Tuesday, December 18, 2012

top ten Tuesday: Christmas favorites.

I don’t know about you, but I am astounded at how quickly Christmas sneaks up on me every year. You’d think I would stop being caught by surprise: Christmas decorations have been in stores since Labor Day, after all. But sure enough, every year, I look at the calendar and swear it was just the other day that I was cultivating a healthy tan on the shores of Lake Poinsett.

Even though Christmas tends to blindside me, I still find enough time to muster up some Christmas spirit – as long as it’s after Thanksgiving. There are two kinds of Christmas-celebrators out there: the ones who won’t decorate until after Thanksgiving and subsequently take down said decorations promptly after New Years, and those who don’t. Even though I’m not terribly fond of Thanksgiving (only because of the turkey – when we eat something other than turkey, Thanksgiving is fine by me), it tends to get totally overlooked in the hubbub surrounding Christmas.

So now that it’s safely after Thanksgiving and Christmas is mere days away, let me present to you my Best of Christmas list: five categories, ten items. My Christmases involve each and every one of the items on my list, and I don’t think I could fully enjoy Christmas without them. Ready for some Christmas spirit? Here we go!

best Christmas songs
“White Christmas” – Bing Crosby
Like most Midwesterners, I don’t necessarily dream of a white Christmas. A brown Christmas isn’t nearly as romantic, but nobody minds the absence of icy roads and snow up to your eyeballs. However, this song almost makes you forget all of that and wish for a white Christmas of your own. Almost.

“The Christmas Song” – Alvin and the Chipmunks
Yes, the Chipmunks are terribly irritating, but I just can’t resist this song. It doesn’t have any sort of deep message of goodwill and peace among men: it’s just a bunch of kids/chipmunks who want to hurry up and open their presents. Be honest, though: when you were a kid, that’s what you were most interested in, too. Bonus points for the catchy tune.

best Christmas carols
“O Holy Night”
Every year, my family goes to the candlelit Christmas Eve church service. (If you remember last year’s blog post, you’ll recall that we also play instruments and either get wax all over ourselves or set our music on fire.) The church is usually packed, and the service begins when all the lights are turned out and a soloist sings “O Holy Night.” And every year, it gives me chills.

“Little Drummer Boy”
I don’t think I have ever sung this song in church at Christmas – Lutherans must not be too big on it. We usually stick with the staples: think “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night.” So if I never actually sing it in church, why do I like it so much? This is why:

best food
Grandma Sheila’s sugar cookies
Grandma Sheila makes her Christmas sugar cookies but once a year, so we all eat as many as we possibly can to try and hold ourselves over until the next year. These cookies are absolute perfection: they’re thin and crispy, shaped like Christmasy things, and sprinkled with colored sugar. They’re delicious in that way that only cookies made by your grandma can be. (Does that make sense? It does to me, anyway.)

Dad’s scalloped potatoes
Potatoes in action.
This dish is the definition of comfort food: it’s rich, warm, and you’re always happier after eating it. Dad’s special scalloped potatoes have become a team effort over the years: Mom and Mitch peel the zillion pounds of potatoes while Dad and I cube the giant bone-in ham. (Bone-in is very important. All other ham is inferior.) There is no real measurement system for these potatoes: we need enough cubed ham to fill up the yellow Tupperware bowl of indeterminate size and enough potatoes to fill up the enormous blue clay bowl. Add heavy whipping cream and several hours in the oven, and you’ve got scalloped potatoes. Best of all: Dad’s scalloped potatoes are only made in massive batches, so leftovers are a guarantee.

best Christmas movies
A Christmas Story
No matter how old you are, you can relate to A Christmas Story. Every kid has wanted something for Christmas so badly you can almost taste it – be it a Red Ryder BB gun (“you’ll shoot your eye out!”) or a Kitty Kitty Kitten. (Remember my story about the Kitty Kitty Kitten and the how I found out about Santa Claus?) On the flip side, everybody has gotten their fair share of dud Christmas gifts, though I’m not sure what could possible compare with Ralphie’s bunny suit (“He looks like a pink nightmare”). Add in that glorious leg lamp (“FRA-GEE-LAY!”) and endless quotable lines (obviously), and you’ve got one fantastic Christmas movie.

Home Alone
I have long been convinced that John Hughes is responsible for all good things in life, and Home Alone is yet another testament to that. I remember the first time I saw Home Alone: Dad had gone somewhere for a truck sale in the very early 90s, and he brought back a copy of Home Alone on VHS – he claimed it was for us kids, but I’m pretty sure he wanted to see it and we were a convenient excuse. Either way, we practically wore that tape out. Even now, rare is the holiday season that goes by without Kevin McCallister, Harry, and Marv. And of course, Buzz’s ugly girlfriend.
best Christmas specials
Mickey’s Christmas Carol
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an inexplicable fondness for Scrooge McDuck. He’s kind of an asshole, but I loved him just the same. So of course, I loved the Disney-fied version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Everyone knows the story: grouchy miser (Scrooge) mistreats his kindly but dirt poor clerk (Mickey Mouse) and says “Bah! Humbug!” while counting his money. Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of his business partner (Goofy) and the ghosts of Christmas Past (Jiminy Cricket), Present (that goofy giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk), and Future (Pete, who is really creepy this time around), who show him the error of his ways. Everyone lives happily ever after. The Muppets hold their own in The Muppet Christmas Carol, but Mickey’s version will always be my favorite.

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
I have one very important hyphenate for you: Rankin-Bass. You may not recognize the name, but I’m sure you’ll recognize their product. They’re responsible for a creepy/awesome Easter special called Here Comes Peter Cottontail and, most famously, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Rankin-Bass did a handful of other Christmas-y specials, but my very favorite is Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. This story covers the origins of Santa Claus: he started off as a skinny red-haired kid who delivers toys to a city where the evil Burgermeister Meisterburger (what a great name for a villain) has outlawed them. Santa Claus defeats all sorts of bizarre adversaries and emerges triumphant. Warm fuzzies all around!


Let me tell you, it was hard to narrow this list town to just ten. However, none of my Best of Christmas list would be any good if I couldn’t share everything on it with my family and friends. So I hope your Christmas is as good as mine always is: filled with great food, great people, and (this is very important) plenty of wine. In the immortal words of Bing Crosby: may your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white!

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