Have a holly jolly Christmas,
It’s the best time of the year.
I don’t know if there’ll be snow,
But have a cup of cheer. - Johnny Marks
Since y’all seemed to enjoy my Halloween favorites column, I thought a companion piece for Christmas would be in order. Though it’s only my second favorite holiday, it’s my husband’s favorite and since it is the world’s most popular celebration the activities are extended for a much longer time and there’s a lot more “stuff” to choose from for this list. For me, Halloween and Christmas are the two high points of a long festive season which begins with the autumnal equinox and ends with Mardi Gras, with a sort of encore at Easter. But the stretch of time between Halloween and Christmas Eve, by virtue of being bookended by my two favorite days in all the year, is the best.
My Favorite Christmas Songs
Some people love Christmas music, and some hate it; I react to it as I react to nearly any music, loving some and hating some and tolerating the rest. I don’t like sappy or overly sentimental songs, nor those in the “wink wink, nudge nudge” school such as “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”; bad and/or forced rhyming irritates me in any song, which is why I have a strong aversion for “Winter Wonderland” (bluebird/new bird and snowman/“No, man”; really?) And the only Beach Boys song I hate more than the grating “Little Saint Nick” is the truly execrable “Kokomo”. Among traditional Christmas carols my favorites are those in minor keys: “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells” are especial favorites, as is the haunting “Veni, Veni”, (performed here in both English and the original Latin by one of my favorite artists, Enya). Of modern Christmas songs, my hands-down favorite is “Holly Jolly Christmas” performed by the inimitable Burl Ives:
My Favorite Christmas Shows
The video above contains clips from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, one of the earliest Christmas specials from the “Golden Age” of such presentations in the 1960s and ‘70s. It’s among my favorites, though it’s exceeded in my estimation by “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” from the same producers, an origin story which depicts the young Santa Claus as a libertarian who holds that people have the right and duty to disobey stupid laws:
But of all the stand-alone shows and special episodes of series, my absolute favorite has to be “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, as those of you who remember “My Favorite Short Films” had probably already guessed. Chuck Jones was better at translating Dr. Seuss’ bizarre whimsy into animation than any other director, the choices of Boris Karloff as narrator and Thurl Ravenscroft as singer of the Grinch song were nothing short of inspired, and Seuss’ words, silly as they are, presented the meaning and moral of the story without spelling it out in words of one syllable.
My Favorite Christmas Movies
There are probably hundreds of Christmas movies, a number of which are regarded as classics. But while I do enjoy It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, there are only two without which my holiday season would be incomplete. One of these, which we watch every Christmas Eve, is the Patrick Stewart version of A Christmas Carol; though it does have a few flaws it’s the only version of the story in which I can see Scrooge as a completely real person, and his conversion as both natural and believable. The other is A Christmas Story, which I had never even heard of before I met my husband. It’s one of his favorites and soon became one of mine; in fact, it’s usually the film which kicks off our Yuletide viewing season. The plot is very simple: a young boy in the late 1930s schemes to get a BB gun for Christmas. But that brief description does the film absolutely no justice; in fact, no description I could write could do so. Do yourself a favor: just see it. Trust me.
My Yuletide Schedule
Regular readers know that I am a creature of habit, and like to do things on a very regular schedule (as long as I get to set that schedule myself). I generally start thinking about Christmas presents in June or July, keeping my eyes open for fun little “stocking stuffers” and even for full presents; this year my husband found the perfect gift for one of our friends way back in March, and it sat in my secret gift stash until I wrapped it a few weeks ago. Once Halloween is over the stores all put up their Christmas displays these days, completely ignoring Thanksgiving; I refuse to acknowledge this premature celebration, beginning only on the traditional American date, the day after Thanksgiving. That’s the date on which we tromp off into the forest, find a suitable tree, and bring it home to decorate. That day or the next we do our Christmas cards and I prepare soup stock:
Stock: 4 quarts (liters) water; 10 chicken bouillon cubes; ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) each salt and pepper; ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) each thyme, sage and MSG; 1 teaspoon (5 ml) each tarragon, paprika and granulated garlic. Combine all ingredients in large stock pot, add turkey carcass (after removing as much remaining meat as you can) plus neck and giblets. Bring to boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer until all the meat has fallen from the bones, stirring occasionally and pulling the bones out as they become clean (you’ll probably have to pick bits of meat from them by hand as you go). Once all the bones are out remove from heat, allow stock to cool and ladle it into quart (liter)-sized containers. If using glass jars, make sure you leave expansion space before freezing or else they will break. It takes a few days for one of these to thaw in the refrigerator, a few hours at room temperature.
Soup: 1 jar stock; 2 quarts (liters) water; 5 chicken bouillon cubes; ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) each salt & pepper; 1/8 teaspoon (0.625 ml) each thyme, sage & MSG; ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) each tarragon, paprika & granulated garlic. Combine all ingredients in large stock pot, bring to boil over medium-high heat, then add 2 cups (500 ml) of egg noodles, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
I of course do this again on Boxing Day with the remains of the Christmas turkey; on New Years’ Day we generally have ham (saving the bone for split pea soup later in the week). All of the feasts are accompanied by traditional side dishes and homemade bread, with seasonal desserts (and yes, I render my own pumpkin from the Halloween jack-o-lantern and make my own mince meat, too). It’s a lot of work for one woman, but I take housewifery as seriously as I took harlotry. Christmas Eve and New Years’ Eve meals vary, but the days after those feasts are always leftovers. Sometimes we open one present each on Christmas Eve, but that varies; one thing that doesn’t is that the tree stands until King Day, when we have our first king cake of the season.
My Favorite Christmas Foods
Beside the stuffed turkey, candied yams, corn pudding, mince meat pie and plum pudding of the Christmas dinner, the season is full of delicious foods. Just after Thanksgiving I make two fruitcakes so they’ll have time to age, and during Yuletide I generally prepare panettone several times (it’s an Italian brioche flavored with orange and nutmeg, which my husband loves); then in the week before the holiday I make cookies, fudge and other treats so as to make up tins for all the people we regularly do business with. But none of these are my favorites, though I do enjoy all of them; of all the foods usually associated with the season I would have to say my own favorites are spiced Christmas teas, gingerbread (I sometimes make a house), fruit and chocolate combinations, those Danish butter cookies that come in tins and egg nog, especially that made by our local dairy.