Saturday, December 30, 2017

Saga of the Sad Sack Santas

It's not all sugarplums, you know. I was bounced from my job as a department store Santa for forgetting my lines. The supervisor said, "What's so difficult about remembering 'ho ho ho'?" and stripped off my beard.

And then there was my buddy Frank, who, after getting too enthusiastically into the Yuletide spirit, was found singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with a scantily clad Elf.

But the worst came for George, a Santa at a Sears store. There were signs all over the place saying "Everything On Sale!" and "Everything Must Go!"

A family from Alberta assumed this included Santa, bought him, and carried him back to Pincher Creek.

George protested, but the Sears people said, "Sorry. All sales final."

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Card from Vicky and Al

The first Christmas card was posted in 1844. The sender was W.C.T. Dobson of London's Royal Academy. The practice rapidly became popular, and a great fan was Queen Victoria, who one year, it is said, sent some 2,541 cards.

What made it especially nice for the Queen was that all the stamps on the envelopes carried her portrait: the famous one penny black, the first British postage stamp, introduced in 1840.

If you turn up one of those stamps today, you'll find many collectors eager to give you $3,000 U.S. for it. If you also have a card signed by Victoria and Albert, you can probably count on a few dollars more.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Unseasonal Sentiments

Yes, we know it's the time of year for fellowship and good cheer, but give us a moment to throw a few lumps of coal before we move on to a mood of peace and benevolence and love for our fellow creatures.

First, Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations:  "I'm taking names"--this sounds exactly like our third grade teacher. And: "We won't forget this"--the tearful words of a fourteen-year-old girl after a high school spat.

And Donald Trump, you know who he is. His preening posture when appearing on camera suggests he is pausing after every sentence to admire his performance. And why not? He is his own biggest fan.

Finally, the coveted Scrooge McDuck Award. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was in the running, but the clear winner is Speaker of the House Paul "Swing that Gavel" Ryan.

A Merry Christmas to them all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ready for Christmas?

The most common greeting at this time of year is "Are you ready for Christmas?"

We remember S.J. Perelman's take on the season: "Here comes Christmas, at our throats again." This feeling may vanish at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, or it may take a visit from a trio of ghosts, but it does, eventually, go.

Here is what we have learned, or failed to learn, about Christmas: (1) There is never enough time. (2) There is never enough money.

So, are you ready for Christmas? The correct answer is "No."

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What to Read. What to Watch

Okay, here come more December suggestions you don't need: what to read, what to watch, as Christmas approaches.

Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" remains the classic Christmas text (after the Gospel of Luke, of course). But Dickens wrote other novellas with a Christmas theme, and two of them--"The Chimes" and "The Haunted Man"--are included in the handsome Modern Library edition, along with a fine introduction by John  Irving, and Dickens's own short preface: "I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an Idea,which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their house pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it." Dated December 1843.

The other Christmas classic is a short story, "Gifts of the Magi," written overnight in the Hotel Marty, New York, around 1903 by a man named William Sydney Porter. It was one of some six hundred stories he wrote--one a week, for the New York World Sunday edition, and for which he was paid one hundred dollars apiece, a remarkable sum in 1903. All of those six hundred stories appeared with his pen name: O. Henry.

And to watch: The Alastair Sim film of "A Christmas Carol" is almost obligatory, and it's hard to imagine anyone playing Scrooge better, although one critic insists Christopher Plummer, in "The Man Who Invented Christmas," gives us the best Scrooge ever. (Plummer has long been regarded as North America's finest Shakespearean actor, based on his New York performances as Iago, opposite James Earl Jones's Othello, and as Macbeth, in the Scottish play, with Glenda Jackson.)

The flip or hip side of "A Christmas Carol" is "Scrooged," with Bill Murray, plus John Forsythe as a fine ghost of Marley, and Miles Davis as a street busker. And one shouldn't forget Vincente Minelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis," if you can blot out the psychopathic Tootie played by Margaret O'Brien. The most recent addition to this list is "Love, Actually," a series of Christmas season vignettes created by Richard Curtis, writer-director of all those Hugh Grant movies you properly should love.

There we are. Start mulling the wine. I'll be over with a bag of sugarplums.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Christmas Playlist

Yes, devotees of the wassail bowl and buche de Noel, it is almost time to begin playing music of the season--even though shopping malls have been playing "Silver Bells" and Alvin and the Chipmunks sing "Messiah" since Hallowe'en ended.

We once worked at a very civilized radio station that would not allow Christmas music until December 15, and then only selections that would not put your teeth on edge. No "Rock Around the Christmas Tree" by the Berlin Phil.

So here's our approved playlist:

-- "Sleighride," by Art Pepper and Richie "Alto Madness" Cole. A wild romp down the hill, with Roger Kellaway at the reins.

-- "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," by Dexter Gordon. Judy Garland would have liked it, too.

-- "Zat You, Santy Claus?"  by Louis Armstrong. Can't go wrong with Satch.

-- "England's Carol" by the Modern Jazz Quartet. This is really "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen," given an elegant spin by the MJQ.

--  "The Christmas Song," written one sizzling summer day by Bob Wells and Mel Torme, one of the few Christmas pop pieces that is actually pretty good. Almost everyone has recorded it, but our choice is the Jane Monheit version.

And don't forget Vince Guaraldi. Have yourself a tuneful little Christmas.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Baba Noel

"Baba Noel" is what Santa Claus is called in southwest Turkey, and who should know better, for this is where the Santa Claus legend began.

Nicholas was a fourth century bishop in Myra, on the Mediterranean coast. He is said to have saved the three daughters of a poor family from a life of slavery by leaving bags of gold at their door. Beatified, he became known as Saint Nicholas, and the name, going through various national spellings and pronunciations, especially the Dutch "Sant Nikolaas," eventually became "Santa Claus."

The ancient city of Myra has long been gone, but the Church of St. Nicholas is still standing.

Not surprisingly, Nicholas is the patron saint of children, but he is also the patron of pawnbrokers and brewers. And as today is the feast day of Nicholas, have a brew for him.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Memorable Celebrity Statements

"When you're a star, you can do anything you want."

"When you're president, you can do anything you want."