Category Archives: Holiday

My Favorite Christmas Songs

It’s Holiday again.

I mean, it’s Christmas time again. For the purposes of this blog I can call a ceasefire to my part of the War on Christmas and acknowledge the holiday that occurs every December 25th. Actually, there really isn’t a war on Christmas. I know, Bill O’Reilly is turning in his grave hearing me say that. (Is he dead?) But, seriously. The majority of Americans still celebrate it. We still get the day off of work and school. The specials still run on television. So retailers are opting to be more inclusive when giving Season’s Greetings to their customers. Big deal. Is that a war?

Be that as it may, I thought I’d list five of my favorite Christmas songs. As always, this is my list. Your results may vary.

In no particular order, here they are:


Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt (1953)
Oh, yeah, it’s cheesy and the string breaks get a little annoying, but Kitt’s sultry gold-digging is quite enjoyable. It would be difficult for Santa to deny her requests when put the way she does it. Others have covered this song, but this version is the best. And the “boom-boom, boom-boom’s” are a nice touch.


Snoopy’s Christmas – The Royal Guardsmen (1967)
This Christmas song was The Royal Guardsmen’s follow-up to their Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron hit from the year before. In fact, musically the two songs are virtually identical. I had to do quite a bit of digging through YouTube to find the first hit from 1966. Many people seem to think Snoopy’s Christmas is titled Snoopy Vs The Red Baron, but they are different songs. Apparently, this band had a thing for Snoopy.


It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year – Andy Williams (1963)
Yes, I know. This song is almost cliche, but I have to include it. It reminds me of all those Christmas specials that would play on TV in the lead up to the big holiday. Those specials helped mark of the days until Santa came and, at the same time, ramped up the anticipation of the arrival of that generous and jolly old fella. Andy Williams also came up with the only version of Twelve Days of Christmas, normally an incredibly tedious song, that I like. (I’ve linked to it as a bonus.)


A Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives (1964)
I first heard this one the way I’m sure most of the rest of you have: From The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas Television Special. Yes, plenty has been said in recent years about what a terrible message that special taught American television-viewing audiences in the mid-60s and beyond. The message was if you’re different you’re a freak and unwanted, even by Santa! And that only when that difference can be exploited are you then worthy of inclusion. Well, despite the horrible treatment of misfits, the song is quite rousing.



Christmas Time Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965)
This might just be my favorite Christmas song. As with most of the others, this one comes from a television holiday special – the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. I think the music for this program is what makes it so darn good. The Vince Guaraldi Trio really did something special here. In fact, the entire soundtrack is fantastic!

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Packing Peanuts!

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Moms – Increasing The Rarity Of Valuable Items Since…

The other day, while waiting in the check-out line at Walgreen’s, I became part of a conversation about the ways people would light their Christmas trees back when we were kids. Back in the Stone Age. Actually, one way in particular. The cashier was describing the lighted, rotating color wheel that would project colors on the tree or house or whatever you would aim it at. They still exist, but the customer ahead of me had never heard of them.


I chimed in to say that I was pretty sure I had one at home. One from the Stone Age that used to belong to my wife’s parents and was in the basement somewhere. I should maybe see it I can dig it out and set it up for some bonus lighting on Christmas Eve.

The conversation continued as it became my turn to make my purchases. The cashier marveled at all the things we got rid of over the years. “If only we’d kept them. We’d be millionaires,” she lamented wistfully.

Um, well, unless we got rid of those Matisse originals stuffed in the back of the closet for so long, being potential millionaires would be a stretch. Perhaps she meant we’d feel like a million bucks to be able to still connect with an object from our past. Yeah, I don’t think she meant that either.

On the drive home, I got to thinking about how we lose our treasured items from our youth. Most of us simply outgrow the toys we prized so highly. We decided money would be more valuable at the moment and sold those items at garage sales. Maybe we were less monetarily motivated and gave our treasures to Goodwill. Maybe Mom got sick and damn tired of our room being such a mess…

Oh, yeah. The Great Toy Purge of 1976. (Or thereabout.)

I shared a room with my younger brother in those days. My brother was more of the unkempt sort than I was when it came to the cleanliness of our room. However, I wasn’t exactly Felix Unger. And one day, Mom had had enough. We hadn’t heeded her warnings to get that room clean or else!

“Or else what?” we shrugged to each other. “What’s she gonna do? Throw everything away? Riiiight.”

Well, that’s exactly what she did. She finally snapped and began scooping up our toys that had been so carelessly strewn about our room. Then out into the trash it all went. All of it. She really did it. Trip after trip, our collection of toys disappeared.

Then, she turned and eyed my box of comic books.

“NO!” I cried, “Not my comic books! Mom! Pleeeeaaase!

And, much like a soldier leaping onto a live grenade to save his comrades, I threw myself in harm’s way to save my precious comic books. My look of terror quickly turned into a sneer of defiance, “Do what you will with my toys, woman! But you shall not lay a finger on my comic books! Not one step closer if you value your life!”

Mom hesitated. The tension of this standoff could be cut with a knife.

She gave it some thought and finally capitulated, “No, your comic books shall not be touched. They are put away where they belong, which is what I wanted to be done with your toys. And I would suggest you bag and back them with Mylar bags and acid free backing boards, if you want to keep them in good condition.”

I’m not sure she actually said that last part.

Anyway, as the day waned with her boys still whimpering over the purge of their toys, Mom’s heart softened. “All right,” she said, “I may have overreacted a little, but I hope you boys have learned I’m serious when I say you need to put your toys away. You may go out to the trash and retrieve one toy.”

I don’t recall which item my brother rescued, but I grabbed out my Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces.


Oh, he was a cool toy. He came with a wig, mustaches, warts, scars, two extra noses, sideburns, fangs, eyeglasses, etc. You could make him look so many different ways. Like a thousand different ways!

I cut a window in his box and covered it with plastic wrap, so that when he was boxed up he could still see out. I used put Hugo in his box, looking out the window I made for him, and I’d zoom him around as though his box was a rocket ship. Boy, did I like that toy.

Do I still have Hugo?

Nah. I gave him away.

Packing Peanuts!

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“Daddy’s Gonna Kill Ralphie!”


Christmas is coming again, so I thought I’d reminisce a little about one of my favorite holiday movies: A Christmas Story (1983).

I didn’t see this movie until many, many years after it was released. It was in the mid to late 90s, when I was listening to a couple of talk radio show hosts praising this now holiday classic, that it first time it came to my attention. My curiosity peaked, I sought it out. Finding it wasn’t too difficult, because by that time television had turned it into a holiday programming staple.

“Oh, did you miss it? Change the channel. Someone else will be playing it.”

Television was great at taking modestly successfully theatrical releases and turning them into required viewing classics. It’s A Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz are two fine examples of television’s influence. A Christmas Story may be the most recent film to have television help it along in that way.

The story is set in pre-World War II Indiana and is viewed from young Ralphie Parker’s perspective as he attempts to influence his parents, terrifically portrayed by Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin, into giving him a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. But Mrs. Parker insists they are dangerous and that he’ll shoot his eye out. That’s a recurring phrase in the film. Adults were so worried about kids losing their eyes.

The movie is based on semi-autobiographical stories written by Jean Shepherd. Shepherd is the film’s narrator as the adult version of Ralphie relating this story of his youth. And he is wonderful. There’s a twinkle in the man’s eye, which you can clearly hear in his voice. The man can tell a story!

Although I grew up in a different era than what is shown in the film, the universality of the story – anticipating Christmas, coveted gift items, loving (if somewhat scary) parents, school, teachers, weird gifts from relatives, bullies, friends, and flagpoles –  appeals to my nostalgic feelings for my days as a kid. The way Ralphie feels about Christmas reflects the way I felt. And Ralphie’s fantasies, although silly and over-the-top, are good fun.

By far, my favorite character is Old Man Parker. He makes the film. McGavin is just so good as Ralphie’s furnace-fighting, foul-mouthed, major award-winning, gruff, but loving and lovable dad. Old Man Parker is the key to this movie, if he’s wrong the movie just doesn’t make it. And McGavin nails it.

His gruffness is all just bluster. He loves his wife and his boys. We see it in his reaction to the wife and kids bellowing out Jingle Bells on the drive home from getting their Christmas tree. Sure, he rolls his eyes, but there is love in there. We see it in Old Man Parker’s subtle smirk as he sends his oldest son back into the car after an unsuccessful attempt to help change a tire. An attempt that had young Ralphie accidentally drop an F bomb in front of his father for the first time. Hence the smirk. We also see it as the old man is almost as excited as Ralphie when… Oh, but that would be a spoiler.


“Oh, wow!”

And, of course, there is the leg lamp!

I just love this movie. I watch it every year and remember all those wonderful Christmases from my youth.

Hard to believe the director of this classic, Bob Clark, also directed Porky’s.

Packing Peanuts!

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Where the hell is the parade?!


Allow me to complain just a bit.

But first, know this: Memory is not video tape. We may think we remember something vividly, but as the events we’re remembering recede into the past our recollections are influenced by other people’s stories of the events, we conflate unrelated events with the ones we are remembering, and so on. When we tell someone about a memory, our brains are recreating the story of that memory, not putting in a video tape and pressing play. Memories can’t help but change over time.

That said, remember when the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was shown on television? Those were the days. The bands would play, the floats would float, and the massive balloon characters would… also float. It would be two or three hours of just watching the parade go by. Ahhhh.

“But, Jim,” you say, “the parade is still shown each year on television. In fact, it’s shown on CBS and NBC!” Sure, but it seems the parade is just coincidental, a backdrop for announcers who don’t appear to have ever announced anything before. Now the parade just helps to transition between the multiple interviews of the networks’ stars talking about the shows they are in or Broadway performers talking about their plays. They’ll cut to performances from hit musicals or pop and country artists. And I just saw a Pillsbury sponsored baking demonstration using, what else?, Pillsbury dough. As I write this, CBS is showing an extended ad for a website from which you can buy overstock items.

Where the hell is the parade?!


NBC’s idea of parade coverage.

I will say CBS does show something of the parade. NBC just plants their cameras outside of Macy’s showing pretty much nothing but production numbers. So, if musicals and production numbers are your thing, watch NBC not show the parade.

Ugh, what’s a curmudgeon to do?

Well, let me relate my favorite memory of the parade. Remembering what I said about memory not being video tape, I’m still certain I have this right.


The parade continues the tradition of ending with Santa Claus arriving at Macy’s, but waaaay back in the day Santa used to climb down from his sleigh/float and walk into the legendary department store. It was such an exciting capper to the parade.

One year, as the parade came to an end, Santa made his way into Macy’s while his pants made their way to his ankles. Whoops! Talk about wardrobe malfunction! I remember my dad and I sharing a special father/son bonding moment over Santa’s embarrassment.

The next year saw the new tradition of Ol’ Saint Nick just staying in his sleigh as the credits rolled.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Packing Peanuts!

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A Hobo, a Hunchback, and a Weird Old Lady Walk Into a Haunted House…


Guest blogger Michael Noble returns with a Halloween tale…

Of course, despite the debacle that was playing “war,” [see Mr. Noble’s previous guest bloggery] Doug Schlaufman and I remained good friends. As is evident in the photo provided above during one of our Halloween outings.

This particular Halloween of our youth was a bit of a milestone: It was THE Halloween night we were going to visit the famed haunted house down the street from where I lived, a house we hadn’t dared go into previously. The hauntings and blasphemies and tales we’d heard about the place had kept us at bay for a long time. This year? It was the year we popped our haunted house cherry and ventured forward.

Back in the day, Halloween was a much anticipated free-for-all.

There were pillowcases that needed filling with candy and treats in the course of several trips in and out of the surrounding neighborhoods. There was the goopy make-up that got in your eyes and stuck there throughout the next day when you went to school, no matter how hard you tried to scrub it off. There was the toilet paper. There were the pumpkin guts tossed in the middle of the street we slipped on when we crossed from house to house. There were the dark, foreboding pathways leading up to houses, lit by little more than a single, ominous red or blue light bulb. The dogs scaring the bejeebers out of us when we approached a house. The thoroughly creepy music emanating from the background somewhere. Dank, moldy figures sitting on porches, waiting to make us leap screaming as they suddenly “came alive” and lurched menacingly at us.

Those were the days.

The old Polariod photo is of (left to right) Doug Anderson (hobo), myself (hunchback … and yeah, hunchbacks wore jeans) and Doug Schlaufman (weird old lady), complete with my father’s bright orange ‘68 VW in the background. It was 1973 (I think) and I was twelve years old. What a motley looking crew we were.

I remember that particular night vividly. We ran wild in the streets for hours, collecting as much as we could. I recall we came back with bags full of stuff, our loot practically giving beneath its weight. We’d dump it all on the kitchen table for Mom to go thorough, snag a piece or two for the road and then we were out the door for more.

We were unstoppable.

There was a house about a block away. It was transformed into a Halloween haunt during the season. We never had the guts to go into it before, but this was the year. I remember we saved that place for last. We wanted to go in, but we didn’t want to go in, if you know what I mean.

Toward the end of the night – feet tired, arms weary from lugging pounds and pounds of tooth-decaying treats – we ventured to the haunted house of doom.

We were greeted by an ominous voice inviting us to enter at our own risk. We were genuinely frightened out of our wits, but none of us backed down. We were going to go through with it. Mom knew where we were, even if she didn’t know who these people were. It was all good.

We carefully tip-toed inside. Just past the front door, ripped shreds of material hung. We had to make our way through them. Some were sticky. With what we hadn’t a clue.

A left turn took us into our first room of terror. We stopped dead in our tracks: a surgeon came into sight just around a wall. He had a mask on his face, scalpel in hand. We couldn’t see who he was “working” on but he beckoned us toward him. We tentatively took steps forward and, as we did, an operating table came into view. A balding man was atop it, mouth in a grimace, reaching out toward us and moaning. We could see his naked belly, a belly spilling out spaghetti entrails and red ooze.

Our hair was standing on end. The patient moaned louder and reached for us, but we backed away, right into a couple of hideous ghouls who had snuck up from behind us. We started and yelped and saw yet another figure closing the door we’d come through. This one had a scythe in one hand and what looked like intestines in the other. I felt a hand on my shoulder and screamed.

One of us bolted for the door, grabbed and opened it. The gruesome troop came at us and we dashed out of the room, back down the hall, through the front door and out into the street at a pace I would never again run.

We ran all the way back to my house, terrified as we bolted from the place, laughing at our scared selves the remainder of the way. One of my friends suggested we return and go through the rest of the place; the other blurted, “No way!”

We made it back to my house with nary a scratch. Halloween, again, was the blast we’d remembered it to be.

Inside the kitchen, my mother asked about the haunted house. We all agreed it was thoroughly creepy, but fun. Something caught her eye as she looked at me … and a look of utter disgust came across her face.

“What in the world is on your shoulder?!?” she half yelled. She grabbed a dish towel from the kitchen and came at me. I stood frozen still. My friends were looking at me wide-eyed, no laughter left on their faces.

My mother reached over and took whatever it was from my left shoulder. She showed it to me.

It was a huge piece of raw calf’s liver, a real one, obviously used as one of the props in the haunted house. That hand on my shoulder had left it there for me as “a parting gift.” It left a dank, blotchy, wet stain.

That’s the kind of Halloween I remember as a kid. They were good times … good times indeed.

Michael Noble blogs regularly at and can often be heard on the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules podcast.


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The best version of…


Well, it’s holiday time again and I figured I’d weigh in on this most serious of debates: Which of the 14,398 film and television versions of Charles Dickens’ classic  story  of greed and redemption is the best? It’s difficult to say for certain, because I haven’t seen all 19,573 versions of A Christmas Carol. But that’s not going to stop me from naming the one of the 22,741 versions I think is best.

The story is very familiar to most anyone. (With 27,821 versions it’s hard to believe many people wouldn’t know the story.) Ebenezer Scrooge is a cold, money obsessed man of business. He’s penny-pinching and cruel to all around him, with no charity toward those who are less fortunate. He thinks Christmas is a bother and a humbug.

However, his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who had died on Christmas Eve seven years earlier, visits Scrooge as a ghost who exists in a hellish kind of limbo. The late Marley has taken pity on Scrooge and wants to give him a chance to change his ways and avoid a similar fate. Three spirits will visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve to help convince him of the error of his cruel greediness.

Looking through Christmases of his past, present, and future, Scrooge learns he’s had a wonderful life and that he really shouldn’t kill himself for a bit of insurance…money… Wait. That’s a different movie.

Anyway, the spirits do their job and Scrooge awakens enlightened and inspired to change his ways. He becomes quite the generous soul who henceforth always kept Christmas well.

Yeah, I know! Spoilers! But come on.

As I said, there have been many, many, many versions of this story told since Dickens wrote it. Hell, WKRP in Cincinnati even did a version of the classic tale. But, hands down, my favorite version is the UK’s 1951 Renown Pictures film Scrooge (or A Christmas Carol as it was titled in it’s American release) starring Alastair Sim as the mean old miser himself.

It’s vital that the actor playing Scrooge gets it right. And not just the cold-hearted, money-grubbing, humbug-shouting Scrooge, but the joyous, giddy, warm-hearted redeemed man that he became. And Sim is brilliant! His dark and cruel Scrooge is terrific and his humbled, kind-hearted Scrooge is just as convincing. His supporting cast is filled with wonderful English character actors most of whom rise up to match the caliber of Sim’s performance.


I have two quibbles: One is the woman who plays the younger Scrooge’s love interest. She acts a bit wooden and is always looking off into the distance. And her crying is about as phony as I’ve ever seen in film. I’m not sure if that was an acting choice or if that was how she was directed to play it. It just felt acted, if you know what I mean.

The second quibble is the whole Cratchit family Christmas celebration. They are so pitifully poor, because Scrooge pays the head of the family so little, and yet theirs will be the finest Christmas goose and the finest Christmas in all of London. They’ll even have enough gin punch for two toasts! And the pudding! Oh, the pudding! Come hear the pudding singing in the copper!

Yeesh! The whole sequence is so sweet I think I develop a cavity every time I watch it. Now, I know the scene is supposed to show how happiness is not tied to money. The Cratchits are joyful despite their poverty, while Scrooge is miserable with all his wealth. But still, I’d advise brushing your teeth immediately after watching that scene.

And Tiny Tim is too tall! OK, that’s three quibbles.

Otherwise, I think the film is wonderful. It has a dark and brooding feel prior to Scrooge’s conversion. And one of the effects of that darkness is to give the feeling of authenticity to the story. It feels real and makes one think the movie goes back much farther than 1951. But, the picture brightens and the world becomes a hopeful place after the spirits have succeeded in their task.

Oh! And as a bonus. There is an excellent continuity error in the film. Christmas morning has arrived and Scrooge’s charwoman (terrifically played by Kathleen Harrison) has come with his breakfast. Scrooge is not acting himself. He’s giddy and happy and she’s terrified.

So, there’s Scrooge dancing around his bedroom, when he stops to look in a mirror to tell himself he doesn’t deserve to be so happy. It’s at that point you need to look in the mirror. Look closely! You will see a man off camera lean in to watch the scene.


It’s not a ghost! It’s not pareidolia! It’s a member of the crew. And it’s a pretty cool continuity error.

If you have never seen Scrooge or if it’s been a long while, it’s well done and worth your time. The entire film is available on YouTube, but if you watch the colorized version I will be sorely disappointed in you. Colorization is a humbug! HUMBUG!

Tiny Tim

Merry Holiday, everyone!

Correction (12-27-15): When originally posted I had listed the wrong character and actor for the scene in which we see the off camera crew member in the mirror. I had said it was the laundress played by Louise Hampton. The character was the charwoman and was played by Kathleen Harrison. I have made the correction.

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Answers for holiday game (Read “A game for holiday…” first!)

Before you read the answer, make certain you have read the previous blog entry first. You haven’t read it? Well, get to it!

Everybody try their hand at the Vague Spoilers Movie Quiz? Yes? Good. Well, here are the answers…

1) She was dreaming. (1939) – The Wizard of Oz
2) He was on Earth the whole time. (1968) – Planet of the Apes
3) His mother was dead all along. (1960) – Psycho
4) She leaves with her husband. (1942) – Casablanca
5) He’s a ghost. (1999) – The Sixth Sense
6) She’s biologically male. (1992) – The Crying Game
7) She’s the sister and the mother. (1974) – Chinatown
8) He goes home. (1982) – ET: The Extraterrestrial
9) They all killed him. (1974) – Murder on the Orient Express
10) He hits the pennant-winning home run. (1984) – The Natural
11) They get gunned down in their car. (1967) – Bonnie and Clyde
12) The bad guy is his father. (1980) – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
13) They find the defendant not guilty. (1957) – 12 Angry Men
14) The fire gets put out. (1974) – The Towering Inferno
15) They never complete their quest. (1975) – Monty Python and the Holy Grail
16) He blows it up. (1977) – Star Wars: A New Hope
17) He blows it up. (1975) – Jaws
18) He blows it up. (1957) – The Bridge on the River Kwai
19) He doesn’t win. (1976) – Rocky
20) He does win. (1979) – Rocky II
21) They survive. (1995) – Apollo 13
22) She survives. (2013) – Gravity
23) They save the earth. (1986) – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
24) He gets away. (1994) – The Shawshank Redemption
25) It sinks. (1997) – Titanic

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