2016 Christmas Mashup: Movies, Songs, Beeswax, Worldly Traditions

Christmas Movie Roundup

 For years, my family had a tradition of going out to a movie theater the night of Christmas. The only one I really remember is the World War II flick Valkyrie, released on Christmas Day in 2008. Although thrilling, the political coup and Hitler assassination attempts in Nazi Germany didn’t fill me with Christmas spirit. As I got older, I lobbied against going to a movie on the night of Christmas, arguing that I didn’t want to force the theater workers to dish out popcorn and soft drinks on the holiday. It worked.

So now I offer you a list of Christmas classics to watch on and around Christmas Day.

The Classic: Although the plot of It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t exclusive to Christmas, it’s been claimed by the holiday. The Christmas angel showing a despairing man what life would be like without him is sure to tug at each of your heart strings.

charlie-brownWith the Children: I’m partial to A Charlie Brown Christmas for its still relevant message on commercialism around Christmas. Besides, I’ll spin my lime green vinyl record of Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack to the TV short year-round. Fun fact: Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, hated jazz music and executives at CBS almost scrapped the special, citing Guaraldi’s jazz tracks as one of the primary reasons.

A More Modern Favorite: Despite the unrelenting sap emanating from the screen, Love Actually mashes a slew of different Christmas love stories onto one final stage in the end. It also hits the nail on the head depicting the arrivals terminal at airports around Christmas time as the happiest place on Earth. Seriously, go check it out sometime.

holiday_inn_posterOne You Forgot About: Listen to Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” in its original context on the screen with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in Holiday Inn, the 1942 classic begins and ends with the Christmas season, touching all the bases of the holidays in between.

Worst Christmas Movie Ever: Putting my subjectivity aside, the film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes places Christmas with the Kranks as the worst Christmas movie of all time, with only five percent of certified critics giving it a positive review. We only ask that Tim Allen stick to being Santa Claus in the 1990s.


Listening Closer: Christmas Songs

 Even before Thanksgiving, the airwaves get flooded with Christmas songs. The genre may be the most seasonally successful ever and, while there have been a few popular renditions of old classics by modern artists, there are a few that have been canonized in their original recording.

But just like Bob Dylan (who would abhor my use of his name in a piece about Christmas tunes), it takes many listens to truly uncover what it is the songwriters were really saying. Here, we break down some Christmas classics and explain the sometimes dark, sometimes clever lyrics you may have not truly heard before.

grandgotrunover_elmopatsy342“Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”: Even on the surface, this song seems oddly dark for a Christmas classic, but listen closely and it’s riddled with lines to keep away from younger ears.

When we found her Christmas morning

At the scene of the attack

She had hoof-prints on her forehead

And incriminating Claus marks on her back

 This was clearly no accident. In the first verse we find that Grandma got drunk on eggnog and forgot to take her medication as she stumbled out into the snow. While Grandpa enjoys beer and football, the song claims that Grandma’s death is proof that Santa does exist, giving this family what they wanted for Christmas.


Dean Martin Winter Wonderland“Winter Wonderland”: This chipper tune made famous by Dean Martin makes an odd reference to Parson Brown, a snowman who apparently goes around performing marriages with children until other kiddies knock him down. But when the song was first written in 1934, a “parson” was a Protestant minister who would travel around the country performing weddings. In the second verse, the snowman is labeled a circus clown. The kids must have built a separate snowman, unless lyricist Richard B. Smith thought pastors and circus clowns were one in the same.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”: Perhaps we can forgive songwriter Frank Loesser for writing this tune in 1944, when we can only assume it was more acceptable to pressure your lady friend to spend the night. Despite repeating that she should go home, the male counterpart insists it’s simply too cold and she should spend the night. Her line, “Say, what’s in this drink?” surely raises a red flag, but some cultural experts of the time have claimed that saying, “What’s in this drink?” was a common humorous phrase to talk about feeling the effects of alcohol. Still, my advice would be to take a shot of whiskey to warm the belly and go face the cold.


Worldly Christmas Traditions

While many traditions are passed down through Christian texts, others must come from the strange minds of some global citizens long ago. In the United States, we still put popcorn on our Christmas trees that used to be decorated with dried fruit and other food. Santa-themed bar crawls, bike rides and runs are quintessentially American. But around the world, many countries have their own traditions that we would raise an eyebrow at, not unlike a drunk Santa Claus riding a bicycle through the snowy streets.


Ukraine: Instead of ornaments, lights and popcorn, Ukrainians decorate their trees in spider webs. The old tale depicts a poor woman who couldn’t afford any decorations, only to wake up to a beautiful web glistening around her Christmas tree.


The Yulecat

The Yule Cat

Iceland: Deep within the snow, the Jólakötturinn, or Yule Cat, lies in wait to eat anyone wearing old and ragged clothes. Many believe it was a tool to motivate wool workers to increase production before the winter season with fear of the ferocious feline nipping at their heels.


Canada: Our neighbors to the north take the story of Santa to a national, postal service level. Any letters addressed to Santa Claus will be opened and replied to. After all, every child knows the North Pole is in Canada.


Japan: In 1974, foreigners in Japan wanted to eat turkey on Christmas. When they opted for chicken instead, Kentucky Fried Chicken found a new market. The Kentucky for Christmas! marketing campaign has become tradition in the Asian nation.


Sweden: If you find a peeled almond inside your Christmas dessert, congratulations! You’re going to be married within the year.


Catalonia: This region of Spain is known for including a defecating man, El Caganer, to its nativity scenes. Beginning Dec. 8, kids feed the man who then bares all to drop presents from his backside on Christmas Day.


Moravians and the Purity of Beeswax

Door County has been steeped in the Moravian faith since the 1850s, when Reverend Andres Iverson built the peninsula’s first church, still standing in Ephraim. The followers of the Protestant faith naturally hold the Christmas season close. But just like any other faith or family, the Moravians have some special traditions to celebrate this time of year.

Perhaps the most special of Moravian traditions is the beeswax candle. In the 18th century, beeswax was believed to be the purest of all waxes, if wax can possibly withhold purity. The beeswax then aligned with the purity of Christ in the minds of Moravians.

Although worshipers used the candles throughout the year during Moravian services, the German Bishop John de Watteville gave them a new significance on Christmas Eve in 1747. During his message to the children in the congregation, the bishop taught them the Moravian rendition of the Christmas story. Their understanding of that story would cause Christ to kindle a blood-red flame in the hearts of his believers.

To emphasize the point, de Watteville gave each child a beeswax candle wrapped with a red ribbon. The children, happy to play with fire during church service, spread word of the bishop’s message and it quickly became a Christmas tradition.

At the time, everyone lived within walking distance of the church and children would try to bring the holy flame home to light their own Christmas trees.

The first candle-lit Moravian service in the United States dates back to 1756 in Bethlehem, Penn.

“And, at last, each was given a wax candle, lighted while hymns were being sung, and before one was aware of it, more than 250 candles were ablaze, producing a charming effect and a very agreeable odor, especially as they sang the concluding hymn.

Brother Peter dismissed them with the wish that their hearts would burn as brightly toward the Child Jesus, as the candles were burning. Then they went happily homeward with the still-burning candles in their hands.” Town diary of Bethlehem, Penn. in 1756.

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