Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Stories

Over the years, Christmas has given us crazy shopping sales, an increase in television and print advertising, and a disturbingly higher than average need to trample other shoppers once a store opens up thanks to the stupidity that is Black Friday.

But it's also given us a lot of great stories. Most of them are, personally, overly sentimental, but that's the nature of the season; people tend to be more giving and emotional during the holidays, but not so much during the regular days of the year. So, in honor of the upcoming holiday, here are a few of my favorite must-see/must-read Christmas stories. I grew up watching and reading most of these while others are relatively new to my canon of tradition, especially now that I have young nieces.

Truly one of the funniest movies of all time. That TBS tends to run a 24-hour marathon of it every year only solidifies it more and more as a Christmas staple.Told in a Morgan Freeman-style of narration by a grown-up Ralphie, this story runs the gamut of every ridiculous thing possible about Christmas. From a pack of wild dogs breaking into the house to eat an entire turkey, to a kid shooting his eye out with a bb gun, to the most famous scene of all - that of Ralphie's friend being triple dog dared into sticking his tongue to a frozen flag pole outside the school. If you haven't seen this, you absolutely need to.

Frank Capra made some great movies and this is one of them. I first watched this one with my father many many years ago and it's remained a favorite. Very much a twist on the Dickensian "A Christmas Carol," Jimmy Stewart plays the role of the anti-Scrooge, but who is suicidal due to financial problems. An angel saves him after he jumps off a bridge and shows him the future of his hometown if he had never existed. This has remained a mainstay for many good reasons, but most notably (I think) because it flips the Dickens version on its head and remains interesting.

Tim Burton makes some weird movies, but they're almost always enjoyable (almost). Don't get me started on his remakes of "Alice in Wonderland" or "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." I visited some friends in LA this summer and got to see the exhibit of Burton's stuff at the LACMA. It was an impressive and daunting collection made up of damn near everything he's drawn or turned into video since the age of 15. The vast majority of the collection was from "The Nightmare Before Christmas," but only because that seems to have been his signature style from an early age.

Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, lives in a world where Halloween occurs every day. One day he stumbles across a frozen winter wonderland where Santa exists. Some of Jack's fellow Halloweeners kidnap Santa while Jack comes to understand the nature of this new holiday called Christmas. A weird claymation flick, but a damn good one where Tim Burton's imagination shines.

"The Gift of the Magi" was a story that went over my head when I read it at a young age, but the dramatic irony of the piece is gut wrenching. I can't even begin to break it down for you without ruining the beauty of the writing, but suffice it to say that this is probably one of the strongest examples of what the holiday spirit is about. A very quick read by O.Henry, master of the literary twist.

Another TBS favorite during the holiday. I shouldn't even have to analyze this one for most of you. Dr. Seuss was a staple in almost every household of every person I've ever met. The Grinch, during the course of an evening, somehow manages to steal every last bit of Christmas from a town far far below his home. Of course he has a change of heart and comes to understand the meaning of Christmas in the end. remember this one. Young Billy gets a Mogwai from his father for Christmas. What's a Mogwai? No one but the elderly man at the shop knows, but who cares. They're cute until you feed them after midnight or splash water on them. This one was a decidedly more serious movie compared to "Gremlins 2: The New Batch." I'm still trying to figure out if it was intentionally bad for humor value or they just said "fuck it" halfway through and stopped caring. Either way, the first one is great for the bonding between Billy and Gizmo. The second one is great for all the humor the director gives to the gremlins.

Adapted from E.T.M. Hoffman's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" is probably one of the most beautifully put together pieces of music. Set during the holidays, a young girl is visited by a creepy toy making godfather who gives her a Nutcracker soldier. Later that night, she awakes and heads downstairs to check on the Nutcracker, only to find herself in the midst of a surreal battle between other toys her godfather brought (mice) fighting the soldier. From there, the story evolves into a strange and fantastic dream-like journey for the girl and her nutcracker. If you don't like classical music and you can't stand ballet, you're gonna be SOL on this one, but I promise it's worth your time and effort.

There are many, many more that I'm missing here, but we've all got our own tastes...these just happen to be mine. Either way, there's a little something out there for everyone in the way of holiday cheer entertainment.


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