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Monday, November 26, 2007


Before we begin this week's Blog, just a quick note: I now have a tie for best film of 2007. Sharing this honor with Across the Universe is the new Disney release, Enchanted. I saw it Friday afternoon and will be seeing it again this coming weekend to pick up on all the details I missed the first time. And I'm planning on getting the soundtrack too. Wonderful piece of work, this; some parts of it you'll just have to see to believe. (Like the sequence in which Giselle [Amy Adams] tidies up Robert's [Patrick Dempsey] apartment. Snow White, this isn't!) Nothing should be too big to come in for a little good-natured parody, and Disney should have had fun with its image and history this way a long time ago. See this picture. You too will be Enchanted, I'm sure.

Now, for new Blog business, the following...

Just what happens to your relationship with Christmas as you get older, anyway? I remember when Christmas was my absolute favorite holiday. I loved it. LOVED it. And I thought I always would. Truth to tell, what I enjoy most about Christmas is the stuff you're supposed to enjoy, the time spent with family, and a personal ritual that I've started for Christmas Eve, which I'll share with you in a few weeks. My real favorite part of the holiday season is actually New Year's Eve, and I have a personal tradition for that too, part of which I've already mentioned (the Sci Fi Channel Twilight Zone Marathon) and part of which I'll also share with you in a few weeks. But all the other stuff? I've just realized that for the past I-don't-know-how-many years I've been suffering from Charlie Brown Syndrome. You know what that is, the thing that happens to Charlie Brown in the Christmas TV special when all the glitz and fuss of the holiday season starts to depress him. (Oh, and we're going to talk about those holiday TV specials in a minute; wait for it.) I used to love that part of the holidays as much as the other stuff. But now? I just get tired thinking about it.

I used to have a little contest with myself about Christmas morning. I would try to get up a little earlier on Christmas morning every year than I did the previous year. I'd just get so excited over all the loot and goodies I was expecting that I couldn't wait to get at it. I think my record for a Christmas morning reveille was 5 AM. These days, unless I'm traveling somewhere or I'm going to a science fiction or comic convention, I can't think of a damn thing for which I would willingly and not grudgingly drag my tired, sleep-craving behind out of bed at that hour. The bloom is definitely off that particular Poinsettia.

As I got older, the focus of my enthusiasm changed from getting to giving. I absolutely loved Christmas shopping. I looked forward to it as one of the fun challenges of my year, making my list of whom I was giving what and doing my annual scavenger hunt through all the local malls and shops to find every perfect thing for every specific person. And I used to love shopping for the tree, picking out exactly the right one, bringing it home, and having my sister over to decorate. Man, did Prinny and I put up some great trees! I'd sit for hours with just the tree lights on, sipping my egg nog, and admiring our handiwork. I thought that was fun. I haven't done it in years. I find it exhausting. That's what the mixture of age and the holidays does to you.

Today, my family's gift giving revolves round the custom of the Santa Bag, which Prinny proposed and we've all signed on for. You know how that works: Everyone's name is put in a hat, and everyone draws out one name without looking. Random chance determines whom you're giving to and who's giving to you, and your assignment is to come up with one item that's right for one person. The name drawing is done at Thanksgiving dinner, meaning we all got our assignments three days ago. I've already identified a potential place to shop for my person--my beloved old scavenger hunt, cut down to just one thing for one loved one. And I can live with it.

Of course, another part of the fun is wondering who drew my name. I'll admit, one year I found the master list and cheated and looked. But I haven't seen the list this year. I know where it probably is, but I haven't taken a peek. And I probably won't.

To tell you the truth, I look forward to a time when I'll be able to give myself one special Christmas gift every year. Some day I want to be able to excuse myself from Christmas entirely. I want to travel for Christmas, spend it in the UK (where I know some people, thanks to this very Internet on which we're communicating now) or France; perhaps drop in on a friend of mine who just moved from Mexico to Spain. One of these years I'm going to start that as my new tradition; have Thanksgiving with the family and mail my Santa Bag assignment to my recipient, and have mine mailed to me, and just leave the country, check in at some nice place, and let it all go by without me. I have reasons for this. It's not just about getting older; there are some personal things that I'm not ready to share right now. One of these years, maybe. But excusing myself from Christmas and coming home for New Year's Eve is something I look forward to doing one day.

Yep, Charlie Brown Syndrome it is. Which brings me back to the subject of those holiday TV specials. They were another thing that I loved about this time of year; those animated shows, ostensibly for children, but written so that grown-ups could appreciate them too, which used to proliferate on network TV every December. Every year seemed to bring some new ones, and of course no Christmas was complete without the classics. Even now, I wouldn't think of letting a Christmas go by without watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. (One year I did somehow manage to miss Rudolph, and I was just depressed!) But time began to have its way with this tradition too, and it had nothing to do with me. Gradually, these shows began to disappear from network television. I've long suspected that CBS, NBC, and ABC began to cut them off the schedule because some fool in an over-priced suit got it into his head that they couldn't collect the same advertising revenues for these specials that they could for regular programming. So now, most of these shows turn up only on Cable networks. For a few years, The Grinch was actually banished to Turner stations until ABC reinstated it. The Grinch, for crying out loud! You still have to have ABC Family on your Cable service to see most of these shows, and there are some I haven't seen in the Grinch-knows-how-long because I don't have time to go hunting for them. (The Little Drummer Boy comes to mind.) And there are some that have fallen into near-complete obscurity because of this. Remember Cricket on the Hearth and A Cricket in Times Square? And Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus? And The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas? You probably don't. I barely do myself.

Oh, and then there is the truly pernicious practice of cutting material out of those shows to make room for extra advertising time, or because some fool in an over-priced suit thinks you don't have the patience to sit through them as they were originally presented and meant to be seen. There are two of these, which usually run in prime time on ABC Family, that I almost can't bear to look at any more: Santa Claus is Comin' to Town and The Year Without a Santa Claus. I'm sure you know these. Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is, of course, the Rankin-Bass special about the origin of Santa Claus (which is so clever that to this day I take it as The Real Story). The Year Without a Santa Claus, by that same Rankin-Bass, tells the story of what happened the year Santa got fed up with the world's cynicism and canceled his Yuletide run; it's the one everyone loves because of the Heat Miser/Snow Miser dueling musical numbers. ("I'm Mr. Heat Blister, I'm Mr. Sun/I'm Mr. White Christmas, I'm Mr. Hundred-and-One!") Well, these two are holiday staples of ABC Family, all right--but don't expect to see them in their entirety. Every year they turn up, and every year there's stuff missing from them. There's a number in Santas Claus is Comin'... called "When You Sit on My Lap Today" and one in The Year Without... called "Anyone Can Play Santa" (in which Mrs. Claus does Santa Claus drag!) that I haven't seen in ages. Santa Claus is Comin' has also long been missing its romantic ballad in which schoolteacher Jessica, the future Mrs. Claus, realizes she's falling in love with the red-suited stranger with the bag of toys. And in another cartoon classic, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, based on the Clement Clark Moore poem, another song is on the cutting room floor as well. Every time I see that show, I notice the awkward jump in the story where something has been deleted. I think it's "Even a Miracle Needs a Hand." I watch this one because the song that I really, really love from it, "Christmas Chimes are Calling," is critical to the final act and can't be removed, so there! But really, this whole practice of cutting up classic holiday shows is one that I find as offensive as the banishment of traditional theme songs and opening titles from regular shows. (See my "Variations on No Themes" post, October 29, 2007.)

That's why, for this Christmas, I'm going to give myself the gift of Netflix and just rent the damn things on DVD and see them the way they're supposed to be seen, with everything that was put into them still actually there! Oh, I'll still watch Charlie Brown and Rudolph and The Grinch on the commercial networks (CBS had an attack of decency a few years ago and actually put back most of the stuff that was cut from Rudolph), but for Santa Claus is Comin'..., The Year Without a Santa..., and 'Twas the Night Before..., it's Netflix all the way, Baby! This will be the last year that TV puts a part of my holiday on the cutting room floor!


  1. Perhaps I'm luck. Christmas never stopped being my favorite holiday. But what I enjoyed about it has, like a lot of people, evolved from getting to giving. But what hasn't changed is my love of the Christmas classic movies.

    Ever since I was a child it’s been they that really bring out the magic of the holidays for me. Wrapping up on the couch with my family and watching Frosty the Snowman or Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town - I’m transported back to my own childhood, and I feel the same peace and joy I did watching those same timeless movies with my parents.

    I’m really glad I don’t have to wait for them to come on TV this year. Now there is a limited collector edition DVD box-set of all the Christmas Classics available, containing my two favorite Christmas movies plus five more. It even comes with a bonus music CD containing 7 favorite holiday songs! I only know about it because I work with the company, but you can buy it wherever you do your Christmas shopping. This is something my family and I will treasure for many holiday seasons to come.

  2. Hi, Claire. I forgot to mention I also like to watch Miracle on 34th Street (a favorite story of mine)--but only on Turner Classic Movies and only the black-and-white version. And my brother Mike turned me on to A Christmas Story, the annual 24-hour marathon of which I like to catch. Just not the whole 24 hours!

  3. Addendum: The song they keep cutting from 'tWas the Night Before Christmas is "Give Your Heart a Try". My bad.