Tis the Season
by Celia Hayes
I’m afraid that I have let a lot of traditional Christmas practices go, over the years. Like Christmas cards; just one of those things I got out of the habit of doing. And Christmas Eve Midnight Mass … that’s gone bye-bye as well, just like staying up until midnight to watch the New Year arrive. Decorating the Christmas tree itself is kind of hit or miss as well – what with the way that the cats have of treating it like one big feline amusement park, which is rough on the ornaments.
But there are some new rituals – and that is watching certain new classic Christmas-themed movies every year; this year we started with Christmas Vacation – yes, the Griswald family attempting to have a picture-perfect Christmas day, from an enormous tree which they cut down themselves, to the house swathed in lights and a catastrophically over-baked turkey. I did the trip out to the tree farm to cut your own tree precisely once, and that was enough for a lifetime. And practically everyone has those relatives – the ones who arrive in a battered RV. Someone in our neighborhood does, as we spotted that decrepit RV in front of the Dollar Tree last week, and my daughter swore it was the same one from Christmas Vacation.
Next up – Hogfather – which is a two-part miniseries, making it good for two nights, although I know of fans who watch it in one single epic evening. Yes, it is skewed, warmed and amazingly funny, since it is based on one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, wherein the red-dressed guy who flies around the world depositing presents is called the HogFather, and rides a sled pulled by wild boars on Hogwatch Night.
As a natural segue from British movie absurdity, we move right into American absurdity, with Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. Again, someone completely unsuited to the role takes over from Santa Claus with predictably disastrous results. Of all the directors currently active, Tim Burton is the one with the most distinctive ‘look’ to his productions. Put up any number of stills from current or recent movies – and you can pick out which ones are his, almost at first glance.
Speaking of distinctive ‘looks’ – there is another movie in our holiday schedule which cannot be mistaken – the 1986 version of Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, with the costumes and stage design taken from Maurice Sendak’s illustrations of the original story. I brought this version to my parent’s house one year and we watched it then. Curiously, although we were all very familiar with the music – Mom had never seen a whole performance of the ballet. It’s short and lively, but almost as strange as Nightmare Before Christmas; Godfather Drosselmeyer has a distinctly stalkerish vibe about him.
And finally – the chief of all modern Christmas classics – A Christmas Story. Now and again there a discussion of what year it was set in exactly; the producer apparently intended it to be a generic American Christmas, circa 1930-1950, but if you watch very closely, you can pinpoint the exact year. There are characters in the Christmas parade from the movie The Wizard of Oz, which premiered late in the summer of 1939 – so it couldn’t have been an earlier Christmas. It couldn’t have been Christmas 1941, or another wartime Christmas; everyone would have been haunted by Pearl Harbor in 1941, and in the years afterward there would have been war toys, Victory Bond drives, rationing, blackouts and all of that. There aren’t any post-war women’s fashions and hairstyles, either – so it must be either 1939 or 1940. There is a brief glimpse of the front of the automobile when the father fixes a flat tire – the yearly auto registration sticker is for 1940.
And that’s going to be my Christmas holiday – and yours?