Superfluous 7 Best Thanksgiving Pop Culture Traditions

20071121-first-thanksgivingChristmas gets all the really cool stuff…carols, movies, animated specials, Santa Claus. But there are a few pop culture contributions to Thanksgiving, and I’m not even talking about food. Thanksgiving’s origins were actually just as faith-based as Christmas & Easter, but not directly tied to any particular event like the birth or resurrection of Christ. Multiple days of Thanksgiving were occasionally proclaimed by whatever authority figure might be ostensibly in charge of an area to thank God for His favor & bountiful harvest. That’s neither here nor there though, because our purpose today is not to dive into the debatable history of the holiday. Maybe some other time. Over the years much of the spiritual gravitas has been eroded, replaced by the simple yet universal desire to appreciate the blessings of family & food. Along with that other modest rockwell-thanksgivingtraditions have blossomed, mostly frivolous fun but not completely without meaning. We take comfort in tradition, in events that happen each year like clockwork no matter what kind of madness might surround us. I’d be thrilled to see folks get back to the more pious roots of Thanksgiving, and we can each do that on an individual basis. However I do admittedly enjoy some of the more lighthearted peripherals associated with the holiday. It is in that spirit that I present…..

 

 

 

from the home office in Pilgrim, MI…..

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Best Thanksgiving Pop Culture Traditions:

 

 

 

 

 

7       Home for the Holidays

Why are families in holiday movies always so unhappy & dysfunctional?? I’m not sure it is always what I would consider funny, but it’s usually entertaining in a hhhprofessional wrestling kind of way. This 1995 offering serves us an all-star cast including Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, & Clare Danes. Hunter stars as a recently downsized art restoration specialist going home to spend Thanksgiving with her peculiar family, including a stodgy sister & brother-in-law, a gay brother, & crazy parents. Did you know that the actress who portrays the weird aunt is the daughter of Charlie Chaplin?? To be honest more kudos should be given to the casting director than anyone else involved with the film, and cocaine probably deserves a tip of the cap for Downey’s frenzied performance. I’m not sure Home for the Holidays is particularly remarkable in the grand cinematic universe or even amongst holiday fare, but it’s entertaining enough.

 

 

6       Miracle on 34th St.

I struggled a bit with this choice because it’s a Christmas movie and our present mission is all about Thanksgiving. I’ve said for years that Thanksgiving is almost 34treated dismissively, like a pit stop on the way to something bigger & better. However, the link between the two holidays and the fact that they bookend a month long celebratory season cannot be denied. This 1947 classic in which Santa Claus is “put on trial” opens with a unique look at a certain annual parade that just so happens to take place on Thanksgiving Day. For that reason it is often the first Christmas movie I watch. A couple of things should be noted. First of all there are two versions of the original movie…the black & white edition and a hideously colorized copy. Y’all can do whatever makes you happy, but when I see the colorized film on TV I just keep channel surfing. What can I say…I’m a traditionalist. Also, a remake was made in 1994 starring the lovely Elizabeth Perkins and I have nothing bad to say about it except that it’s a remake. Watch them both if you like, but definitely do not overlook the original in lieu of its modernized rehash. One is a perfectly tasty hamburger, while the other is flawless filet mignon.

 

 

5       A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

It’s probably third on the list of beloved Peanuts animated specials, but that’s okay. Originally aired back in 1973, the story follows Charlie Brown & Snoopy as they charlie-brown-thanksgiving-2015_0prepare a Thanksgiving “feast” that they’ve been roped into hosting by Peppermint Patty and her “friend” Marcy. The dinner hilariously consists of popcorn, toast, pretzels, jelly beans, & ice cream sundaes, which sounds like a meal I might have consumed after a few late nights back in college. All’s well that ends well though, as all the kids end up hopping in the ol’ Brown family station wagon and heading to Grandma’s house for an actual meal. I am always intrigued by the complete lack of adults in the Peanuts world. They are there, but we never see them.

 

 

4       Turkeys Away!!

Practically every television program ever produced has aired Thanksgiving themed episodes, but very few are memorable beyond its initial airing or stand out in the wkrpcanon of the show itself. This is an exception. I have opined previously that WKRP in Cincinnati is an underrated show, but among its four seasons one episode has stood the test of time. Originally aired on October 30th, 1978, Turkeys Away was only the 7th episode of Season 1. That’s like hitting your life’s peak in grade school!! The story follows station manager Mr. Carlson’s idea for the greatest Thanksgiving radio promotion of all time. The entire cast is fantastic, but special recognition must go to Richard Sanders as austere yet clueless news anchor Les Nessman. To my knowledge Sanders was never even nominated for an Emmy, which is criminal. If you are so inclined the show is easily found online, or if you have a streaming device on your TV it is available there as well.

 

 

3       Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

There are very few Thanksgiving films out there, but even if there were alot more I have to believe this would still be the best. John Candy & Steve Martin are a match made in 101117-planes-trains-automobiles-1p.grid-4x2cinematic heaven, carrying what is essentially the kind of buddy/road trip flick that has been done many times over (The Blues Brothers, Rain Man, Dumb & Dumber, Tommy Boy, Sideways, The Hangover) to a higher level. It doesn’t hurt that the film was written, produced, & directed by the incomparable John Hughes. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles subtly & hilariously makes the point that, unlike other holidays when we may get caught up in…stuff…like presents, chocolate, roses, fireworks, or parties, the primary goal for most of us on Thanksgiving is to be somewhere we consider home, amongst family & friends.

 

 

2       NFL Football

Pro football has been played on Thanksgiving since the sport’s earliest days in the late 19th century. The first Thanksgiving football game took place in Philadelphia on lionsThanksgiving Day of 1869, only a couple of weeks after Rutgers beat Princeton in what most still say was the first American football game and only six years after President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday in 1863. The Detroit Lions have hosted a game each season since 1934, and the Dallas Cowboys began their own tradition in 1966. In the past decade a third game has been added to the mix since Thursday night football became a regular part of the NFL schedule. College football is part of the Thanksgiving recipe, but since conference realignment has eliminated some of the best rivalries the impact has been reduced, and regardless of that fact the really big games are usually saved for Saturday. Sure it’s still Thanksgiving Weekend…but it’s NOT Thanksgiving.

 

 

1       Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Macy’s Department Store was founded in 1843 by a Massachusetts Quaker. A couple of decades later he relocated the store to New York City. A century & a half later, macys3thru mergers, bankruptcies, buyouts, & all the other maneuverings that occur in corporate America Macy’s has nearly 800 stores, but the New York City location has stood tall as the largest department store in the world, taking up over 1 million square feet of space and an entire NY City block. Macy’s acquired a Newark, NJ store called Bamberger’s in 1924 and decided to move its Thanksgiving parade to The Big Apple. The parade’s origins are said to have come from store employees, many of whom were immigrants that wanted to celebrate their new home country, and what’s more uniquely American than Thanksgiving?? Of course it doesn’t take a genius to see the connection between a retail establishment and the kickoff of the big Christmas shopping season as well, which is why this Thanksgiving tradition always ends with the appearance of Santa Claus. The parade was first broadcast on national television by CBS in 1948, although it had been on local TV a few times before that. NBC has shown the parade annually since 1952. From the huge cartoon character balloons (Mickey Mouse, Popeye, Superman, Woody Woodpecker) to the marching bands to the badly lipsynched songs by whatever pop artists are in vogue that year it’s all very old-fashioned & kind of peculiar, but in a good way. Parades are a unique slice of Americana, and this is the biggest parade on perhaps our most singular holiday.

An Ode to The Ghost of Thanksgivings Past

Thanksgiving…one of our most underrated holidays…is in a couple of days. I am looking forward to a pleasant afternoon with family, food, & a little football. I’ll probably watch the Macy’s Parade in the morning and then watch the 1987 classic Planes, Trains, & Automobiles later in the evening. It will be a lovely day…certainly not a bad way to spend one’s time. But it can never be like it once was.

 

My friend The Owl and I have talked a few times about transitions. There is a progression…one that we define as normal…throughout life. A person grows from a tg1baby to a child to a teenager to an adult. Everyone advances from one grade in school to another until graduation, then maybe they go to college, and then finally enter the workforce. Many move away from their hometown to a different city…maybe even another state or country. And most folks get married and have children. Now I do not need or want any kind of sympathy…that’s not what this is about. But since I have not gotten married or fathered children the significance of these transitions has become clearer to me. It makes a lot of sense really. Having children and then eventually grandchildren allows people to see things thru new eyes and re-experience fond memories with a slightly different twist. Not having the prism of new generations to look thru means that individuals like myself only have our memories. It means that things change but they don’t really evolve. It is what it is and that’s fine, but I can’t help but fondly recall the Thanksgivings of my childhood………..

 

My maternal grandmother…Grandma Pigott…lived in town about 20 minutes from our house. She didn’t drive so my Mom or Dad would pick her up (I did the honors a few times when I was older) and bring her to our house the day before and she’d spend the night. She & my mother got up really early on Thanksgiving Day…about 5 or 6am…and put the turkey in the oven. Then they began fixing all the other accoutrements…sweet potatoes, rolls, green beans, corn, extra stuffing besides what was in the turkey, and of course pumpkin pie. By the time I woke up around 8 or 9am the whole house smelled awesome. You know what a house smells like on Thanksgiving. One never forgets that unique scent.

 

macys-paradeDuring my formative years in the 1970’s & 80’s our entertainment options were pretty limited…atleast by today’s macys2standards. Television didn’t have 300 channels. Video games didn’t become popular until I was almost a teenager and I never really got into gaming anyway. We didn’t have The Internet or smartphones. So I am not ashamed to admit that I looked forward to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Back then I seem to recall that it was hosted by people like Ed McMahon, Bryant Gumbel, & Willard Scott. I always liked ol’ Willard. At any rate, as I got older I began to comprehend how corny the parade really is, and remember being shocked & disappointed when I realized that those people weren’t really singing…they were lip synching!! The horror!!!! But I never stopped watching. I still enjoy watching, although now it’s kind of a nostalgia thing because no matter what kind of new characters they make balloons out of or how many young pop stars are trotted out to make the show seem hip the truth is that it is essentially the same parade it’s always been and that’s just fine with me.

 

I don’t recall what my father or sister were doing while I was watching the parade. My Dad was probably outside doing something manly. My sister was never the domestic type…especially as a teenager…so, while many girls might have been in the kitchen helping Mom & Grandma prepare the feast, I think she stayed holed up in her room being anti-social. Don’t worry though…she became friendlier as an adult. Actually I was more likely to be in the kitchen asking if I could help. If I was as interested in such things now as I was 35 years ago I’d make someone a heck of a husband.

 

The parade always ended at noon (still does) and in our house that meant dinner wasn’t too far away. We normally ate supper about 5 or 6pm on most evenings, but cpon Thanksgiving Day the meal was ready by 1 or 2pm. Not long after the parade was over my paternal grandparents…Papaw & Mamaw Mano…would arrive. They lived “up the holler” just a couple of miles from us. Now I don’t recall if they brought anything else (they probably did), but one thing I do know for sure…Grandma Mano always made chocolate cream pie, and she made it from scratch…even the crust. To this day I have never eaten a pie as good, and I doubt that I ever will.

 

fturkBy this time football was on. There were always two games back then. The Dallas Cowboys played in one and the Detroit Lions played in the other. Their opponents varied from year to year. I am certainly not a Cowboys fan, and at that time I’m pretty sure no one outside of the Motor City gave a darn about the Lions, but it was football and one doesn’t pass up an opportunity to watch football. NBC aired AFC games and the pre-game show was hosted by Bryant Gumbel before he left for the Today Show, as well as folks like Bob Costas, Len Berman, Paul Maguire, Ahmad Rashad, & a few others, while the games were called by legends like Dick Enberg, Don Criqui, Bob Trumpy, Marv Albert, & Merlin Olsen. CBS aired NFC games and their pre-game show had Brent Musburger, Irv Cross, the lovely Phyllis George, & Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, with games being called by…well, I’m sure there were several announcers but the team I remember best is Pat Summerall & John Madden. At any rate, the games themselves were rarely memorable and unless the Steelers were playing I didn’t really care one way or another, but football was & is an undeniable part of the Thanksgiving tradition.

 

I never really got to watch much of the early football game because soon enough dinner was ready. My mother and grandmothers would do the last minute preparations and my sister & I were sometimes recruited to “set the table”, i.e. put out all the plates, bowls, glasses, & silverware. Our kitchen table wasn’t quite big enough for 7 people, but that was easily handled by my father inserting a “leaf”, the one & only time during the year this was necessary.

 

We never made a big deal out of the head of the family theatrically wielding a large knife and carving the turkey while giving some kind of grandiose speech. I think thanksgiving-dinner_1that only happens on TV & in movies. Usually Mom or my grandmother would just cut it into pieces before it ever made it to the table. We had mashed potatoes & gravy (both of my grandmothers made awesome gravy), green beans (not that casserole stuff with crunchy onions), corn, rolls, traditional stuffing, & iced tea. I was never a fan of sweet potatoes as a kid and usually passed on them, although now I really like sweet potatoes. I believe we oftentimes had deviled eggs as well. I don’t recall cranberry sauce being a central part of our meal. It could be that no one made it or it is possible that it is something at which I turned up my nose and blocked out of my memory. I’m still not a fan of cranberry sauce, mostly because I’m not sure why it’s there or how one is supposed to consume it. Am I supposed to eat it with a spoon?? Do I spread it on my roll like jam?? Is one supposed to dip turkey in it?? I honestly have no idea.

 

After saying grace we engaged in polite conversation during the meal, but there was a lot of “pass the rolls please”, “may I have some more potatoes”, “I need some more tea”, & “Mom this stuffing is really good”. What can I say…we had our priorities straight and the focus was on the awesome meal in front of our faces. I usually ate like a pig, not giving a second thought to children in Third World countries who probably hadn’t eaten as much in a month as I was scarfing down in one sitting. That’s the beauty of childhood…complete self-involvement without a care of what is happening outside one’s own little bubble. After dinner the turkey looked like it had been car bombed by the mafia and I was ready for dessert. Two pieces of pie for this kid…pumpkin & chocolate, both smothered in Cool Whip (not that crap in a spray can).

 

familyThe post-dinner festivities were in our living room. I usually tried to watch some football, and I think my Dad and grandfather may have taken a little nap (damn tryptophan) while the ladies were in the kitchen cleaning up and doing dishes. Old-fashioned?? Unevolved?? Misogynistic?? Ehhh…I suppose some people may have that opinion, but it was the way it was. At some point the cleanup was over and we all sat together in the living room…me, my parents, my sister, & my grandparents. That’s what I remember most of all. It’s the memory that makes me happiest & saddest at the same time. I can always eat. I’ve never not had access to food. But those seven people will never be in a room together again. I’ve mentioned this once before in this space:

 

“After dinner we’d all sit in the living room and shoot the breeze, just enjoying each other’s company. As a child I would mostly just sit there and listen as the adults talked about a variety of things. Families have a certain…rhythm…whenever they talk amongst themselves. A stranger coming into the midst of the conversation probably wouldn’t give a rat’s petoot about the topics being tossed about to & fro, but if you’re in the inner circle you get it. Even kids, who probably don’t understand most of what is being said, have a comfort level with the group. It’s like a cold winter night that all the sudden becomes cozy once one slips under the warmth of a soft blanket.”

 

My mother passed on 14 years ago. All of my grandparents are gone. I wish that I had an hour long video of that post-meal conversation that I could just play over & over.

 

At some point…probably about 6 or 7pm…my paternal grandparents would go home. I would eat another piece or two of pie, this time accompanied by a tall glasspumpkin-pie-21 of cold milk, during the evening. There weren’t any other football games and the tradition of playing Christmas movies on television hadn’t started yet (remember…we didn’t have that many channels). We definitely didn’t go shopping and weren’t preparing to do that the next day. I don’t ever remember Black Friday even being a thing when I was a child. So we just relaxed and enjoyed our evening. What a concept, huh??

 

Thanksgiving was over but there was one last memory to create in the coming days. Even though the turkey had seemingly been destroyed there somehow were leftovers, and one thing we did with leftover turkey was make turkey salad. It seems to me that the task usually fell to Grandma Pigott, and she didn’t have any modern gadgets…no Magic Bullet, no Ninja, no Cuisinart, no Ultimate Chopper. What she had, and all she needed, was a big ol’ knife and a hand cranked meat grinder. It took some effort (I helped her a few times when I was a little older) but you know what…that turkey salad was spectacular and nothing one can purchase at the grocery store nowadays even comes close. She would make ham salad the same way after Christmas and it was equally as tasty.

 

Ahhhh those were the days. They may be gone but not forgotten. I’m thankful for the memories, thankful for my family, and thankful that I have the opportunity to forge ahead and enjoy more good times even if they’ll have a difficult time measuring up. May God bless The Manoverse this Thanksgiving.

Holiday Essentials with Your Humble Potentate of Profundity

It goes without saying that Christmas is…or atleast should be…all about the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. It should also be christmas-lightsabout family, an attitude of giving, and a time of reflection & contemplation of life. However, I am not here to hop up on my soapbox (not today anyway) or proselytize (not that there is anything wrong with that). There are a lot of cool things about the holiday season, and since I do not have a spouse or children I tend to enjoy a lot of other peripheral traditions besides opening presents on Christmas morning. So these, in a nutshell, are the things that entertain me, make me a bit wistful, and help me fondly recall the idyllic childhood of my selective memory.

 

 

 

 

Santa Claus on the Biography Channel

I’ve railed against the stupefying mediocrity of television elsewhere here at The Manofesto, but I have to admit that amongst the plethora of nothingness that passes as “entertainment” on The Idiot Box there are occasionally some hidden gems. Whenever I am not watching a ballgame on TV I tend to gravitate toward more informational fare on Discovery, History, or The Science Channel. If only I’d have had that sort of intellectual curiosity 30 years ago. Ah well…c’est la vie. At any rate, A&E used to run this terrific show called Biography, which is exactly what it sounds like. A few years ago the show somehow got its own channel, which is probably overkill but what’re you gonna do?? At Christmas time they inevitably run a show about the jolly old elf himself…Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, etc. They explore the origins, the myths, and how our modern interpretation came to fruition. It’s educational, it’s fun, and it’s not a bad way to spend an hour or two.

 

 

Reading A Visit From St. Nicholas

Unfortunately I do not have children of my own and have begun to have very serious doubts about whether I ever will. If I did I would like to think that one of the final things I would do as they lay their little heads down to sleep on Christmas Eve is read this most beloved poem. As it is I still like to find it online and read it to myself. What a beautifully written story it is, with the power to make even middle-aged men feel like children once again.

 

 

Die Hard

Coming in at #9 on my list of Favorite Movies is the best action movie of all time and the world’s most unlikely Christmas film. It’s a terrific change of pace from the sentimentality and mawkish preachiness of typical holiday fare. Obviously I don’t shy away from all that sweetness & light…not at all. But sometimes it’s fun just to sit back and watch smartass Bruce Willis (at his very best) shoot things and blow stuff up.

 

 

Crazy Christmas Lights

lightsI am physically unable to put up a huge decorative display, and even if I could The Bachelor Palace is not really conducive to that sort of thing anyway. So I can get my fix a couple of ways. If the weather cooperates I can hop in the ol’ gasoline powered extended cab sleigh and traverse local neighborhoods where folks with that funky Christmas spirit have decorated the outside of their own homesteads. The swankier sections of town where the pretty people live are usually the mother lode of ornamental holiday nirvana. It’s not a bad way to spend a chilly December evening. The other, far lazier option is to just hang out on the couch and find The Travel Channel on your television. They frequently replay a couple of specials about people who go all out with their Christmas light presentations. Either way the soft glowing lights (I am partial to white lights) are an essential part of the holiday season.

 

 

Thanksgiving with The Macy’s Parade, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, and NFL Football

This list is obviously more about Christmas, but sometimes I feel like Thanksgiving gets the short end of the holiday stick. In 21st Century America it is treated as nothing more than the kickoff to the commercialized Christmas season. I am not excessively offended by that, but I also think Thanksgiving deserves some love. It isn’t quite as special these days since my mother and grandparents are gone and I usually go out to eat alone instead of having the old fashioned family feast at home, but I do have my own little checklist for the big day. I still love to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, even if it does strike me as being a lot hokier now than when I was a kid. Being a huge football fan I appreciate the fact that there are always a couple of NFL games with the Dallas Cowboys & Detroit Lions facing off against various opponents and sometimes there is even a college game or two. And to top everything off I like to watch the 1987 Steve Martin/John Candy classic Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, which is the world’s best…and maybe only…Thanksgiving movie.

 

 

A Holiday Inn & White Christmas Double Feature

I’m an old-fashioned guy, and no time of the year lends itself to kickin’ it old school better than Christmas. One of the things I could never do but would love to have the talent for is singing and dancing. I envy people who can entertain a crowd with song & dance, and that is what these two films are all about. The plots themselves are secondary to watching Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Rosemary Clooney, & Danny Kaye display their inimitable talents. It’s such a shame that films like these are not made or barely appreciated anymore. I have two teenage nephews and I’d be surprised if they’d watch either of these for longer than 10 minutes before wanting to play some inane video game or watch “reality” television. That’s fine…to each their own. As for me, I will anxiously await AMC’s showing of these two films, during which I will dim the lights, snuggle with Rocco under a warm blanket, and drink a mug of piping hot cocoa overflowing with marshmallows.

 

 

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Rudolph & Frosty get all the love, but among the plethora of classic, Rankin-Bass produced, stop motion animated holiday specials this one deserves some props as well. Starring the voices of Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire, & Keenan Wynn, it’s a unique Santa Claus origin story with one of the most memorably named villains ever, Mayor Burgermeister Meisterburger. It’s usually on ABC Family a few times.

 

 

 

Christmas on The Food Network

I am addicted to The Food Network. I can’t actually cook all that well myself, but I sure do get a kick out of watching pros who know their way around a kitchen whip up a plethora of edible delights that look quite tasty on TV. The holiday season provides folks like Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, and Emeril Lagasse several weeks to wow the viewers with all kinds of festive ideas & recipes. Yummo!!

 

 

 

 

Made-for-Television Holiday Movies

We are all familiar with the big screen classics that debuted in the theaters decades ago and now grace our television screens each & Christmas season. However, there are a lot of other lesser known holiday films available for our viewing pleasure every year. Channels like Hallmark, ABC Family, and Lifetime (Television for Women) produce new made-for-TV flicks all the time and replay several that have evidently gotten good ratings. You won’t see many big stars, great production values, or even very good stories, but you’ll be entertained, maybe have a laugh or two, and possibly get your heart tugged on a bit.

 

 

Miracle on 34th St.

This is a fantastic way to kick off the holiday season!! The beginning of the film incorporates the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade into the story, so it is usually amongst the first Christmas movies I watch. It used to be on NBC immediately following the parade every year, but then they started showing a dog show instead. However, if my sources are correct then NBC is showing it on Thanksgiving this year again!! I know that most of us (unless there are young crumb crunchers out there with an odd addiction to The Manofesto) understand the truth about Santa Claus, but I also think that most of us retain…dare I say…an inner child that we love to bring out during the holidays. Even if we know the real deal with Santa there is something charming about the idea that he may actually exist.

 

 

 

Mannheim Steamroller & Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I love all sorts of music and I really enjoy Christmas carols. I have to give a shout out to my friend Greg and The Godfather of Conservatism Rush Limbaugh for introducing me to these two groups, both of which put a distinctive spin on traditional holiday tunes. They are each a unique mix of orchestral & progressive synthesized music, with TSO having more of a rock edge. Once one is familiar with their singular styles it becomes instantly recognizable when heard on the radio or the sound system at your local shopping center. Both groups have done tunes other than Christmas songs, but it is the latter for which they are best known & loved and that has become an integral part of my yuletide merriment.

 

 

Elf

The new kid on the block in the pantheon of beloved Christmas films is 2003’s Elf, starring Will Ferrell as an orphan who accidentally ends up in Santa’s bag on Christmas Eve and grows up at the North Pole think he is…you guessed it…an elf. He learns the truth and sets out to New York City to find his real father, who just happens to be a grumpy book publisher who is on Santa’s Naughty List. Ferrell is hysterically funny and nails the childlike vibe one may assume would mark an elven personality, and James Caan is the curmudgeonly Dad. This is one of Ferrell’s best roles, and it is amazing just how quickly Elf has taken its place amongst the annual holiday classics. I do have a concern about possible overexposure, because USA Network shows the film a lot starting even before Thanksgiving.

 

 

Christmas Unwrapped on The History Channel

Okay, so I am kind of a nerd. I love history, and I love Christmas, so this is a perfect marriage of the two. It explores the origins of the holiday, various symbols like the Christmas tree, and how the celebration has evolved over the centuries from a strictly holy day to 18th century rabble rousing to the modern bent toward consumerism. There is a lot of interesting input from a variety of experts in history, religion, and folklore, and it is all narrated by the soothing voice of newsman Harry Smith. I don’t mind being educated at the same time as I am being entertained. Your mileage may vary.

 

 

Home Alone & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

MacCaulay Caulkin seems to have followed the same path as a lot of child stars…overnight fame at a very young age, followed by years of personal & legal issues that were tabloid fodder for the jaded, voyeuristic masses, and eventually relative obscurity. However, for just a little while each holiday season he is simply that precocious and insufferably cute little boy that was inadvertently ditched by his family (twice) and left to fend for himself at Christmas time. The original came in at #12 on my Favorite Movies list, while the sequel ranked #37. I fondly recall watching the original when it first started airing on television in the early 90’s with my oldest nephew (who is now in college). We laughed so hard at the cartoon violence when little Kevin is “defending his house” against bumbling burglars Harry & Marv that tears were streaming down our faces. I don’t laugh quite as much now, but these two films are still virtual comfort food. The second isn’t quite as good as the first, but the two still need to be connected and viewed, preferably together.

 

 

The Ref

If one checks The Vault and peruses my Top 100 Favorite Movies series it becomes obvious that I adore Christmas films. I believe somewhere around a dozen made the cut. Checking in at #28 is The Ref, an overlooked 1994 offering starring Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary. The story revolves around a thief who takes a bickering couple hostage on Christmas Eve and regrets it tremendously since they and their crazy family drive him nuts. For some reason The Ref has never quite entered the well-known pantheon of traditional holiday movies, but I have adored it since the first time I rented the video over 15 years ago. It’s rather difficult to find on TV but well worth the rental.

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Peanut Butter Balls, Peanut Butter Fudge, Hot Chocolate, Wassail, Eggnog, & Pita Piata

Let’s face it…food is an important part of the Christmas season. Even the most steadfast of dieters throw their weight loss goals aside for the holidays. And depending on cultural influences and what our families prepared when we were kids, we all have our particular favorites. Chocolate chip cookies are great any time of year, but when I was young both my mother and her mother always made a huge batch right after Thanksgiving, enough to last until New Year’s, so chocolate chip cookies always remind me of Christmas. My grandmother also always made a big ol’ turn of fudge and peanut butter balls as well. On my Dad’s side of the family I was introduced to pita piata, and Italian dessert that is basically a nut roll containing brandy soaked raisins amongst a host of other tasty ingredients. Pita piata is native to the small village of San Giovanni i Fiore in Calabria, Italy, where my great grandparents immigrated from at the turn of the 20th century. As far as beverages go, who doesn’t like hot chocolate?? And what drink is as identified with Christmas as eggnog?? You may have also heard the old Christmas carol Here We Come A Wassailing. There is actually a beverage called wassail, and the best way I can describe it is that it tastes like liquid apple pie. We usually enjoy some wassail after the folks from church trek through my small hometown caroling.

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Firmly entrenched as one of America’s favorite holiday classics is 1989’s third offering in the adventures of the wacky Griswold clan, led by the bumbling stumbling Chevy Chase himself. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two decades since this one originally hit theaters. As I said when I rated Christmas Vacation #6 on my Favorite Movies list, this isn’t high art. It’s mindless entertainment & harmless fun, and it’s something I look forward to every year.

 

 

 

Reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

There is no shortage of movie adaptations of Dickens’ tale about mean old Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve and shown the error of his ways. There are a few classic B&W films from the mid-20th century, a “motion capture” animated feature starring Jim Carrey made just a couple years ago, loose interpretations like Bill Murray’s Scrooged or the popular cartoon Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and a particularly well done 90’s TV movie starring Star Trek:TNG’s Patrick Stewart. All of these are perfectly delightful. However, might I suggest the following: On some chilly December evening, take Dickens’ novella off the bookshelf, settle down into a comfortable chair or couch, and read the book!! Last year I discovered a wonderful trick to enhance the experience. The Bachelor Palace doesn’t have a fireplace, but somewhere on the television there is a wonderful channel that is nothing but an endless loop of a roaring, crackling, very peaceful fire. So now I dim the lights (except for what I am going to use to read by), grab a warm beverage, burrow myself under a blanket, and read A Christmas Carol in front of a 40 inch high definition fireplace.

 

 

The Polar Express

While Home Alone has fond memories that I associate with my oldest nephew, The Polar Express hearkens a memory connected to my younger nephew. He was about 7 years old when the movie hit theaters and I decided to take him to see it. I think I was much more enthralled than he was to be honest. 7 year olds have a bit of an issue sitting still for almost two hours. At any rate, I fell in love with this film and my fondness has only grown in the ensuing years. The Polar Express was really the first movie that brought motion capture technology to the forefront, and it is so unique and so different that one is left with an indelible imprint on the brain. It also allows for things like Tom Hanks portraying half dozen different characters, which is pretty cool. When ranking The Polar Express #16 on my Favorite Movies list I referred to it as “whimsical, magical, and hauntingly beautiful” and said that it embodied the indefinable Christmas spirit.  A few years ago I was spending some post-surgery time in my 2nd “skilled” nursing facility in less than 2 years. It was in late November/early December, and after a kind soul hooked me up with a very small television one of the first things I was able to watch was The Polar Express. This particular period of time was amongst the saddest, most depressing of my entire life, and I will always be forever grateful that this fantastic movie helped pull me from the abyss.

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Not too long ago I read a really interesting biography of Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip. I was never really a comic book fan, but I always enjoyed the comics in the Sunday paper, and felt a certain kinship with loveable loser Charlie Brown. It wasn’t until I read the Schultz book that I realized all the ups & downs and insecurities in his life and how much they influenced his work, and really began to understand why I always liked Charlie Brown. Several classic animated TV specials were made based on Peanuts, including A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, but at Christmas time there isn’t anything much cooler than A Charlie Brown Christmas. The story has Charlie Brown having a problem finding the Christmas spirit, the main issue being one that isn’t uncommon in Christmas stories…the overt commercialization of the holiday. Eventually he finds what he is looking for with the help of his blanket toting pal Linus, whose simple rendition of the biblical Christmas story found in Luke 2:8-14 is awesome since we live in such a PC world where every effort is made to appease Islam while spitting all over Christianity. Even back in the 60’s when the special was made corporate TV types wanted Schultz to remove the Bible passage, but he absolutely refused. After reading the aforementioned biography and knowing how devout Schultz was I understand why he took such a strong stance, and I have the utmost respect for the man because of it. As with other classic specials that have aired annually for decades, A Charlie Brown Christmas obviously resonates with the viewing public, and it is certainly an important part of my Christmas season.

 

 

The 24/7 Christmas Carol Radio Station

I love Christmas carols. I never ever get tired of them during the holiday season. In the archives here at The Manofesto you can find a two part ditty where I rank my all-time favorite carols. I think there are basically about two dozen carols, but they’ve all been covered by so many artists in every imaginable music genre that it seems like there are hundreds of them. At any rate, the day after Thanksgiving one of the local rock stations on my radio dial begins playing nothing but Christmas music 24 hours/day, and I think it is marvelous. I am sure stations nationwide do something similar. I really only listen to the radio when I am in my truck, and since I don’t travel all that much and have a short commute to work maybe that explains why I don’t tire of the endless caroling. It always kind of makes me sad when the station goes back to playing crappy pop music immediately after midnight on Christmas night.

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & Frosty the Snowman

When something is shown annually on television for nearly 50 years then it has obviously made a significant impression on a whole heck of a lot of people. I am secure enough in my masculinity to proudly proclaim that I look forward to watching these two animated specials each Christmas season. Rudolph is based on the song of the same name, written in 1949 by Johnny Marks, who was inspired by his brother-in-law Robert May’s creation of Rudolph for a Montgomery Ward advertising campaign in 1939. The stop motion animated special began airing in 1964, and I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of the population has watched it hundreds of times. Cowboy Gene Autry recorded Frosty the Snowman in 1950, and after the success of the Rudolph animated special Rankin-Bass took Autry’s song and made it into another stop motion classic in 1969. I’m not quite as fond of Frosty as I am Rudolph because let’s face it…little Karen and Professor Hinkle can’t quite compete with Herbie the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, and my favorites, The Island of Misfit Toys. However, both of these shows are absolute must-see-TV for me during the holidays.

 

 

 

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The Grinch utilizes more traditional animation than Rudolph, Frosty, and The Polar Express, but that’s okay. Simplicity can be good too. I’ve always sort of wondered what kind of substances Dr. Seuss may have been imbibing, because I’ve never seen an amalgamation of prose & poetry quite like the turns of phrase that made him famous. The Grinch was first published in 1957, and this holiday classic first started airing in 1966. The Grinch is a character whose disdain for Christmas seems very similar to Charles Dickens’ creation Ebenezer Scrooge, and who is similarly redeemed by a sudden change of heart. I don’t know if Dr. Seuss was inspired by Dickens and just decided to simplify the story for children, but it’s an intriguing theory. There is a powerful moment near the end of the story when, despite The Grinch having stolen all their Christmas trees, presents, and even their food, The Whos down in Whoville arise on Christmas morning and still sing, or make a joyful noise, if you will. It’s such a simple yet potent reminder of what Christmas isn’t. I think we forget that sometimes and need to watch this little cartoon to be reminded.

 

 

24 Hours of A Christmas Story

The older I get the more I embrace the nostalgic impact of Christmas, because really, all of us enjoy feeling like a child again sometimes even if there is a tinge of sadness involved. Nothing embodies this wistfulness quite as well as 1983’s A Christmas Story. It is my #5 Favorite Movie and for most folks under a certain age maybe the most popular holiday movie of all time. In the late 90’s TBS/TNT (it goes back & forth) started running a 24 hour marathon from 8pm on Christmas Eve until 8pm Christmas night. What an awesome idea!! I usually catch parts of the first showing at my aunt’s house after eating our annual family fish fest, then maybe a little more after I get home from church before getting some zzz’s. On Christmas Day I catch glimpses here & there depending on where I am. And I always atleast try to watch the entire last showing, as it kind of puts a melancholy period at the end of what has been a wonderful, month long sentence.

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life

As mentioned, for most people under a certain age…maybe 30 or 35…A Christmas Story is likely the most beloved holiday film. However, my generation grew up with various television stations showing It’s A Wonderful Life dozens of times during the yuletide season. This created one of two reactions. There was the inevitable backlash, with people beginning to hate the movie because of the endless airings (something that I see happening with atleast 2 or 3 other Christmas classics these days). Or there were people like me that came to love IAWL more & more each year. Unfortunately for us Lifers NBC “rescued” the movie from public domain back in 1993 so now we only get to see it twice a year…usually once in early December and then always on Christmas Eve. It is odd that a movie about suicide would become such a perennial Christmas favorite, but I think the central themes…friendship, family, and realizing that what you have and what your life is ain’t all that bad…really hits home with a lot of people. I know that this is a story that has always resonated deeply for me, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world this and every year.

 

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..46-50

Bon Jovi declared “We’re halfway there…we’re livin’ on a prayer”. Kenny Loggins asked us to “Meet me halfway, across the sky”. You get the point…we’re half done with this countdown and, in golf parlance, making the turn. Now, it’s not that the first 50 movies I’ve written about are irrelevant. I like them or they wouldn’t be on the list. But now we’re getting serious. The cream rises to the top and this process is starting to get creamy. I will try to avoid becoming too verbose and gushing over these next 50 films…but I cannot guarantee I will be able to comply with that edict. You’re going to see a lot of comedies and Christmas movies from here on in, so I hope you enjoy those as much as I do. And as always, feedback is always appreciated.


 

50 Little Miss Sunshine

At the outset of this series I shared a bit about my thinking when deciding on the Top 100, and one of the things I said I take into consideration is longevity. People who say that their all time favorite movie is one that was just in the theater a year or two ago annoy me tremendously. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and this is about as close to an exception as we’ll get. Little Miss Sunshine was released in 2006 and stars Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin, Greg Kinnear, and Steve Carell. Not exactly an all star cast, especially when one considers that at the time Carell was just hitting his stride with The 40 Year Old Virgin and The Office was a fairly new television show. However, a good movie should be based on good writing and not just the pop culture It Factor of its cast. After all, Will Smith is still considered one of the biggest movie stars in the world and hasn’t been in anything worth a damn for about a decade. Sunshine is a unique take on the road trip genre, made popular by such fare as Smokey & The Bandit, Rain Man, Tommy Boy, Sideways, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, and National Lampoon’s Vacation ( two of which we’ll be giving some love to at some point along this path).  A 9 year old girl fascinated by beauty pageants receives an opportunity to compete in one herself. The family treks 800 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Southern California in an old Volkswagen van, and as per usual in road trip flicks, the adventure isn’t boring. Along for the ride is Dad, a down-on-his-luck motivational speaker who says things like “sarcasm is the refuge of losers”…Uncle Frank, a gay Proust scholar who recently attempted suicide…brother Dwayne, a teenager who gets inspiration from Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he can successfully become a pilot…and Grandpa, who was kicked out of the old folks’ home for snorting heroine. Now before any action has taken place or a word of dialogue is spoken, one can see tremendous potential just from those undeniably singular characters. The glue holding it all together is the Mom, a comparatively sane person. I won’t spoil the fun for those who may have thus far overlooked Little Miss Sunshine, but let me say two things. First, Alan Arkin won a well deserved Oscar for his foul mouthed yet relatively brief role as the grandfather. His character makes this movie hands down. I am not sure why his real life son Adam Arkin was not cast as the Dad…it would have been perfect. The other note that needs mentioning is the ending. I suppose it’s not too big of a spoiler to say that, despite all the difficulties along the way the family does make it to the pageant just in the nick of time. Once there it quickly becomes apparent that the little girl is way out of her league, a plain Jane novice amongst little grizzled veterans with layers of makeup, fake eyelashes, and swimsuits the parents should be arrested for allowing them to wear.  But she gets on stage and does her thing, and it is one of the funniest scenes you will see on film. You won’t see it coming, but you won’t forget it once you’ve watched.

 

49 Miracle on 34th Street

Every December our televisions are polluted with Christmas movies, and I love every second. Channels like Hallmark and ABC Family introduce new made-for-TV flicks each year, and some of them are halfway entertaining. The big studios usually come up with one or two holiday themed films, with fairly recent examples being stuff like Bad Santa, Christmas with the Kranks, Deck the Halls, and Four Christmases. Sometimes these are okay, but rarely do they have a real impact or any sustainable staying power. They entertain for a couple hours but ultimately are completely forgettable. But there are a handful of films that have become classics…Christmas traditions almost as important as twinkle lights, eggnog, and mistletoe. You’ll see several of those on this list, and one of the oldest is Miracle on 34th Street. Made in 1947, in a post-war era that wanted feel good stories and laughter, it’s the story of a department store Santa who is put on trial to prove whether or not he is real. In a bit of prescient marketing, the film opens with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is now thought of as the official kickoff to the Christmas season. Santa charms most of his co-workers, but he sets his sights on a skeptical single Mom and her unbelieving, precocious young daughter. No details are ever given as to why Mom is single or the reasons for her cynicism, but one can assume that she was hurt badly by a man. Santa is joined by a friendly lawyer who has a thing for Mom, which comes in handy when Ol’ Saint Nick runs up against the legal system. I am quite sure that anyone over the age of 30 has seen Miracle on 34th Street. I do worry that younger generations may not fully embrace its greatness since it isn’t shown on TV as much these days. Not that long ago it was shown on NBC immediately following the Macy’s parade, which seemed appropriate. Now NBC airs a dog show. Movie channels like AMC and TCM still show Miracle, but not as much as one may think. In 1994 a remake was made, and it isn’t bad as far as remakes go. Macy’s refused to participate and Gimbel’s was already out of business, so two fictional stores are substituted. Other small changes are made to the plot, but overall it stays fairly faithful to the original and is rather likeable. Still though, it is almost always my stance that the original is better than a remake and I hope that in this case we never stop watching the 1947 classic…in black and white. There is a colorized version, but colorization of black and white films is just so wrong, plus they usually give me a headache.

 

48 You’ve Got Mail

Bogey and Bacall… Hepburn and Tracy…Astaire and Rogers. Classic screen pairings are exceptional. The chemistry has to be just right, and it cannot be forced or planned…the magic just happens. It is my personal opinion that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are one of those magical duos. 1998’s You’ve Got Mail was their third movie together, and is kind of a remake of the 1940 Jimmy Stewart vehicle The Shop Around the Corner. I wouldn’t consider it a true remake, as it is significantly updated to include modern technology…e-mail and chat rooms play a key role and the title itself is borrowed from AOL’s well known welcome to customers signing in to their account. But the basic premise is still there…two lonely people anonymously corresponding and falling in love in the process, all while they are totally unaware that they know each other in real life. This update folds in the concept of competing bookstores, which is likely a big factor in its likeability for me. Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, and John Randolph have amusing supporting roles, and that is a key ingredient in any great film. Like any tasty recipe the flavors have to maintain a delicate balance. You’ve Got Mail seems to pop up on television a lot, and I must confess that I will generally watch unless I am really busy, which is rare. Further Hanks/Ryan pairings seem unlikely…they are both getting older and Meg Ryan has paid a few too many visits to her friendly neighborhood Botox provider…but we shall savor the goodness they’ve provided for us for many years to come.

 

47 Elf

While Miracle on 34th Street has long been a bona fide Christmas classic, there are a few films that are growing into that role. One of those up and comers is 2003’s Elf, starring Will Ferrell. Ferrell seems to be one of those actors that you either love or hate…there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground amongst fans. That is largely a function of his sophomoric humor and childlike performances. But that irreverent immaturity works perfectly in this movie. As the story goes, an orphaned baby crawls into Santa’s sack on Christmas Eve and ends up living at the North Pole. After three decades of being raised as an elf, Buddy faces the harsh reality that he is actually not one at all and sets off… passing “through the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then through the Lincoln Tunnel”…for New York City to find his real Dad, a book publisher who is on Santa’s Naughty List. It’s a fun twist on the standard fish-out-of-water tale, as Buddy’s innocent elfish behavior befuddles those around him while at the same time making us, the audience, crack up laughing. Buddy does things like chew old gum that people have stuck under tables, eat pasta covered in syrup, and burst into a diner with the moniker “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” congratulating them enthusiastically on their accomplishment. He eventually finds his crusty Dad, played by James Caan, and somehow stumbles into Gimbel’s (which was actually defunct by 2003, but we won’t quibble) where he is mistaken for an employee. He eventually gets fired after hysterically attacking a faux Santa (“You stink. You smell like beef and cheese! You don’t smell like Santa.”), but not before becoming enamored with the lovely Jovie, with whom he develops a relationship. The climax involves the real Santa, Christmas caroling in Central Park, and Buddy’s family & friends uniting to save Christmas. It’s all very silly, very harmless, and a lot of fun. I don’t think it is farfetched to assume that Elf will undoubtedly take its rightful place alongside A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and others in the pantheon of beloved holiday films…if it hasn’t already.

 

46 When Harry Met Sally

I am not afraid to admit that I, as a man, like romantic comedies. I would much rather see two people go about the meandering yet fun process of falling in love than watch a bunch of pointless explosions, shootings, and car chases. All that stuff can be entertaining on occasion, but I generally prefer something with an actual storyline. When Harry Met Sally is the gold standard of rom-coms, as they are known. It is the one that every film of its ilk is compared to. Released in 1989, the story covers about a decade and a half and stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, who tackle the question “can men and women be just friends?”. While the pairing of Ryan and Crystal doesn’t have quite the enchanting luster of Ryan and Tom Hanks, the two do have a certain quirky chemistry. For guys like me seeing a schlub like Crystal charm his way into the life of a babe like Ryan (pre-Botox addiction) is encouraging even if it is fake and in no way reflects how the world works in reality. Our two lovebirds meet in college and instantly hate each other. This part of the film is the weakest only because it is laughable to see a 40 year old Crystal portray a character half his age, but the interaction and dialogue is so fun and snappy that one can forgive the infraction. As the relationship between Harry and Sally grows so does the film grow on the viewer as things progress. Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby provide amiable support as the obligatory best friends, and the music, done mostly by an at the time unknown Harry Connick Jr. seals the deal. The deli scene…you know what I’m talking about – “I’ll have what she’s having”…is legendary and just another memorable moment that makes the movie great.