Well, I guess the secret’s out now.
I am beginning this entry at 4:37 PM EST, Christmas Eve, from the road in someplace called Newton Falls, Ohio, where families are putting the final touches on their Christmas decorations, wrapping last-minute gifts, and setting out cookies and milk for a man who breaks and enters their houses every year to leave a mess on their living room floors. And that’s not including the reindeer poop that undeniably on the bottom of Kris Kringle’s boots.
But this story does not take place in Newton Falls, Ohio. In fact, I barely even knew there was a town called Newton Falls, Ohio, until I checked my location on my phone a few minutes ago. In fact, this story doesn’t have a specific location at all.
Growing up near Pikesville, Maryland (okay, I lied, there just so happens to be a location), we didn’t have Christmas. As in Christmas didn’t exist. Everyone I knew was Jewish. Nobody put up Christmas lights on their home or business. No one went a-wassailing door-to-door; the only Christmas music came from the car radio. In general, it was just another day. Back then, I didn’t even really know what Christmas was, why people celebrated it, or what day of the year it was; since it was a religious holiday, I thought that it changed every year, like Hanukkah or Rosh Hashanah or Passover.
Christmas was especially verboten in my household. My dad hated Christmas and anything to do with it, and still does to this day, refusing to acknowledge its existence except to complain that things are not open. This meant no Christmas books, no Christmas songs, and no Christmas movies. Exceptions were made for movies where Christmas appeared but was not a central theme, like Home Alone, or Christmas episodes of cartoons and sitcoms . I don’t really know the reason, other than the fact that we are Jewish and proud of it. My mother always said that it was because my dad’s father didn’t like Christmas or allow him to participate in any Christmas events at his public school when he was a kid. But thanks to my dad’s abhorrence of the holiday, I always associated it with Hitler or the Holocaust, which were the other things that he could not tolerate. That and the New York Yankees.
As I left the fold and entered college, I became acutely more aware of Christmas (except for the year I spent Christmas in Israel, where, ironically, it all started) and found myself enjoying some Christmas classics, like Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”
So, in today’s Masterpiece Youtube, we look at the great Christmas moments in television, film, and music, as determined by me.
10. The Hanukkah episode of Rugrats
Even though the Passover episode came first and is far superior, in the mid 1990s Klasky-Csupo Productions gifted all the Jewish children of the world with a holiday special of their very own, with as few Christmas references as possible, exceptions being, of course, the unmissable Cynthia Saves Christmas special and Stu referring to the synagogue as a church. Highlights of the episode include the presence of Grandpa Boris and Grandma Minka, Didi’s hilarious old-country parents who are probably both dead now; Stu’s epic menorah invention fail; and the scene where Angelica thinks she’s getting pancakes for dinner, only to discover that they are latkes, “Tapato pancakes? Who would make pancakes out of topatos?” Your Jewish cousin’s mom, that’s who. The cherry on top is that unlike all the rest of the cartoons of the world, Rugrats came out with episodes for both Passover and Hanukkah years before it aired a Christmas special, probably due to appearances/popularity/external pressures. To this day, I believe that except for a few mentions in Family Guy and the bizarre As Told By Ginger “Even Steven Holiday Special,” no other cartoons have expressed their love for the Festival of Lights. Even though Spongebob has outlived its usefulness (a topic for another time), they’ve had at least two Christmas episodes and the world continues to wait for Bikini Bottom’s Hanukkah festivities – which should occur, obviously, at their local Jewfish Community Center.
9. “Last Christmas,” Wham!
Unlike Band Aid’s lame attempt to bring Christmas cheer to the world in the wildly inappropriate “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, this masterpiece by Wham! truly launched the spirit of Christmas across the world, even in places where Christianity is not the dominant religion or even a state-approved tradition. I’m pretty sure I heard it in the airport in Zurich, Switzerland, when I flew there on New Year’s Day, and friends of mine who have been to China say that they play it all year long, which is surprising considering China’s historical relationship with Western religions. Even one of my non-English-speaking friends posted it on his Facebook on Christmas Day last year despite not having a clue as to what the lyrics referred. The first truly international Christmas song. Take that, “Jingle Bells.”
8. Elmo Saves Christmas
This Muppet-ized take on It’s A Wonderful Life put the furry red monster in the position of control of Christmas, which is a very scary thing indeed. By making it Christmas every day, Elmo thought it would bring eternal joy to the denizens of the Street. It did not, doing the exact opposite: making everyone depressed that it was Christmas every day because it meant no work could get done and everyone had to shop for presents all the time (couldn’t they have just been like, screw you, Christmas, Sesame Street is open today?) making Elmo realize he made a horrible mistake. The best part of the movie is when my mom starts to cry, which occurs towards the end, every single time it comes on TV.
7. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” Darlene Love
It’s weird but there is something about this song that just works for me. Maybe it’s the fact that it doesn’t include any religious references except for the chorus singing the word “Christmas” every now and then. There was a remake of it done recently by either Beyonce or Mariah Carey, and even though it’s far superior, there’s just something about Darlene Love’s voice that makes it so classic. Maybe it’s because when Darlene Love recorded it, we didn’t have Skype or Facebook to connect us like we do today.
6. Phoebe’s Christmas songs from Friends
Even though Friends, unlike Monica’s Mocklate, made Thanksgiving its holiday, with classics ranging from “More turkey Mister Chandler?” to Joey sticking his whole head inside a turkey to scare Chandler to Monica and Ross’s epic football rivalry, it didn’t skip Christmas. In one episode, Phoebe tries to create a Christmas song for all the friends with their names in it, and it goes through many transformations before becoming the definitive version that plays over the ending credits. How can you not love a Christmas song with the word “crap” in its first line? Honorable mention for Friends Christmas song is “My Mother’s Ashes,” from another episode, although I’m not entirely sure that it was a Christmas-specific episode or just a winter one.
5. “Santa, Teach Me To Dance,” Debbie and the Darnells
I discovered this obscure Christmas novelty song through a BuzzFeed article last year, and it’s stuck with me ever since, for the sheer oddity and hilarity of it. This song, which makes absolutely no sense, was written and performed in the 1960s, I believe, around the time dance movies were popular. Dancing lessons for Christmas seems like a strange request coming from the teenage girls who were singing this song. The only thing stranger than this song’s existence are the group that performed it. When I imagine Debbie and the Darnells, I imagine a group of four white girls with embarrassing 1960s Motown hairdos, possibly with reindeer hairbands or Christmas tree barrettes, and most definitely wearing smart sweater sets and staring off into the distance, much like pictures of the Shirelles or the Supremes. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever know who Debbie and her Darnells were, much less looked like, because when I searched for a Wikipedia entry or any other songs performed by these girls, this song came up and nothing else.
4. White Christmas and its dance sequences
Okay, so they really don’t have that much to do with the holiday itself, but they are in a Christmas-themed movie. My personal favorite is the “Abraham” number performed by a young and good-looking Vera-Ellen and John Brascia. Vera-Ellen, known for her tiny waist, incredible talent, and sad life story, is particularly on point here. I’ll elaborate more on her in a future post. John Brascia, on the other hand, didn’t become a star, or least not a major one by any means; I looked him up a few years ago and he was ancient, but still alive in California, having only made a few films. A recent Wikipedia search shows that he died between then and now. It’s such a shame; he could dance like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and in my opinion, is way better looking…wait a minute…where was I? Oh yeah, Christmas…
3. “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas,” Gayla Peavey
This delightful song is not only adorable; it has an equally adorable story behind it. Though it sounds similar to Shirley Temple and is often mistaken to be her, it was sung by a young girl named Gayla Peavey in Oklahoma, who was known for absolutely nothing else, it’s pretty easy to understand: a girl wants a hippopotamus for Christmas. The lyrics are silly, fun, and bouncy. I wonder who came up with it – “hey, can you give me the name of an animal with five syllables, stress on the fourth, for a Christmas song?” All kidding aside, apparently there was a real hippopotamus like the one described in the song – it had been in an Oklahoma zoo, and then removed for some reason. Eventually, it was returned to Oklahoma, but after hearing this entreaty, I’d just give the girl her damn hippopotamus for Christmas.
2. “Up On the Housetop,” Gene Autry
Ho, ho, ho…w inappropriate is this song? Before I heard this song, I had no idea how much innuendo was in Christmas; I thought it ended with “Santa Baby.” I mean, Santa comes down the chimney, bringing a “doll” for little Nell, and a “whip” for little Bill. Seriously, “fill it well?” This song is just so hilarious in its hidden message. If anyone was going “click click click” on my housetop, I’d go “bow chicka wow wow,” and then call the police. Except if it was on the rooftop of my apartment building, in which case they’d freeze to death before they got caught.
But the number one Masterpiece YouTube? Well, you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow for that one.
God bless us every one.