circumstances change. We have to roll with the punches. I don’t know whether I will begin a new Christmas Eve tradition or just stay at home watching Ralphie & George Bailey, but either way it’ll be fine. Still, it’s difficult to see a beloved family custom pass into the ether.

 

In the past I’ve joked…sort of…about being one of those people who could pass away quietly and no one would notice until a putrid stench begins emanating from the apartment. Truthfully, my situation isn’t that pathetic. My sister & I communicate pretty regularly & I talk to my Dad almost every day. I’ve got a couple of neighbors that I interact with almost daily. I suppose if I didn’t show up to work there are people who might wonder what’s going on. However, there are friends who I used to talk to or chat with often that have cast me aside, and I don’t know why. I’m far from flawless, so it isn’t inconceivable that someone would decide that I didn’t need to be part of their life anymore, but I guess I like closure. Get mad at me. Tell me why you aren’t talking to me anymore. Perhaps we can resolve the issue, or maybe we won’t…either way I’ll know what’s happening, which is better than being left hanging.

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention church…or more specifically a lack thereof. Because of my odd work schedule I haven’t attended church in probably a year & a half, and I think that lack of…connection…has been deleterious to my spirit for awhile. It’s not that I’ve lost my faith, but as the second chapter of James tells us “faith without works is dead”, and in the same way I feel like faith without fellowship with other believers praying, worshiping, & singing is kind of like food without flavor & nutrients…calories that’ll keep you alive but isn’t quite as appealing as one would prefer, and that lack of flavor is certainly felt more keenly during the holiday season.

 

One thing I cannot be sad about is the weather here in northcentral West Virginia. It’s been cold outside (especially early in the mornings), but I’ve been wearing my sunglasses in the afternoons and it’s going to be 50+ degrees on Christmas Day. That may upset folks who buy into the romantic notion of a white Christmas, but I’m perfectly happy with sunshine & dry roads, though I will concede that it doesn’t feel very Christmasy.

 

Will Sammy Claus be back again someday?? I hope so, but I make no promises. I’d like to think that next Christmas I’ll be as excited as I used to be and recapture some of those old magical feelings. However, I realize that may be a tough sell. I don’t see my life changing all that dramatically. Family & children are the lifeblood of a Merry Christmas, and those things don’t seem to be in the cards for me. Nevertheless, there are other ways that life can change & improve. God is faithful. God is powerful. God is in control. Just because I’m not in the mood to write or be particularly mirthful at the moment doesn’t mean I won’t find renewed joy in life in the future or become a perpetual Scrooge for Christmases Yet to Come. If tales like A Christmas Carol & The Grinch Who Stole Christmas teach us anything it is most certainly renewal & redemption. Ecclesiastes 3 says “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven… a time to break down and a time to build up… a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing… a time to gain and a time to lose…a time to keep and a time to throw away… a time to keep silence and a time to speak”. I truly believe in the miracle of Christmas and sincerely wish the happiest of holidays to everyone, even if I’m not really feeling it myself.

35+ Days of Christmas on WSAM

Some years back I spoke my peace about Christmas Creep, and since then it’s just gotten worse. The holiday season pretty much starts in October now, which means that television networks like Hallmark and Freeform have already been airing Christmas movies for awhile. However, as much as I adore this time of year and love watching such films, I’ve always had an issue with the way AMC, TCM, and other such channels do their programming. Other than starting way too early I believe they make three key mistakes.

First of all, their definition of a Christmas movie is decidedly…avant-garde. Frozen?? Harry Potter?? Toy Story?? No…just…no. Just because a film is animated and/or produced by Disney doesn’t make it a Christmas movie. Hallmark obviously produces their own holiday flicks, but for the channels that show old big screen classics there are plenty of legit choices that fit the criteria.

Secondly, when the month of December hits I want wall-to-wall Christmas movies. I understand counter-programming. I get it. Some folks aren’t particularly into Christmas and they want some entertainment too. But for a television station…particularly one that is primarily dedicated to movies…I feel like it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. Are you in or out?? Don’t air a great old Christmas movie then follow-it up with a tepid rom-com or a western. You’re creating a vibe…ambiance… a certain kind of mood. Even amongst the Christmas sub-genre there can be synergy. I am not familiar with all the ins & outs of television programming, but I think the powers-that-be can do better.

And finally, I realize that Christmas movies are a relatively finite category. There are only a handful of really good ones, and they mostly fall into one of three groups: wacky family hijinks, Santa Claus stories, & adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Having said that, I still believe that any TV channel dedicating itself to holiday programming can do better than showing the same few movies over & over & over again until even the most ardent fans become a little bit tired of them. In the recent past Freeform has aired Elf, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, & The Polar Express about two dozen times…each. That’s ridiculous.

Citizens of The Manoverse may recall that a few years ago I came up with a weekend movie marathon for Christmastime. So I began to ponder the idea of expanding that concept. What if I owned a TV channel akin to AMC, TCM, Hallmark, or Freeform?? How would I program an entire month+ of holiday classics?? The first thing I had to do was establish some rules:

  • My holiday programming begins the day before Thanksgiving and ends a couple of days after Christmas. It runs on weekdays from 4pm-Midnight(ish), with expanded weekend hours.
  • Movies would air unedited. I am not advocating rampant profanity or other adult content, but is that really an issue with most Christmas movies anyway?? It has always driven me nuts when Freeform edits references to Jack Daniels & Wild Turkey in Christmas Vacation. There are more objectionable scenes in random commercials for pete’s sake. I’m also not a fan of cutting the infamous “blackface” scene in Holiday Inn. Societal norms evolve…oftentimes for the better…but I don’t believe in censoring a movie made darn near a century ago just because our collective belief systems are a bit different nowadays. If you are so overly sensitive that a two minute scene in a movie offends you that is your problem.
  • And lastly…the big one. After compiling a list of movies & television specials for this exercise I gave myself a limit of five airings. No matter how awesome a film might be I think seeing it five times in the space of a month is quite enough. I grew up in an era when It’s A Wonderful Life was on literally every day…multiple times per day…the whole month of December. I have spent the past two decades enjoying TBS/TNT’s 24 hour A Christmas Story marathon Christmas Eve & Christmas Day. I have no issue with any of that…I am simply taking a different approach.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday        11/21

4pm            Free Birds

6pm            Dutch

8pm            Home for the Holidays

10pm                   Scent of a Woman

 

I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. – Henry David Thoreau

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Day       11/22

3:30pm      WKRP in Cincinnati S1E7 “Turkeys Away”

4pm            Holiday Inn

6pm            Grumpy Old Men

8pm            A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving     

8:30pm      Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

10:30pm    The Nightmare Before Christmas

 

We eased into our merry month of holiday goodness with some Thanksgiving gems. Free Birds is a 2013 animated tale about turkeys traveling back in time to prevent their brethren from ever becoming the holiday’s main course. Dutch is an early 90’s dramedy starring Ed O’Neill (Married with Children’s Al Bundy) as a guy who offers to pick his girlfriend’s son up at his private school in Georgia and drive him back to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Home for the Holidays is a mid-90’s ensemble dramedy about a family getting together for Thanksgiving, notably starring Robert Downey Jr., Holly Hunter, Claire Danes, Dylan McDermott, Charles Durning, & Ann Bancroft. Scent of A Woman paints outside the lines a little bit, but does take place at Thanksgiving. Ditto for Grumpy Old Men, which has scenes set at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles is a beloved Thanksgiving tradition in my house, as is Turkeys Away, probably one of the greatest sitcom episodes of all time. I’m never quite sure where The Nightmare Before Christmas fits in, but I suppose it’s worth a couple of viewings.

 

 

 

Friday        11/23

4pm            Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Holiday Inn        

10pm                   Miracle on 34th St. (1947)

 

Christmas is not just a time for festivity and merry making. It is more than that. It is a time for the contemplation of eternal things. The Christmas spirit is a spirit of giving and forgiving. – J. C. Penney

 

 

 

 

Saturday    11/24

Noon          The Year Without a Santa Claus

1pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

2pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

3pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

5pm                   Miracle on 34th Street (1994)       

7pm            Scrooge (1951)

9pm            Christmas with the Kranks

 

Trading Places stars Dan Aykroyd as a wealthy businessman & Eddie Murphy as a fast talking con artist who are both manipulated by two rich old geezers into switching societal roles as part of a bet they view as a sociological experiment. It was Murphy’s follow-up to 48 Hrs. and preceded Beverly Hills Cop. Is it a Christmas movie?? Ehhh…close enough for me.  Holiday Inn has scenes set at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and every other major holiday on the calendar, and it introduced the world to White Christmas, which has gone on to become the best-selling Christmas song of all time. The Lemon Drop Kid is a criminally underappreciated Bob Hope offering from 1951 in which he stars as a loquacious hustler who crosses the wrong gangster and must come up with the $10k he screwed him out of by Christmas Eve. When his department store Santa con doesn’t work out The Kid launches a scheme to raise money for a fake retirement home. Hilarity ensues. It is pretty much impossible to find The Lemon Drop Kid on television or elsewhere, but I would absolutely change that because it is a fun movie that deserves some attention, plus it introduced the world to the classic carol Silver Bells. Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is a holiday episode of the British television show Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson. In this special episode Blackadder is the kindest & most generous man in England, but everyone takes advantage of him, his business isn’t doing well, and he’s miserable & lonely. On Christmas Eve a single spirit essentially shows him what life would be like if he were mean & uncaring like some of his ancestors, and he becomes convinced that everything would be awesome. It is a clever interpretation that turns Dickens’ A Christmas Carol upside down. Speaking of A Christmas Carol, the 1951 version starring Alistair Sim is generally regarded as the best by many, and so it’s a big part of our special month.

 

 

Sunday      11/25

Noon          The Star Wars Holiday Special

12:30pm    A Charlie Brown Christmas

1pm            All I Want for Christmas

3pm            Christmas Every Day

5pm            Four Christmases

7pm            Fred Claus

9pm            Frosty the Snowman

9:30pm      Scrooge (1951)

 

The Star Wars Holiday Special aired only once…on November 17, 1978, which was about a year after the first film but a couple of years before The Empire Strikes Back. It received such negative reviews that it has never been on TV again and is a rare find, but since Star Wars is a much bigger deal now than it was then I think it’s time to bring the Christmas special out of the moth balls. It can’t be any worse than the prequels & sequels, right?? Vince Vaughn is a guy that many people either love or hate, and I happen to like the guy. Not all of his movies are winners, but both Fred Claus and Four Christmases are worth an airing or two during the holiday season. All I Want for Christmas and Christmas Every Day are made-for-TV movies that originally aired on ABC Family (now Freeform) back in the early to mid-90’s. They’re cute & entertaining enough that I’ve retained a certain level of fondness for them over the years, and I believe others might enjoy them as well. Christmas with the Kranks is based on John Grisham’s 2001 novel Skipping Christmas and stars Tim Allen & Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple whose plan to ditch the annual holiday hullabaloo in favor of a tropical cruise doesn’t quite work out. It isn’t the greatest Christmas movie, and at first I kind of hated it…but it has begun to grown on me.

 

 

Monday     11/26

4pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

6pm            Scrooge (1951)

8pm            Trapped in Paradise

10pm                   Santa Claus: The Movie

 

Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees, tinsel, & reindeers, but there must be no mention of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One wonders how a teacher would answer if a student asked why it was called Christmas. – Ronald Reagan

 

 

Tuesday    11/27

4pm            Deck the Halls

6pm            The Santa Clause

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

 

Trapped in Paradise stars Nicolas Cage, Dana Carvey, & Jon Lovitz as three dimwitted brothers who rob a bank in a small Pennsylvania town on Christmas Eve then are unable to leave. They are befriended by the super friendly & naive citizens who don’t realize that they’re the bank robbers. Deck the Halls stars Danny DeVito as a guy determined to make the Christmas lights display at his house so dazzling that it can be seen from space, and Matthew Broderick as the tightly wound neighbor hellbent on stopping him. Neither are considered good movies by critics or the viewing public, but I don’t mind watching them once or twice this time of year. For some strange reason only 2/3 of Tim Allen’s Santa Clause trilogy…the original & the third one…currently get a lot of play on television. I seem to recall reading somewhere that feminazis & other social justice warriors have an issue with the second film, but I rather enjoy it. I mean…it’s a trilogy, right?? I readily admit that the first Santa Clause is far & away the best, but I also think it’s pretty obvious that The Mrs. Clause is much more entertaining than The Escape Clause. Not even Martin Short & Alan Arkin could save that one. Still though, all three need to be a part of our celebration.

 

 

Wednesday 11/28

4pm            Scrooge (1970)                                                 

6pm            Frosty the Snowman  

6:30pm      Disney’s A Christmas Carol

8:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas

9pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

9:30pm      The Lemon Drop Kid

 

Once again, we come to the holiday season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.  –  Dave Barry

 

 

 

Thursday 11/29

4pm            Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

5pm            The Star Wars Holiday Special    

6:30pm      The Lemon Drop Kid

8:30pm      A Christmas Carol (1938)

10:30pm    A Christmas Carol (1984)    

 

I wrote about my favorite adaptations of A Christmas Carol four years ago, so I won’t go into full rehash mode here, but a little clarification couldn’t hurt. The 1938 version is a sanitized, family friendly movie starring Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge. The 1984 version was a made-for-TV movie starring George C. Scott as Scrooge that didn’t start airing annually again until 2007 per an agreement with Scott’s estate. The 1970 version is a musical starring Albert Finney as Scrooge. Patrick Stewart starred as Scrooge in a made-for-TV movie originally aired on TNT in 1999. Disney’s screen capture animated version was released in 2009 and stars Jim Carrey as Scrooge as well as other roles.

 

 

Friday 11/30

4pm            Mixed Nuts

6pm            Lethal Weapon

8pm            Die Hard

10pm                   Bad Santa

 

Wow…talk about a weird Friday night!! Mixed Nuts has an all-star cast, including Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Garry Shandling, Juliette Lewis, Adam Sandler, Robert Klein, Rita Wilson, Rob Reiner, Parker Posey, Jon Stewart, & Liev Schreiber. That’s quite an eclectic lineup. It is an alleged comedy about a suicide hotline that has been evicted from its office space on Christmas Eve. There are a lot of subplots & hijinks, but I’ll spare you the details. Mixed Nuts has been mentioned as the worst Christmas film of all time, but I’ve seen worse and believe the impressive lineup of performers alone merits a viewing or two, even though all of that talent adds up to shockingly little  entertainment. Bad Santa is a bit too vulgar for my tastes, but it has a 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered by some to be a modern classic. Few seem to engage in the same good-natured debate about whether or not Lethal Weapon is a Christmas movie in comparison to the annual arguments for & against the worthiness of Die Hard to be considered thusly, but for our purposes both are included as an action packed & mildly violent break from the typical sentimentality of the holiday season.

 

Saturday 12/1

Noon          Mickey’s Christmas Carol   

12:30pm    The Star Wars Holiday Special

2pm            Disney’s A Christmas Carol

4pm            It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

6pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

8pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

10pm                   Scrooge (1970) 

 

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. – Calvin Coolidge

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 12/2

Noon          The Muppet Christmas Carol

2pm            Jingle All the Way

4pm            Scrooge (1970)

5pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

7pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

9pm            The Ref    

 

I fondly remember watching Mickey’s Christmas Carol when I was a kid. It’s only a half hour long, and let’s face it…Ebenezer Scrooge is a role tailor made for Scrooge McDuck. It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie is a Muppet homage to It’s A Wonderful Life in which Kermit is on the verge of losing his theater and a guardian angel shows him what life for his friends would be like if he’d never been born. There are a lot of human performers, including Whoopi Goldberg, David Arquette, Joan Cusack, & William H. Macy. I assume that movie was made based on the success a decade earlier of The Muppet Christmas Carol, starring Michael Caine as Scrooge. I am generally not a fan of remakes, and nothing can touch the greatness of the original Miracle on 34th Street, but the 1994 version is decent enough. My love for The Ref goes all the way back to its initial foray onto home video in the 90’s. Denis Leary stars as a burglar forced to hold a bickering couple and their dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve. You won’t see it on television all that much, but I always seize every opportunity to spread the word & encourage folks to seek it out during the holiday season.

 

 

 

Monday 12/3

4pm            Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

4:30pm      The Polar Express

6:30pm      Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

7:30pm      How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

8pm            Frosty the Snowman

8:30pm      Mickey’s Christmas Carol   

9pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

 

Peace on earth will come to stay, when we live Christmas every day.  – Helen Steiner Rice

 

 

 

Tuesday 12/4

4pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

4:30pm      Rise of the Guardians

6:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas

7pm            The Santa Clause

9pm            Scrooged

 

Mr. Krueger’s Christmas is a half hour special produced by the Mormon Church that initially aired on NBC in 1980. Unfortunately you’ll have a difficult time running across it these days, but if it were up to me it’d become an annual tradition. Jimmy Stewart stars as an elderly janitor living in the bottom floor of the building that he takes care of, and he is a very lonely man desperate for human interaction. The story depicts Willie Krueger having Walter Mitty-esque dreams on Christmas Eve, including singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and being part of the manger scene on the night of Christ’s birth. It is a well-written & very poignant story with a fantastic message. Rise of the Guardians is an animated tale about Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, & The Sandman recruiting Jack Frost to help them wage battle against The Boogeyman. I saw it when it hit theaters a few years ago and my biggest takeaway was wondering why Alec Baldwin decided to give Santa a German accent. It hasn’t really made much of a holiday pop culture impact, but that could change.

 

Wednesday 12/5

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

6pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Ref

 

Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection. – Sir Winston Churchill

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/6

4pm            White Christmas

6pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

8pm            The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

10pm                   Scrooged 

 

We are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime. – Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

 

 

 

Friday 12/7

4pm            Arthur Christmas

6pm            Trapped in Paradise

8pm            The Ref

10pm                   Silent Night, Deadly Night

 

I’m not a horror movie fan by any stretch, but 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night is cheesy fun for fans of the genre. It tells the story of a boy who witnesses his parents being murdered by The Jolly Old Elf, then grows up to become a psychotic Santa himself. There were four sequels produced. We’re not including them here, but you’re welcome to check them out if that’s the sort of thing that you’re into. Arthur Christmas is an animated tale about Santa’s inept son Arthur and his Christmas Eve mission to deliver one present that was inadvertently left behind at The North Pole. It has a really unique vision of what The North Pole & Santa’s toy enterprise might look like, and depicts the role of Santa Claus as a generational title passed down from father to son.

 

Saturday 12/8

Noon          The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

1pm            It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

3pm            White Christmas

5pm            Santa Claus: The Movie

7pm            The Bishop’s Wife

9pm            Jingle All the Way

 

Jingle All the Way is another not-so-great movie that has grown on me just a bit. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a negligent Dad trying to track down the hottest Christmas gift of the year for his son, and Sinbad (whatever happened to him??) as the wacky mailman who keeps getting in the way. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is an 80’s Rankin-Bass production of a children’s book written by L. Frank Baum (author of The Wizard of Oz). It is essentially another Santa origin story. The Bishop’s Wife stars Cary Grant as guardian angel sent to provide some guidance to a clergyman & his flock, but things get weird when the angel is smitten with the minister’s wife. A remake called The Preacher’s Wife starring Denzel Washington & Whitney Houston was made in the mid-90’s, but no one knows why.

 

Sunday 12/9

Noon          Holiday Inn

2pm            White Christmas

4pm            Elf    

6pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

8pm            A Christmas Story

10pm                   Scrooged

 

Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality. – Washington Irving

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 12/10

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

6pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

8pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

10pm                   Home Alone

 

I don’t think Christmas is necessarily about things. It’s about being good to one another. – Carrie Fisher

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 12/11

4pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

5pm            The Ref

7pm            Elf

9pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

 

 

My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. – Bob Hope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 12/12

4pm            The Polar Express     

6pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

8pm            A Christmas Story

10pm                   Home Alone

 

The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn’t for any religious reasons. They couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin. – Jay Leno

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/13

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

6pm            A Christmas Story

8pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

10pm                   Elf    

 

The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live. –  George Carlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 12/14

4pm            The Family Stone

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Die Hard   

10pm                   Lethal Weapon

 

Christmas waves a magic wand over the world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. – Norman Vincent Peale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 12/15

Noon          A Christmas Carol (1938)

2pm            Frosty the Snowman  

2:30pm      All I Want for Christmas

4:30pm      Christmas Every Day 

6:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas 

7pm            The Family Stone

9pm            Die Hard

 

I bought my brother some gift wrap for Christmas. I took it to the gift wrap department and told them to wrap it, but in a different print so he would know when to stop unwrapping.  –  Steven Wright

 

 

 

Sunday 12/16

Noon          A Christmas Carol (1999)

2pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

3pm            A Christmas Carol (1938)

5pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

7pm            Mickey’s Christmas Carol

7:30pm      Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

8pm            Scrooge (1951)

10pm                   Scrooge (1970)

 

Ever wonder what people got Jesus for Christmas? It’s like, “Oh great, socks. You know I’m dying for your sins right? Yeah, but thanks for the socks! They’ll go great with my sandals. What am I, German?” – Jim Gaffigan

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 12/17

4pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

6pm            Trapped in Paradise

8pm            Fred Claus

10pm                   Four Christmases

 

The very purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was that he might offer up his life as a sacrifice for the sins of men. He came to die. This is the heart of Christmas. – Rev. Billy Graham

 

Tuesday 12/18

4pm            Christmas Every Day 

6pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

8pm            Frosty the Snowman

8:30pm      How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

9pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

9:30pm      Scrooge (1951)

 

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. – Garrison Keillor

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 12/19

4pm            The Polar Express

6pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

7pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

8pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

10pm                   The Family Stone

 

The only real blind person at Christmastime is he who has not Christmas in his heart. – Helen Keller

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/20

4pm            White Christmas

6pm            The Polar Express

8pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation       

10pm                   The Ref

 

The Magi, as you know, were wise men…wonderfully wise men who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. – O. Henry

 

 

 

Friday 12/21

4pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Scrooged

10pm                   Santa Claus: The Movie

 

Christmas is a day of meaning and traditions, a special day spent in the warm circle of family and friends. – Margaret Thatcher

 

 

 

 

Saturday 12/22

Noon          Fred Claus

2pm            Santa Claus: The Movie

4pm            All I Want for Christmas

6pm            Disney’s A Christmas Carol

8pm            Home Alone

10pm                   Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

 

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home! – Charles Dickens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 12/23

Noon          Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

1pm            The Year Without a Santa Claus

2pm            Home Alone      

4pm            Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

6pm            The Santa Clause

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

 

T’was the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. – Clement Clarke Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Eve

Noon          Elf    

2pm            The Santa Clause

4pm                   Scrooged

5pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

7pm            A Christmas Story

9pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

 

 

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play

And wild & sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

 

Christmas Day

11am                   How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

11:30am    A Charlie Brown Christmas

Noon           Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

12:30pm    Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

2:30pm      A Christmas Carol (1938)

4:30pm      The Polar Express

6:30pm      White Christmas

8:30pm      Disney’s A Christmas Carol

 

One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don’t clean it up too quickly. – Andy Rooney

 

Wednesday 12/26

Noon          Home Alone

2pm            Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

4pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

6pm            Elf

8pm            A Christmas Story

 

Perhaps it is because I don’t have children or work in retail and therefore don’t suffer some of the burnout & fatigue that others do as the holiday season draws to its conclusion, but I usually feel a general sense of melancholy when the clock strikes midnight on Christmas night. All the sudden all of the hoopla is over. Radio & TV stations resume regular programming. Some folks take down their decorations immediately. Well that’s not how we roll here ladies & gentlemen. We’re going to wean ourselves off of the holiday high we’ve been on for the past month and have one more day of Santa Claus, Ebenezer Scrooge, & general Christmas merriment.

 

Thursday, 12/27

Noon          Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

1:30pm      Rudolph’s Shiny New Year

2:30pm      New Year’s Eve

4:30pm      When Harry Met Sally

6:30pm      Holiday Inn

8:30pm      Sleepless in Seattle

 

Christmas may be over but technically it’s still the holiday season. In the old days people used to celebrate The Twelve Days of Christmas (you may have heard a song about it). Those don’t even begin until what we know as Christmas Day and conclude on January 5. Don’t worry…I’m not going to take things that far. However, even in modern times most of us reserve a bit of the ol’ festive mojo for one more round of frivolity, and so we will conclude our holiday celebration with a day of entertainment revolving around New Year’s Eve/Day or atleast having scenes centered on it. I am certain that most are familiar with the offerings suggested here, but I will dive into 2011’s New Year’s Eve just a bit. It’s one of those rom-coms with a large ensemble cast and interweaving stories, all taking place on…well, I’m sure you can figure it out. It’s not a great film, as evidenced by an atrocious 7% Rotten Tomatoes score. Newsday called it “a perfect example of why the adjective Hollywood is so often used as a pejorative”. The New York Post said that it is “a soul-sucking monument to Hollywood greed and saccharine holiday culture”. Our old pal Ebert wondered “How is it possible to assemble more than two dozen stars in a movie and find nothing interesting for any of them to do?”. But it is that all-star cast (including Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Robert DeNiro, Josh Duhamel, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Hilary Swank, Zac Efron, Katherine Heigl, Michelle Pfeiffer, & Jon Bon Jovi) that is the draw, and I feel alright throwing it in amongst a few other movies that are certified classics, kind of like how a single horn player who isn’t really that talented can just kind of blend in & disappear amongst a large orchestra.

 

 

 

This concept could certainly be modified annually. Most of the movies & specials we’ve chose wouldn’t change all that much from year to year, but there would be nothing wrong with the occasional addition or subtraction. I’d put this lineup against any station out there and am confident that it would be considered by most to be superior to any alternatives. Having said that, I’d love to hear from The Manoverse. What has been included here that you don’t enjoy all that much?? Did I miss something that should be given some love?? As opposed to my viewpoint, do you like watching some holiday classics almost daily each December?? Which adaptation of A Christmas Carol do you prefer?? What is your stance on Die Hard as a Christmas movie?? Leave me some comments and let’s have some back & forth.

Merry Movie Mayhem: An Introduction

A big chunk of 2016 here at The Manofesto was dedicated to 80’s Movie Mania, a competition honoring the best in 1980’s cinema that was ultimately won by The Blues Brothers. In the process of completing that project an idea came to me that it might be fun to do the same kind of tournament with Christmas films, and so we shall.

 

Merry Movie Mayhem will differ from its predecessor in that it will move much faster. The goal is to complete the project by Christmas Eve. That gives us less than a month to discuss & appreciate 64 films & TV specials. Yes, that’s right…I am making this an all-inclusive battle royale comprised of Christmas movies, animated television specials, & even a few nods to Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. It just feels like the right thing to do.

 

Each film or show has been placed into one of four divisions: Candy Cane, Eggnog, Mistletoe, & North Pole. Choosing the entrants for this tournament was a tougher task than I’d imagined. Probably ¾ of the choices were obvious, but others…not so much. However I don’t think the final pool leaves considerable room for debate. That being said, if I have left out one of your favorites please let me know. I always enjoy feedback from The Manoverse.

 

In the first round I have included, when possible, the film’s ranking on Rotten Tomatoes. Unless otherwise noted this is a cumulative score received from critics, with 60-100% being “fresh”, and 59% or below being “rotten”. In some cases, particularly with animated television specials, no Rotten Tomatoes score is available, and in a few instances there are no critical reviews but an audience score is given. I don’t pay too much attention to these scores because oftentimes critics can be somewhat highbrow and not at all in touch with what most folks enjoy, but they are a useful tool in some situations. Also, I have included the name of the director, but what I find interesting is that not a lot of bigtime film raconteurs have helmed holiday themed films. These movies that so many of us love don’t seem to be all that respected by the Hollywood literati. Perhaps it is indicative of a general Godlessness, or maybe, because of preconceived notions of what a Christmas movie should be, creative “geniuses” find the parameters stifling. Whatever the case may be, with few exceptions the general achievements…or lack thereof…of the director outside of the film being discussed has very little bearing on the outcome.

 

Before we dive in I will give you a sneak peek at the contenders. Merry Movie Mayhem includes:

*16 takes on the Santa Claus mythos

*11 different adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

*13 entrants that were made in the 80’s, 13 produced in the 90’s, 15 made before I was even a gleam in my Daddy’s eye, & a surprising 20 that have come out in the 21st century (which, to be fair, now encompasses nearly two decades)

*19 films or specials that utilize animation

 

I adore Christmas movies, and since you’re here reading this I assume you do as well. So, let us spend this holiday season on a journey together…a quest to pay respect to and express admiration for films & specials that have stood the test of time, with the ultimate goal of narrowing the field and crowning one winner as the merriest movie of them all. Adeste Fideles. Feliz Navidad. Buon Natale. And God bless us…everyone.

 

Thoughts On Christmas Shopping

ArtificialPre-LitTreeAnd so it begins. Today is Black Friday. Yesterday most of us celebrated, in some form or fashion, our most underappreciated holiday…Thanksgiving. We got up early for the big parade, we watched a lot of football, and we chowed down on turkey, stuffing, sweet taters, & pumpkin pie. By now though we have moved on. A Christmas movie or two has been watched. Carols are being played. Trees & other decorations are already up or soon will be. We are in full throttle Christmas mode.

 

bf1It is commonly stated that today is the busiest shopping day of the year. I have my doubts about that, but I suppose it is a nifty marketing ploy. Some of you may have already been shopping last night/early this morning. Black Friday has become such a hyped event that the sales now begin the day before, but traditionally…and I use that word with some level of revulsion…it has been a midnight or later kind of thing. Apparently lots of folks are really into it. My old buddy Tony V. in Florida LOVES Black Friday. He plans an intricate strategy. Where he’s going. What he’s buying where. Maps out the route. Gets all the sales flyers & coupons as soon as they become available weeks before. His Black Friday battle plan is better than the U.S. exit strategy from The Middle East. The Pentagon should probably hire him as a consultant. Conversely, I couldn’t possibly care less if a $1000 television is available at WalMart for $35. Perhaps bf2that reflects badly on my grasp of economics, but I prefer to look at it as a prudent decision to be home in my warm bed at 3am snuggling with Rocco and having Wacky Dreams instead of traipsing around battling the elements & encountering humanity wallowing in avaricious excess. I have pondered the idea of participating merely as a sociological exercise, but I always talk myself out of it. If that ever changes citizens of The Manoverse will surely get a firsthand account of the occasion, but don’t hold your breath.

 

There was a time…long ago in the halcyon days of childhood…that I did enjoy the hustle & bustle of the mall at Christmastime. However, a) I didn’t have to drive on slick roads…that was my mother’s problem, b) I didn’t have to find a place to park, c) being in large crowds was fun & exciting, not like now when it is a reason to double the dosage of my blood pressure meds, d) my shopping list was very small & inexpensive, & e) I was a kid who didn’t know any better. Now?? I don’t even enjoy the mall on a boring macysTuesday afternoon in the middle of spring, so the idea of going there when it’s actually crowded & noisy makes me nauseous. There is ONE exception. The local United Way has a spot in the middle of the mall where volunteers from its organizations will wrap your presents for a small donation. They even use ribbons & bows, and I like ribbons & bows. They’re festive. Wrapping gifts isn’t really a talent I possess, so I happily fork over a few bucks to have someone else with such skills do the job for me. I choose a day when the weather isn’t horrible, park as close to the appropriate entrance as I can get, take my plunder to the aforementioned location, and wait patiently until they are done. Then I take my lovely wrapped bundles and get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Doing this on a weekday does minimize the agony just a bit, and I am lucky to have had employment situations for much of the past two decades that have enabled me to go about things in this manner.

 

angelNow my mother…God bless her soul…always did Christmas shopping the smart way. She’d begin the task as early as the previous spring. I would be totally surprised by a gift on Christmas morning because it was something that I’d casually mentioned wanting back in March and had almost completely forgotten about by the time the holiday season rolled around, but Mom had taken note and bought the thing not long after I’d expressed interest all those months ago. She was the BEST gift giver. Mom would give us things we never knew we’d always wanted. Looking back I now realize that the only reason she endured the hellish retail scene in December was because my sister & I needed/wanted to go. She was already done!! She put up with the mall for US!! What a great mother.

 

driveI know a lot of people that refuse to be confined by the limitations of the local mall or other nearby stores. I live about equal distance…a couple of hours give or take…from both Pittsburgh, PA and West Virginia’s capitol city of Charleston. Both offer much more retail variety than our small town, and some enjoy spending a day or even an entire weekend making the trek to take advantage of that expanded assortment of choices. Not this guy. Because of an auto accident many years ago I have a rather debilitating driving phobia, so the thought of braving the highways & byways of Pittsburgh terrifies me. But even if that weren’t the case I just don’t believe those places have anything THAT great to justify the trip. They pretty much have the same stuff we have here…just more of it. Atleast that’s what I tell myself to justify not being adventurous.

 

shop1Of course shopping malls & retail outlets have largely been rendered pointless because of one thing…The Internet. Yes friends, online shopping is where it’s at!! I already began Christmas shopping earlier this week right here in the comfort of my humble Bachelor Palace. Obviously one can peruse the big sites…Amazon, Ebay, WalMart, etc., but really you can find just about anything in cyberspace if you are persistent in the search. You are only limited by your imagination & bank account. Not only does Christmas shopping online offer almost limitless possibilities, but there are other benefits. You aren’t restricted by the time constraints of when stores open or close. I’m a night owl, so much of my shopping will be done in the wee hours of late night/early morning. Depending on the rules & regulations of your job you may be able to knock out some of your list while at work, atleast on your break or lunch hour. Almost everyone has access to a computer or smartphone at all times these days, right?? You might even make a purchase or two while sitting in traffic!! How cool is that?? Being productive is a good thing. And these trinkets, knick-knacks, deliver1baubles, & doodads that you order are delivered…usually right to your front door!! That’s awesome, especially as the weather deteriorates in December. One just needs to be careful and allow enough time for delivery. Sure Amazon will usually have your stuff to you in just a few days, but a more obscure site won’t be quite so expeditious or will make such rapidity cost prohibitive. There really is no downside to this Internet thing other than identity theft.

 

I do suggest that, even if you’re shopping online, have some kind of strategery. Make a list of who you listwant to buy gifts for and how much you want to spend, both individually and in total. We still have to pay our rent or mortgage, put gas in the vehicle, feed the dog/cat/ferret/fish/amphibian, eat, & buy toiletries. Christmas doesn’t make that stuff go away. Be smart.

 

snoopI do not believe that there is anything wrong with asking someone what they want for Christmas. Ideally if it is someone you are close enough to want to buy a Christmas gift for you have some inclination of what their interests are or what they really need, but let’s be real…we all know those people that are just so darn difficult to shop for. They might lead really tedious lives, or perhaps they’re just really persnickety and won’t be all that captivated by anything you give them. I’ve bought my father more than one gift over the years that I know has ended up collecting dust in a closet in his house because Dad is just kind of stuck in his ways and doesn’t really have any hobbies. When he was young & spry he was a golfer so that was my go-to every Christmas, birthday, & Father’s Day…golf balls, golf tees, golf clothing. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Sadly those days are gone which makes things a little more challenging, but I still manage. Anyway, if you’re not sure what to get someone ask them…they might surprise you with an idea. Or they might stonewall you with platitudes like “I just want your friendship” or “You don’t need to get me anything. I’ve already got everything”. That’s the kind of stuff I say because I hate being asked what I want for Christmas. It’s awkward. If you run up against someone like me you’ll just have to be a little more Machiavellian in your inquiry.

 

gift-cards-overhead-1-250What about gift cards?? Ehhhhhhh……I go back & forth on this discussion. I think in the right situation with the right person a gift card is acceptable. However, it can also be lazy, uninspired, & totally lacking in imagination. Proceed with caution.

 

VegasExperiences make really cool gifts. Concert tickets. Movie tickets. Game tickets. Plane tickets. Vacation getaways. Although it helps if you’re wealthy if you are giving a trip as a Christmas present. If you’re rich and like to give away vacations please leave a comment on this post. Let’s be friends.

 

 

Of course I want to be REALLY clear about something…Christmas is NOT about shopping or gifts. My nativityinclination is to assume that everyone knows that, but I have to remind myself that everyone doesn’t. A couple of millennia ago a Child was born in a stable. That Child was the Son of God, born with the express purpose of spreading His Word to the masses and then dying for OUR sins. I respect anyone’s right to disagree but I will not apologize for my beliefs or hide behind closed doors whispering to other believers.

 

Wow, that got heavy, didn’t it??

 

merry-christmas-bells-2Okay, so we’ve got about a month of this Christmas thing. There will be music. There will be movies. There will be horribly mawkish drivel on The Hallmark Channel. You will eat cookies & pies and gain weight (don’t go to the doctor for a check-up until spring). And yes, there will be shopping. Is Christmas too commercialized?? Clearly. Have we minimized Jesus in favor of Santa Claus?? Probably. We can play a part in correcting those problems on an individual basis. Having said that, the old maxim “’tis better to give than receive” has validity. Buying someone a Christmas gift is a way to show that we love, respect, & appreciate them. Be prudent. Be original. Show discernment. Enjoy. It’s Christmas…have fun. God bless.