My Christmas Recommendations
by Melissa Minners
Below is a list of some of my favorite movies, books, and music for the holiday season. Click on the titles to purchase any of these items (except I'll Be Home For Christmas as the version I talk about is currently unavailable on DVD or VHS). Enjoy!
The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974) – puppet animation – starring the voices of Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus and Mickey Rooney as Santa. Santa Claus is sick! Not only is he suffering from the common cold, but he is made ill by the thought that people no longer believe in the Christmas spirit. He has decided that it is time for a vacation. Two elves and a young Vixen are dispatched by Mrs. Claus to find children that can convince Santa that the Christmas spirit is still alive and well. Adorable for children and adults as well, with catchy songs and funny characters like the Miser Brothers – Mr. Heat Miser and Mr. Snow Miser – and their mother – who else, but Mother Nature.
Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer (1964) – Rudolph’s greatest wish is to some day join the ranks of reindeer chosen to pull Santa’s sleigh across the world on Christmas Eve. But Rudolph isn’t like other reindeer. His bright red nose is an inexplicable anomaly that the other reindeer can’t seem to accept. Cast out as a misfit, Rudolph encounters other “misfits” who are truly normal individuals, just different in their own special ways. Narrated by Burl Ives, this timeless tale celebrates the differences in all of us.
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1970) – Narrated by Fred Astaire, this animation tells the tale of how Santa Claus, AKA: Kris Kringle, came to be. The characters are endearing and the songs catchy. Terrific for kids of any age.
Frosty the Snowman (1969) – Jimmy Durante narrates the tale of a snowman brought to life by a magical top hat and the young girl endeavoring to keep him alive by bringing him to the North Pole. It’s a classic tale of a snowman come to life, with a comical twist, explaining how the hat brought Frosty to life, and inserting a villain whose greed almost costs Frosty his life.
The Little Drummer Boy (1968) – Jose Ferrer stars as the voice of an orphan drummer boy who has no use for humanity, befriending only animals. When one of his animal friends falls into evil hands, the lad approaches the newly born Jesus, gifting him with his talent in hopes of finding help for his friend. Cute, though my least favorite of the Christmas animated series by Rankin / Bass.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) – Charlie Brown is horrified by the commercialistic attitude the world around him is taking toward Christmas. It depresses him so deeply that he decides to take part in a Christmas play, hoping that he can bring about a change in his friends and family and instill a bit of the Christmas spirit in them. Things go as usual and Charlie Brown soon finds himself frustrated. A timeless classic, this tale is loved by all who view it. The message is loud and clear and shared by many who still know that Christmas is about more than decorations and money-making.
Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974) – Logical thinking Albert decides to send a letter to the editor of the local paper claiming that Santa Claus is a myth that no one in the town believes in anymore. When Santa gets wind of this editorial, he crosses the town off of his delivery list. It’s up to a local clockmaker and Albert, who realizes that logic has no place in issues of the heart, to find a way to send Santa the message that the town still believes. Not my favorite of the Christmas cartoons, but cute in its own right.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) – The classic tale by Dr. Seuss brought to life through animation. The Grinch looks upon the people of Whoville with distaste. Grumpy beyond belief, he hatches a plan to steal Christmas from the Whos in Whoville by impersonating Santa Claus and stealing every present, tree, decoration, and delicacy of the holiday. When the Whos still find a reason to celebrate the season, the Grinch sees the error in his ways. The Christmas spirit overpowers him and he becomes redeemed – like Scrooge, but with rhymes and minus the ghosts.
Yes, Virginia - The story of Virginia O'Hanlon and her letter to the editor of the New York Sun sent in 1897 inquiring as to the existence of Santa Claus. After all, as Virginia's father has always said, "If you see it in the Sun, it's so!" Adorable rendition of the true story, featuring the voices of such well-known actors as Neil Patrick Harris, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Alfred Molina. The letter from the editor, plus a side tale about a down on his luck Santa who still holds the meaning of Christmas in his heart, makes for a wonderful animated feature.
Disney's Prep & Landing - Ever wonder how it is that Santa never gets caught placing the presents under the tree...or singe his butt on a lit fireplace? Well, that's the job of the Prep & Landing team. They arrive just before Santa to make certain that all is perfect for the boss to drop off his gifts. Unfortunately, after 227 years on the job, Prep & Landing elf Wayne has become bored and begins looking for a new job on the Naughty List Intelligence team. Can Lanny, a new Prep & Landing Elf in Training, make Wayne realize that Prep & Landing is a terrific job...a job he was always meant for? Don't forget to check out the equally fun sequels, Disney's Prep & Landing: Operation: Secret Santa and Disney's Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice.
A miserly old man, with seemingly no love or joy within him save for the money he hoards, learns the error of his ways after being visited by three ghosts. These apparitions show him Christmases past, present and future and Ebenezer Scrooge realizes that there is more to happiness than money and that human kindness cleanses one’s soul. It can only be A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. There are numerous versions of this age-old tale, but these are some of my favorites:
Scrooge (1970) - Albert Finney and Alec Guinness star in this musical version of the classic is very entertaining, adding some light-hearted moments to the tale. Once you’ve watched this movie a time or two, you’ll find yourself singing along with the characters. Albert Finney is excellent in his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge and Alec Guinness is perfectly spooky as Jacob Marley. A delightful version you’ll want to view again and again.
A Christmas Carol (1951) - starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. This is by far the most lauded version of the tale. Alastair Sim’s portrayal of the miserly old fool who needs his dead partner and three ghosts to instill in him some kindness is remarkable. Scrooge becomes very real to the viewer and his dilemma becomes one we must all endure. The seriousness throughout the film lends a special sort of joy to the light-hearted happy ending. The lesson taught in this movie is hardly lost on the viewer.
Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962) – animated. This is one that I adored as a child. This is a version more suited to children because it’s a mild adaptation. The ghosts are hardly scary and the meaning is still conveyed, though in a milder manner than most renditions.
An American Christmas Carol (1979) - starring Henry Winkler and Dorian Harewood. This rendition of A Christmas Carol is set in America. The miserly old man in need of redemption is renamed in this tale and even the time frame has changed. It is now Depression-era New England, and Benedict Slade is the man that everyone comes to when they need a loan. This version features ghosts that resemble people whose possessions he has taken as payment of over-due loans. The Fonz as Scrooge? You’d better believe it! Henry Winkler does an admirable job in the role and the viewer finds himself feeling sorry for Slade as the events in his life that brought him to his present state are re-enacted. Terrific for those looking for a different turn on the timeless classic.
A Diva's Christmas Carol - This version of A Christmas Carol stars Vanessa Williams as a singing diva named Ebony Scrooge. Once part of the popular singing trio Desire, Ebony left the group in search of her own career after the death of fellow singer Marli Jacob (Chili of TLC). A visit from the ghost of Marli lets Ebony know that she is on the wrong path. Ghosts from Christmases past (Kathy Griffin), present (John Taylor of Duran Duran) and future remind Ebony what human kindness is all about. Vanessa Williams and Kathy Griffin are hysterical in this film.
A Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - A Miracle on 34th Street has always been a special favorite of mine, whether viewed in black and white or in color. I still watch it faithfully every year. Kris Kringle visits New York City and discovers that the Macy’s Parade Santa Claus is falling down on the job – falling down drunk. The parade director, Doris Walker, enlists his help in replacing the lush, and the stage is set for an adventure unlike any other. Kris Kringle is asked to portray Santa Claus for the Macy’s store on 34th Street. He becomes intrigued with Doris and her young daughter, Susan, whom Doris has raised on truth alone, cutting all fantasy out of her life. Kris Kringle, dismayed at the commercialism on display at Christmas time is worried that the world has little room for Santa Claus in their hearts. He makes it his special project to bring this mother and daughter around to the possibilities that Santa Claus does exist. One of the most memorable lines in the movie is when Doris explains why Susan must have believe in Kris Kringle, proving that she has learned a most valuable lesson from her experience with the man: “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” Edmund Gwenn was absolutely incredible as Santa Claus. He looked so much like him that Natalie Wood (Susan Walker) was surprised to find out that he was an actor like herself. Natalie Wood was simply adorable and the chemistry between Maureen O'Hara and John Payne was right on the money. The whole film was delightful. I can quote whole scenes word for word. In fact, this film usually starts the holiday for me. I bring it out every year and play it while I'm wrapping my Christmas presents. Newer versions of A Miracle on 34th Street pale in comparison to this one, and I rarely watch them unless there is absolutely nothing else on.
It's A Wonderful Life (1947) - It’s a Wonderful Life is yet another Christmas favorite. I had never seen this movie until I was assigned to watch it in high school. It was strange, because, at the time, I couldn't find it except on one channel and it only played twice. I instantly fell in love with it. Now, it's on every other channel, numerous times throughout the Christmas season. When George Bailey’s (James Stewart) business is in jeopardy and his whole world seems to be falling apart, he begins to believe that the world would be better off without him. George no sooner utters this phrase, than an apprentice angel is sent to him. In order to get his wings, Clarence must prove to George just how important he is in the scheme of things. It’s A Wonderful Life has so much meaning for so many people and the characters are delightfully portrayed, from George and Clarence on down to George's youngest daughter. Who hasn't felt as down as George when everything in their life is sliding downhill? Who hasn't asked if the world would be a better place without them? The concept from this movie has been used over and over again in movies and television ever since It's A Wonderful Life hit the theaters. It's a terrific concept. And it's a great way of showing just how important each and every life is to the universe. There is so much in this film that we can equate to and sympathize with. I think all of us can see something in It’s A Wonderful Life that we are familiar with in our own lives. That is probably why it is such a popular film among both young and old. The youth love its Christmassy message, but the adults get the full meaning and take it to heart.
A Christmas Story (1983) - A Christmas Story tells the tale of a young boy named Ralphie and his one Christmas wish – to receive a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Every time he tells someone his wish, he receives the same frustrating response – “You’ll shoot your eye out kid!” There isn’t a single person I know who can’t quote whole scenes from this delightful Christmas tale. We all can equate to Ralphie’s frustration at being told that the one special gift he wants for Christmas is not something that anyone thinks he’s old enough to have. From his encounters with the town bully to the first time he says a curse word in front of his parents to the embarrassing gift he receives from his relative, the movie hits home with each and every viewer.
A House Without A Christmas Tree (1972) – This heartwarming tale was part of a series of books by Gail Rock about a young girl named Addie Mills. Set in Nebraska in 1946, Addie’s greatest desire for this Christmas is a tree, but her widowed father is firmly against the idea. His refusal stems from his inability to enjoy Christmas since the death of Addie’s mother. The movie is simplistic – it was a made-for-TV flick and there are no special effects. However, the story stirs the emotions, showing the importance of love and family at Christmas and throughout the year.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1988) – There are quite a few stars whose names you’ll recognize from this cast – Hal Holbrook, Courtney Cox, Peter Gallagher and Nancy Travis, just to name a few. This tale focuses on one family’s struggle to maintain Christmas tradition despite the fact that one of their own is abroad, fighting in World War II. Tissue boxes will be needed. All does not perfectly end well….just predictably. However, this movie does hold some merit and some decent acting for a made-for-TV flick.
On the Second Day of Christmas (1997) – The spirit of Christmas and the love it brings come out in this adorable tale of a con-artist and her young niece caught in the act by a security guard in an upscale department store. The owner of the store is adamant about pressing charges, but doesn’t want the child to spend Christmas in juvie hall over the holiday, he orders the security guard to keep an eye on her. In other words, con-artist Trish (Mary Stuart Masterson) and niece Patsy (adorable Lauren Pratt) become unwilling houseguests at Bert’s (Mark Ruffalo) apartment. No, this story is not supposed to be realistic. It’s meant to be a quirky romance that imparts a message. Let’s just hope that the message viewers receive is the right one and not that pick-pocketing is cool!
The Santa Clause (1994) – Okay, the idea behind it is harsh, but the result is hilarious. Tim Allen plays Scott Calvin, a man who accidentally causes Santa Claus’ untimely demise. As a result, he is recruited to take his place.
The Polar Express (2004) – animation – A boy whose believe in Santa is waning takes a ride to the North Pole on the Polar Express. This movie is remarkable in its beauty. The artistry is awe-inspiring and the animation is extraordinary. Though wholly animated, the viewer at times has the feeling the people on the screen are actually live actors. The story was so beautiful that it made me cry – those that know me understand that this is no ordinary feat.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation- All Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants is a traditional and fun family Christmas with the perfect tree, the brightest lights and a Christmas bonus from his boss with which Clark could finally install a pool in his backyard. Unfortunately, everyone seems to be conspiring against him - the exterior illumination won't light, extra members of the family show up in a trailer, and that bonus? Well, it's not exactly what Clark was hoping for. Absolutely hilarious. You will find yourself recognizing people in your own family, friends and workplace in this film. In my opinion, this is the best installment in the Vacation series.
Merry Christmas - Mariah Carey - Here’s a Christmas album that I’ve played so much, I actually wore through the tape. I recently got a CD version, but there’s no telling how long that one will last. There isn’t a single song on this album that isn’t enjoyable. From the gospel-like Jesus Oh What A Wonderful Child to the sad Miss You Most At Christmas Time, Mariah Carey brings a terrific sound to Christmas with this album. All I Want for Christmas Is You is by far my favorite song on the album, but I love each song individually. A perfect choice for the holidays.
Dear Santa - Various Artists - Just picked this one up at the post office. There are some timeless classics like The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You) by Nat King Cole, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams, Feliz Navidad by José Feliciano, and It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas by Johnny Mathis. However, much of the album contains newer versions of songs like O Come All Ye Faithful by Vonzell Solomon, Jolly Old St. Nicholas by Lindsay Jordan, and O Come, O Come Emanuel by Nick Lachey. Other songs are relatively new to me like Carolina Christmas by Mawell / Mosher and Everybody Knows It’s Christmas by Roland Gift. My favorites on this album are The Christmas Song and Christmas Eve / Sarajevo by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I recommend skipping over Little Drummer Girl by Alicia Keyes – a waste of time and energy if you ask me, but the rest of the album is great.
Now That's What I Call Christmas! Signature Collection - Various Artists – With 36 tracks, this 2-CD album is a terrific mix of timeless classics and new favorites. Featuring artists like Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, Elton John, Aaron Neville, Barbara Streisand, Lou Rawls, Chuck Berry, Burl Ives and more, this will surely become a favorite in your home. Though all of the songs on these CDs are great, a special treat is the harmony exhibited by Destiny’s Child on Opera of the Bells. I play this album while decorating and wrapping gifts.
Billboard Christmas Hits (1955-Present) - Various Artists – There are only 10 tracks on this album, but it contains some great songs – The Chipmunk Song, Nuttin’ For Christmas, and Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. There are also some timeless classics like Jingle Bell Rock and Blue Christmas. What makes this album great is that most of the songs are sung by the original artists – I get annoyed when you buy a CD because you love the songs, only to discover that you hate this particular artist’s rendition.
Elvis' Christmas Album - Elvis Presley - Elvis’ smooth gospel tones are perfectly suited for Christmas music and this album is another of my favorites. The only song I dislike is Mama Liked the Roses , but that one song compared to the likes of Blue Christmas, Silent Night, Santa Claus Is Back In Town, I’ll Be Home For Christmas and more just simply doesn’t measure up. As I understand it, newer versions of this album got rid of that song in favor of some more traditional Christmas fare.
Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee - Who doesn’t love a Christmas song sung by Brenda Lee? Whether it’s Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Winter Wonderland, Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, or Frosty the Snowman, Brenda Lee’s voice is simply delightful. A terrific edition to the holiday collection.
Christmas Party Music - Various Artists - This is a decent little album if you don’t mind that the songs aren’t sung by the original artists. It contains a terrific selection – Silver Bells, Sleigh Ride, Voices That Care, Do They Know It’s Christmas, Wonderful Christmas Time and more, but is best suited as background music at a party.
Merry Christmas All - Montana Orchestra - This album contains two great medleys. The Christmas Medley is a compilation of songs like Joy to the World, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, The First Noel, We Wish You A Merry Christmas and more. The New Year’s Medley is a compilation of songs like Auld Lang Syne, God Bless America, Can Can, and more. I only recommend the Christmas Medley, and only as background party music.
Scrooge - A new version of the musical starring Albert Finney on CD or mp3. Just as enjoyable as the movie version. Love singing along with my favorite Scrooge tracks like A Christmas Carol, Happiness, The Beautiful Day and Thank You Very Much.
Frosty the Snowman - The adorable tale of how a snowman came to life one day.
Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer - When Rudolph was born, his peers made fun of him, for he had something they didn’t – a red nose that shined like a beacon. Ostracized and outcast, things look bleak for Rudolph until the day that Santa asks him to be his guide through a Christmas Eve storm. Then Rudolph finds himself a hero, accepted and loved by all. This is a great story for children as it teaches them to celebrate the differences in others.
'Twas the Night Before Christmas - Tells the tale of one father’s delight at coming upon Santa Claus as he is delivering his Christmas treasures. An adorable poem that is a timeless classic.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss - One huge rhyme-fest that is filled with fun. The Grinch feels that Christmas is an annoying time of year – noisy and bright and way too cheery. He decides to derail the Christmas of the neighboring town of Whoville by stealing everything that is Christmas to them. He soon realizes that the objects he has taken have nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas and becomes reformed. Delightful timeless classic. There isn’t a person I know that didn’t love this one as a child.
The House Without A Christmas Tree by Gail Rock - This heartwarming tale is part of a series of books about a young girl named Addie Mills. Set in Nebraska in 1946, Addie’s greatest desire for this Christmas is a tree, but her widowed father is firmly against the idea. His refusal stems from his inability to enjoy Christmas since the death of Addie’s mother.
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry - Jim and Della are a married couple who are struggling financially. Each wants to buy the perfect gift for the other, but neither can afford the gifts they have chosen. In an effort to be able to afford these treasures, each sacrifices something of their own in order to give the one they love a gift. The result of these actions becomes a lesson learned by the couple. This tale teaches that love is the greatest gift one can give at Christmas and that one is never truly poor if they are rich in love.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - The tale of an elderly miser whose love of money has overtaken everything in his life. In an effort to help his former partner, Jacob Marley comes back from the dead with a message and a gift for Ebenezer Scrooge. The message – change your ways or suffer my fate. The gift – three ghosts who will aide Scrooge in seeing the errors of his ways. A beautiful tale of hope with messages for all – acts of human kindness cleanse the soul and money does not equal happiness.