“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,”
grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
-Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
335 days of the year, you’ll hear me harp on how bad TV is for your brain and how you should really be shutting it off, getting outside and moving your body.
But 30 days of the year, I love TV.
No screen time on school nights? Pshaw, in December I’m breaking all the rules.
The specials are on.
It starts on Thanksgiving Day with the parades, flipping back and forth between Macy’s and the Mummers. (It has recently come to my attention that not every town has grown men that dress up like fancy chickens and strut the streets playing strings and brass. If you don’t know what a Mummer is click here and enjoy… this is how we do parades here in PA.)
Thanksgiving 2011 also meant A Miracle on 34th St.— the Natalie Wood version, black and white, don’t try to tell me any other exists— and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
As we near the big day, the coming of the man in red, I’ll insist on steaming up the hot cocoa, popping up the corn and watching:
- White Christmas
- Holiday Inn
- Babes in Toyland (either Laurel & Hardy or the Keanu Reeves will do)
- Scrooge (Seymour Hicks version), Scrooged (Bill Murray version)
- Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Muppet Christmas Carol (but not the version that Jim Carrey ruined)
- Little Women, Katherine Hepburn version (I also reread the book every year)
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Chuck Jones and Boris Karloff, not the version that Jim Carrey ruined)
- Jingle All the Way
- Mixed Nuts (one of my favorite movies of all time)
- Love Actually
- Home Alone
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
- The Year Without a Santa Claus (aka the Heat Miser & Snow Miser special)
- Santa Claus is Coming to Town
- The Ref
- The Santa Clause (not one of my favorites but the kids like it)
- The Nutcracker (Baryshnikov, we also go see the local ballet troupe production)
- A Christmas Story
- A Charlie Brown Christmas
- the Garfield Christmas special
- Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
- the Claymation Christmas special, available on YouTube (featuring the California raisins; if you don’t know what I’m talking about you must have been born after 1985)
The holiday TV special extravaganza ends with It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve. I let the kids stay up to watch it and we all snuggle under blankets and struggle to keep awake until the end.
Last year, Cassie stayed up for the first time to see it, and she was so emotionally captivated by the story that I fell wholeheartedly in love with it all over again.
We grow so jaded, throughout the year and as we grow older. It’s a Wonderful Life in particular is such a regular, clockwork comfort that it has become a cliché. I don’t remember ever being saddened by it. But to Cass’s fresh eyes, it was an engrossing and heartwrenching story, and she sobbed with sadness and then with joy.
In my first Comparative Religions class, we learned that “ritual” is a returning to a sacred time and place. Not just symbolically, but in some way a literal joining of those times and spaces.
They may be so much pop culture schmaltz, but those familiar faces and voices and words that come from the screen are a ritual of my childhood. They reopen a door to my childlike mind, so excited and hopeful for the holidays ahead.
They remind me of what it was like to believe. In magic, and in humanity.
I revisit my childhood while snuggled with my children; my hope is that they may carry these same memories into their own adulthood and share them with their own children. It is, in some strange way, a gift.
We have other rituals, some from my upbringing, some new, but no other that brings me so much comfort on so many levels.
We never had much money when I was a kid, but I never noticed at Christmastime. There must have been some years when I was disappointed, but I don’t recall any.
What I recall are the rituals, the hot chocolate, the warm blankets and the crackle of the fire.
The memories of comfort, security, hope and love.
As we swing into the hustle and bustle of the season, I hope we all stop to ask ourselves what memories we are creating for our kids; what moments they will choose to return to year after year.
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” Jo grumbled, but she discovered she was wrong.
The Grinch found that Christmas couldn’t be bought from a store.
The ever cynical Garfield takes a sentimental moment to remind us that “it’s not the giving, it’s not the getting. It’s the loving.”
Take away the presents. What makes Christmas Christmas? What makes the holiday season merry and bright for you?
(What’s your favorite Christmas special?)