Kaitlyn: Our group post today asks the question what is your favorite holiday book, song, or movie when the Christmas season rolls around? I was going to limit the discussion to favorite holiday book . . . until I realized I dont’ have one. I’m not a Dickens fan, “The Night before Christmas” is a poem and, at least at the moment, I’m drawing a total blank on other titles. Now with songs and movies, it’s a different story. At this time of year, there are two movies that are guaranteed to put me in a holiday mood: Holiday Inn and White Christmas. Favorite song? That also comes from Bing Crosby, but it’s not “White Christmas.” It’s “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Actually, I like the whole Bing Crosby Christmas album. No doubt this is the result of watching his annual Christmas specials when I was a kid. How about the rest of you?
Kate: Books are always a huge part of my life, right now, my house is groaning over the weight of them, but they’re especially important at Christmas. One of the most special parts of the season, as a child growing up on a Maine farm, was when the Brentanos catalogue came. My brother, my sister, and I were each allowed to pick one special book which our parents would order for us. We nearly wore that catalogue out, trying to choose, and those books, when they were opened, were a magical part of Christmas Day. Greek myths and legends. American folklore. Chinese fairytales.
I confess that my favorite Christmas books are children’s books, because part of the fun of Christmas was going with the boys to the library and getting out our holiday favorites to bring home and read. They might disagree with this choice, but one of mine all time faves…perhaps no longer in print, and thus requiring a trip to the library…is called Mole and Troll Trim the Tree, in which best friends Mole and Troll have a serious falling out and a popcorn fight during their attempts to decorate their tree. It really captures the season’s stresses in a gentle and humorous way.
Another favorite along those same lines is one I think everyone has read at one time or another: The Best Christmas Pagent Ever. How could a child grow up without the horrible Herdmans?
Favorite Christmas song? “In the Bleak Midwinter,” though I’m also partial to the English tune for “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.” Favorite movies? Besides “It’s a Wonderful Life?” Two absolutely grade B flicks–“The Holiday” and “Love, Actually.”
Lea: Christmas is my very favorite time of year, and has been all of my life. I love it all. Every single movie and book mentioned above, plus, since I was a Victorian sort of child, a few others. How could anyone forget the first line of my beloved Little Women: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo. (Of course, there were presents, although not the sort under most trees today.) And my very favorite Christmas story was Maine writer Kate Douglas Wiggin’s The Birds’ Christmas Carol, an altogether teary tale about the invalid child Carol, who created a wonderful Christmas for the poor Ruggles children, and then died on Christmas day. I cried through that book every year, loving every word. It’s about time to read it again. On a lighter and more modern note, I can’t imagine Christmas today without The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Song? Along with all the carols, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has to be up there for pure, wonderful, sentimentality. And add the classic version of “Miracle on 34th Street” to the movie list. I guess I take my Christmas with a handkerchief or three.
Kate: At the library book sale this morning, I bought a copy of “Miracle on 34th Street.” Can’t wait to watch it. Now must go and track down Kate Douglas Wiggins.
Barb: I’m also highly partial to children’s books during the holiday, and this post sent me to the basement and into the box marked, “Christmas Books.” I haven’t brought it upstairs, even for the holiday, in several years because a) it’s heavy, b) I’d have to clear shelf space for the books (a near impossible task) and c) everyone in our family is a grown-up. Even the nieces and nephews are no longer young enough to provide an excuse.
What a trip down memory lane! My absolute favorite Christmas book of all time, second to none, is Raymond Brigg’s Father Christmas. His The Snowman, which was animated, is better known, but my heart belongs to Father Christmas. In it, Santa is a quite curmudgeonly old bachelor for whom Christmas is the obvious–the longest work day of the year. In a second book in the series, after Christmas, Father Christmas tries to go on holiday somewhere warm. He tries a caravan park in the south of France, (tummy trouble from all the rich food), nearly freezes to death in Scotland, and then settles on Vegas, baby, which he loves absolutely. By the time he gets recognized and has to go back to the North Pole, it’s time to get to work again.
Also, in the box, another favorite, The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Maine’s Barbara Cooney. My kids were very much of The Polar Express generation, and I have to admit I love the book and illustrations, and probably still know it by heart.
Everyone has a favorite edition of The Night Before Christmas. My favorite is the one I found in my mother-in-law’s basement in Boothbay that sold on Ebay for almost a thousand dollars, but that’s another story for another time. The one in our basement is a very modest children’s paperback illustrated by David Gorsline. I am a total sucker for books that show cut-away houses with pictures of what all the busy people are doing inside (also a feature of Father Christmas).
The most recent addition is a A Night Before Christmas of intricate cutouts from Bas Bleu that I succumbed to last year. It wasn’t in the basement and writing this reminds me that I need to go find it.
Finally, the most-loved, most beat up book in the pile is Baby’s Christmas, a board book by Eloise Wilkin. I have read that thing, usually aloud to someone, literally hundreds of times. I have to admit, I’m as fascinated by it as my kids were. It pictures such a wonderful, idealized family celebrating Christmas. And isn’t that part of what the holidays do–get us to reach for our better selves?
Kate: Barb’s post reminds me of another holiday favorite for children, from the wonderful Rosemary Wells, about the littlest one feeling left out on Christmas. We found it in England one Christmas and went on to buy every copy we could find. It’s called Morris’s Disappearing Bag, and, as little Morris gets to use his older siblings’ chemistry set, skates, and make-up kit, offers the wonderful sentence: He mixed, and skated, and beautified.
Lea: We have a copy of The Night Before Christmas from 1890 that was my grandfather’s … it has a (now worn) red velvet cover, and is coming apart at the seams, but every Christmas Eve someone in my house read it out loud when I was growing up. By the time I was 13 or so we all knew the verse by heart, so we recited it together. The copy of the poem shown in this blog bases most of its illustrations on those by Thomas Nast, who was the first to picture Santa as we know him today. I have some of those Nasts in my print business, and one on the wall of my house, above my children’s books, and write about them in my Shadows mysteries. Very special.
Sarah: As a pop-culture Christmas person, I have to admit my favorite tradition is the film A Christmas Story, in which Ralphie plots and plans for, and finally receives, the only gift he wants: a Red Ryder BB gun. Every possible corny heartwarming meme is included in the movie, and I eat ’em up every time. It didn’t happen in Maine, but it’s turned into such a cult favorite that in a way, it seems to have happened everywhere.
And — full disclosure here — I’m also a little bit of a sucker for that sweet old Christmas favorite, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” And that’s the Maine connection for my part of this post, because until I came here I’d never heard that song — and now I know all the words!
Julia: I’m a traditionalist and an anglophile when it comes to Christmas – my favorite book of the season is A Christmas Carol. “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.” By God, none of us will ever come up with an opening line that good! We have an audiobook of Patrick Stewart performing the work as for his one-man stage show. Magnificent.
I agree with Kaitlyn on Holiday Inn and White Christmas, and I’ll toss in a recommendation for a flick the kids and I watched on Netflix right after Thanksgiving: Holiday in Handcuffs. It’s an extremely silly tale of a slightly schlubby waitress (Melissa Joan Hart) who snaps under the pressure to produce a boyfriend for the annual Christmas get-together and kidnaps Mario Lopez as a fill-in. (As one does.) It’s very funny and romantic and Christmas-y without being too saccharine.
My favorite song? I’ll admit a very strong partiality to “In the Bleak Midwinter”… but probably my favorites are “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Personent Hodie.” Basically, anything that sounds like it should be sung in a 14th century castle or close works for me.
Great posts, everyone! I love Elvis’ “Blue Christmas,” and am a sucker for the old black and white holiday movies… “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Every year I try to be more Donna Reed-ish… she’s so understanding, patient, and forgiving in the film… and yet she does snap, too!
Sarah, did you see that the Penobscot Players in Bangor are doing “The Christmas Story?”
Now I see why I couldn’t come up with a book title! I don’t have children. And Sarah, I very nearly listed “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” too. A definite “classic.”
Vicki, I didn’t know that — thanks! Meanwhile, I neglected to mention another of my faves — who could forget those rascally Christmas chipmunks, Simon, Theodore and Alll-vinnn!
Oh, Julia, I’d forgotten about “Personent Hodie.” When I was in the Winthrop Town Chorus, here, we sang that. Though I did “commit” a few Xmas mystery anthologies, in another life, I’ve never liked Xmas, and any “good” Xmas song, for me, needs to be in a language I don’t speak and, preferably, rather abstruse and difficult. I do love John Rutter’s arrangements. Thanks for reminding me of this item.
Favorite Christmas poem: The Three Queens Came Late
Favorite Christmas songs now: Amy Grant’s “Grown-up Christmas List” and Stevie Wonder’s “Some Day at Christmas”
Favorite Christmas book: “Rest You Merry”, the first Peter Shandy mystery by Charlotte MacLeod