In Travis’ Humble Opinion: The holidays are a special time of year for many people, a time full of friends, family and good cheer. Everyone has their own traditions from big meals to tree decorating, all tied to certain sights, sounds and smells that recall the happy times we’ve spent around yuletide. For me, the scent of fresh pine or a baking pumpkin pie, the twinkle of multi-colored lights strung about people’s homes and the gentle piano notes immediately recognizable as Vince Guaraldi’s score for the Charlie Brown Christmas special, all transport me magically to those few weeks at the end of the year when everyone just seems to be in a better mood, at least when they’re not elbowing each other in the head for the best deals at Wal-Mart on Black Friday.
Something that often gets left out of nostalgic ramblings (like this one) about this time of year, is the quality time we spend in front of television and movie screens catching up with our favorite holiday-themed programming. People are so busy trying to DO things around Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year, I think they often try to sweep under the rug these more mundane holiday rituals, even though a great many people take part. Sure, sitting and watching your favorite Christmas cartoons isn’t as beautiful a memory as sitting in front of a roaring fire, sipping egg nog and singing Christmas carols with the family…but maybe it’s a more realistic one for most people.
To my mind, there are essentially 3 categories of memorable holiday viewing. The animated Christmas special, the Christmas movie, and the hyped-up-non-holiday-but-aired-during-the-holidays-for-big-ratings, special TV event. They all have a place in our hearts and the importance and quality of each has declined quite a bit over the years, but here’s a rundown of a few that I enjoy from each category.
Perhaps the most sacred of all holiday TV-watching remains the animated special. Once upon a time, these specials were just that, special. They aired on the three (at the time) major networks and were shown once a year. If you missed How the Grinch Stole Christmas to go watch Aunt Sally and Uncle Bert get hammered on holiday cheer at their annual Christmas party, you weren’t seeing it again until next Christmas and that was almost too much to bear. Certain shows were absolute must-see viewing for me. From Charlie Brown to Frosty, from Rudolph to the afore-mentioned Grinch, I always made sure that my parents knew when these were set to air and planned my holiday activities accordingly. More than any of the others, though, Mickey’s Christmas Carol was utterly essential for the holidays. It doesn’t get as much love today and it’s a lot tougher to find (and nearly impossible with its original accompanying cartoons featuring Donald, Chip N Dale and Goofy), probably because of the scene featuring a cigar-smoking Pete sending Scrooge to hell for a minute or two, but it’s absolutely a beautifully-made adaptation of the Dickens classic. I also always looked out for a less well-known entry into the canon, Twas the Night Before Christmas, a musical number featuring some clock-repairing mice and a strangely vindictive Santa Claus. Nowadays, ABC Family shows most of these specials ad nauseam and a new spate of more recent features that mostly exist as some sort of marketing tie-in to some movie that’s coming out in theaters (or came out last year and is hitting DVD this year). I would be remiss, however, in not mentioning the series of American Dad Christmas episodes that have aired over the duration of that series. They’re probably the best episodes of the series and easily among the best new Christmas content out there.
Of course, you can’t go wrong with a solid holiday movie. I’ve seen Christmas Vacation so many times that the scenes are starting to meld with my own memories. You have the classics like It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, and the vaguely holiday-related films like Gremlins and Die Hard (or even more violent affairs like Home Alone). Probably the modern classic of our time, though, is Will Ferrell’s tour-de-force, Elf. Some pretty funny stuff, mixed in with just enough seasonal sentiment makes Elf a perfect movie to watch with the family after a tough day of shopping or seeing relatives. To this day, I always answer my phone, “Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?” and turns of phrase like “son of a nutcracker!” feel absolutely natural this time of year. Predictably, there haven’t been many classics to add to the lexicon lately. Clunkers like Fred Claus and Four Christmases (sorry Vince Vaughn, you’re still money) don’t even hold a candle to such gems as Jingle All the Way…I guess. Honorable mention to Scrooged, yet another classic retelling of A Christmas Carol with the incomparable Bill Murray.
The last category is perhaps the toughest to nail down. The super-hyped holiday seasonal release of X movie or TV special, be it a mini-series, TV movie, whatever. Essentially, the concept is this. Movie studios like to release movies around the holidays. People are off of school or work and they need a break from holiday stuff and especially from their insufferable families, so they go out and see a movie for a just a couple hours to themselves. That’s the theory, anyway. It used to be more prevalent in TV as well, I assume based on the same idea that people just have some free time to dedicate to entertainment they might not otherwise possess. Just as an example, Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings. Neither film series have the least bit to do with the holidays, but both were released primarily during the peak holiday season and were billed as “the holiday event of the season.” Despite the fact that there is no relation between holidays and these movies, the two things are wedded to some degree nonetheless and I know I personally associate them. Going back several years and over to TV, there are two examples worth noting. Both the Rankin and Bass animated version of the Hobbit (1977) and the Ewok Adventure (1984) were released on Thanksgiving weekend. The Hobbit predates me just a bit, but I remember anxiously anticipating the Ewok Adventure and I remember the Hobbit being re-shown around the same time. Again, studios essentially using the holidays to promote non-holiday content and unintentionally (or intentionally, who knows) wedding the two. Seems like you see this less and less, although I’m certain the advertising dollars are more available than ever. There just doesn’t seem to be as much “event” viewing as there used to be, probably because the amount of content is so much greater.
So, I guess what I’m saying is this: Don’t let anyone tell you to get off the couch during this season and engage in more holiday-themed chaos. Sit yourself down and cozy up with the TV and movies you remember and relax for a change. Let Clark Griswold, Charlie Brown and what the hell, Harry Potter, make your memories for you. If you’re like me, these pieces of entertainment lore are part of your holiday-consciousness – embrace them!