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A Letter To Santa

Dear Santa,

HI! It’s me… Jimmy Wood. I’m pretty sure you remember me. I was the kid who used to ask you for the Star Wars Millennium Falcon back in the mid 70′s. I remember writing you every day about it, asking for you to please, PLEASE bring one for me.

I was going to be the talk of the neighborhood ‘cus only the rich kid across the street had one. I even held out hope until the very last-minute. You must have been busy that year though ‘cus all I got were some crummy socks. Anyways, hope you had a good Thanksgiving!

It’s been a while since I’ve written. The truth is, a lot of my friends have told me that you weren’t real and so I stopped writing. You know, peer pressure and all.

Anyways, I’ve been a super good boy all year (well, unless you count that one bad website I visited – but I SWEAR it was an accident!). Anyways, I thought it would be a good time to send you an updated list of things I still want. Things that will make me feel happy during my middle age. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you for things like a Seattle Seahawks Superbowl victory or World Peace or anything like that. Heck, even I know there are some things that even Santa can’t do.

To help your elves with the construction of these items (of which you’ll be happy to know there are only three) I’ve enclosed a few pictures as well. If you have any questions, just let me know!:

Poison Pinto: This was the one car my lousy cousin always had. He’d never trade me for it either. I’m hoping you can give me one. Ps. Since you see everything with your magic crystal snowball, please don’t tell him about the time I took a hammer to his Pinto when he wasn’t looking.

Spiderman: Me and Spidey go WAY back! Here’s a picture of the two of us from a Christmas a long time ago. He went off to fight crime one day and never came back. Mom says I left him at a family picnic one summer at the lake, but I don’t believe her. If you could reunite us, that would be super awesome!


Finally, in keeping with the car theme this last item would help me get around town in style. I know this one is a tall order but it sure would make me happy.

1965 Mustang Shelby GT-350: A real one please. Not the fake toy ones my family and friends like to give me as a joke every year. Funny, they’ll give me a Hot Wheels Mustang but not the Poison Pinto.

Thanks so much Santa. I really hope you and Mrs. C have a wonderful Christmas. Oooh, and if you still have my Millennium Falcon in your sack of toys, I’ll take it that too!

Your Friend,

Five Things I Think: The Best Christmas Songs of All Time

Yesterday I wrote about the over saturation of Christmas music being played non-stop on my local radio station. And although they have tried their best to ruin songs that I’ve grown up with and adore they haven’t succeeded.

There are certain songs played only this time of year that not only remind me about the true meaning of the holiday but also conjure up memories of family and Christmases long gone by. After all, there really is no place like home for the holidays.

The list of songs I’ve compiled here all have one thing in common: visual imagery. When ever I hear these songs (done well of course) I find myself being caught up “in” the story of the song.  So with this in mind you’ll see that none of these songs contain barking dogs, Christmas donkeys or Grandmas getting run over. Yes, songs like that are cute but they aren’t even in the same league as the ones below.

Although I don’t ever recall toasting marshmallows this time of year or telling tales of glory or ghosts (although there was that one time I saved the cat that was stuck out on the roof) these songs forever hold a special place in my heart. Let’s see if you agree.

My Favorite Christmas songs of all time:

5. Christmas Time Is Here(1965): It’s got to be the version by Vince Guaraldi for The Charlie Brown Christmas Special. No other song sets the mood for Christmas more for me than this. When I hear this song I immediately conjure up memories of Snoopy and all the children skating on the ice as the snow softly falls. For a short while I’m a child again sitting in the parlor with my grandparents watching the show underneath a lighted Christmas tree and all is well with the world.

4. Happy Christmas (War is Over) – (1971): I’ve always been a big fan of John Lennon. But in all of the songs he’s written nothing (well except for maybe Imagine) makes you think more than this one does. From the very first line it immediately asks the question:

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done?

And I think, what have I done? What have we all done to make this a better world? It can happen….if we only want it to. So why haven’t we?

3. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1944): Initially written to coincide with a scene in the Judy Garland movie Meet Me In St. Louis, I can only imagine what it must have been like to have watched this movie in the theater and heard that song for the very first time. This song also brings back warm memories of family for me, most notably the line:

Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow

What a promise of hope. Although families may be apart due to death, distance or war someday, God willing, we will once again all be together.

2. Do You Hear What I Hear – (1962): Believe it or not this song was actually written during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A time when the threat of nuclear war was very real and very near. Although the real meaning of this song dealt with one of the scariest times in our nation’s history when I listen to this song now I immediately become one with the night wind, Sheppard boy and mighty king. In my mind’s eye I see an old kingdom on the first Christmas morning where royal and peasant join in unison in praising the name of the newborn. I see myself high above the tree looking down and taking it all in as the call to pray for peace everywhere is made. Sadly, 50 years since it was written and this same proclamation couldn’t be needed more.

1. Hark The Herald Angels Sing – A carol that actually began in the mid 1700′s and went through several iterations to become what it is today. This song is my all time favorite for several reasons but mostly because of just one line that pretty much sums up the entire holiday for me:

Peace on Earth and Mercy Mild, God and Sinners reconciled.

So tell me, what are some of your favorite songs of Christmas?

How The Radio Ruined Christmas

All of the shopping, tree trimming, wrapping of presents and church activities will soon be over. Just a few more days and Christmas will be here. The hustle and bustle we’ve all been consumed by while waiting for the birth of the Christ Child or the fat man in a red suit to arrive will soon reach its peak.

I must admit that I always used to be a bit saddened once the festivities were over. Even after every last one was accounted for, I still found myself looking around for that one stray present with my name on it that requires unwrapping.

Conversely, one thing I definitely will NOT miss when the holiday is over is the local radio station playing non-stop Christmas music. What started out as perhaps the coolest thing ever has gotten way out of hand.

It all started years ago when our local FM station decided to give the Lehigh Valley a present and play nothing but holiday songs on Christmas day. I always looked forward to the Christmas morning tradition of brewing a huge cup of coffee, grabbing garbage bags to house shredded wrappings in and turning on the radio to hear Andy Williams belt out a carol or two or ten. Songs that I hadn’t heard since I was a wee boy traveling to Grandma’s house in the back of my parents beat up Chevelle were now blaring once again through the speakers. Life was good.

Then someone decided to make the most of a good thing. Soon the radio station bumped the 24/7 Christmas extravaganza to include Christmas eve beginning around 6PM, which at the time I thought made a nice prelude to the holiday magic and celebrations.

I began to become a bit concerned the following year when the suits at the radio station decided to start playing the Christmas songs at the start of the shopping season. Much to my chagrin Black Friday soon became the starting point for decking the halls. There seemed to be nothing to look forward to as far as music was concerned.

Flash forward to today and it’s really gotten sickening.

The local station here decided to start playing their annual CHRISTMAS MUSIC 24 hours a day, seven days a week starting November 1st. That’s right, the day after HALLOWEEN! The day you start recovering from binging on your kid’s Snickers and Milky Way mini-bars and for the next FIFTY-FOUR days is a row you get plenty of Andy, The Carpenters, Mariah Carey and the Chipmunks. Punishment that would only put a smile on the face of the Grinch. I swear, if I have to listen to Mariah Carey sing “All I Want For Christmas is You” one more time I’m going to drop a fruit cake on my head and end it all.

What’s supposed to put you in a cheery holiday mood only gives me a big ol’ case of the bah-humbugs.

December 26th can’t get here soon enough.

Dear Diary: December 1986

I have to laugh when ever I look back at the journal I kept twenty-five years ago. The red spiral bound notebook now worn and tattered with age still feels like youth when I hold it and delve into its pages. It began its journey originally as a notebook for my music theory class before becoming the repository for my thoughts and dreams. Over the months of my final year in high-school it was covered with stickers that would indicate to anyone who dared view some of my real obsessions:

“Gibson”, “Explorer” and “Guitar” to stand for the electric guitar that I played and “5150″ for the Van-Halen album I was listening to and wearing out at the time.

So many years have since passed and it’s amusing to once again read the adventures of the seventeen year old boy trying to find himself during his final year of public education.

This post, with entries written a quarter century ago, deals with me getting ready for the Easton Area High School Concert Choir Christmas show and facing the notion that my life may be falling apart.

I had just recently resigned my position as fry cook at the local McDonald’s and wanted to concentrate solely on my music. A stupid move in retrospect considering that in addition to resigning my burger flipping duties I also sacrificed my only source of income.

My mother had been renting an electric guitar for me to learn on for over a year (one I still have to this day) and I used to spend most of my free time practicing it up in my room after school. At the time, my only real social activity was limited to seeing the 80′s hair bands whenever they came to town to perform. 

Looking back it’s also kind of sad to think about how serious I took the insignificant issues I was going through. But I suppose that when you are seventeen and have only the belief that rock superstardom awaits you every little bump in the road suddenly becomes a major event.  But I am happy to report that at least these entries contain a happy ending as you’ll soon discover.

After reading me vent about my inner turmoil feel free to leave your own comments or, if you were there with me at the time, leave some of your own memories about those days.

12/17/86: Tonight is the choir christmas concert. Who knows, it might work out ok. As for practice: hardly any due to the fact that I have to find a ride to school because of the shitty headlights on my car. It starts at 6:45. I have to be there by then so I’ll leave around a quarter after six to have enough time.

It’s over. I mean I’ve lost all interest it’s so I don’t have the feeling anymore. The spark is gone. I don’t get inspiration anymore. All of my songs I try to write just don’t seem right. The words all come out wrong. You know, my career is dying….and part of me shall die with it.

It’s time I confess my problems. Last night, several things came into focus to really put me down for the count. They are as follows:

1. A very low-grade on my Mythology test.

2. Trouble with seeing Bon Jovi due to headlight failure and it being at night.  The headlights worked perfectly the night before.

3. No money: Probably my biggest problem

4. No interest – It’s been falling for about a week

5. No guitar – though I possess it it’s not mine yet (it’s rented) and I feel I’m losing out somehow.

6. Aggravation – Peer pressure and the like but I’ve been dealing with that for years.

7. Finding a ride to and from the concert tonight.

8. Losing friends rapidly

If I gave it more thought there would be more than eight problems but these are the big ones. It’s over now….done.

12/18/86: Well, my life is still falling. I’ve never felt this way before. Lately I’ve been flipping out on everyone for no reason. Yesterday I discovered my car needs a register or some part to fix the headlights…good luck with that!

One good thing: Last night at the choir concert some girl got me confused with someone else she wanted to hug….but I obliged. Haha… It was funny though. I’m beginning to get myself together both psychologically and musically.

Soon I shall be back on top.

The Thing About Christmas Photos

Last night, I found myself perusing through my old family photo album recalling days gone by. A few years ago, I had painstakingly organized hundreds of loose, old photographs into this particular volume and placed them by year as best as I could recall (some of which dating back to the early 1900′s).

I put them in the order of family events such as births, graduations, marriages etc. It took quite a while for me to get them into this chronological order, but now I have a time capsule of my family from a century ago until now.

Every so often, I like to recall a particular relative who is no longer with us, or perhaps the urge strikes to see just how deep of a purple the color of my bicycle was when I was eleven-years old. And once my curiosity has been satisfied, the album of memories quickly goes back on its shelf.

But last night was different. As I took a stroll down memory lane to recall an Aunt a familiar theme seemed to glare out at me from the pages of my family history: Christmas.

From the earliest years of black and white photos I noticed many that were taken around Christmas time. There were quite a few of my mother and her parents over the years striking poses with ornate Christmas trees in the background. I saw the young girl who would one day give birth to me standing with her doll next to an Evergleam aluminum Christmas tree. The smile on her face. The wonder in her eye. Christmas was coming.

I began to lament the fact that the photo wasn’t in color. I wanted to see the deep blues and greens that decorated the house, the color of her doll’s dress, the color of my mother’s cheeks. Maybe there was a huge snow storm and she had just come in from outside. I wondered how many days it was until Christmas.

Page after page, I was greeted with tidings of great joy. Photographs of long deceased relatives celebrating Christmas at my grandparent’s home. There were pictures of people eating, children unwrapping presents and even some solo shots of the annual Christmas tree itself. But there was one thing they all shared in common: the warmth of family.

I spent the longest time browsing the Christmas section of photos. Probably longer than I’ve looked at any of them in years. All the while I was thinking about where I was in my own life at the time they were taken and what I was feeling at the time. Then I began to wonder why I seemed to gravitate more towards these Christmas photos as opposed to other ones. Certainly my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary pictures from 1983 were more important than a picture of me with my first dog at some unknown Christmas was, right?

Wrong. Aside from the religious and trivial commercialism that comes with it, here’s the thing you need to know about Christmas photos:

Christmas is the one holiday where memories are made and easily recalled with photographs. I can look through pile after pile of old Christmas photos and once again see the gaudy flashing star that sat atop the tree every year; the colored lights in the window and decorations that adorned the walls; the Polaroids of me sitting with my grandfather on his Archie Bunker recliner and even the year Santa brought me Stretch Armstrong and his buddy Stretch Monster.

Even though I may not be able to recall the exact year, I KNOW that they were taken sometime in December. It seems to me that Christmas photographs are the only ones you where you can narrow down memories of years into days.

Here’s hoping you make many more of them today.

Eight Things I Think: Best Christmas Specials Edition

Does anyone remember the intro to the CBS holiday specials? Check it out here

I remember the sound of my heart beating faster as the rainbow colored word “Special” did a complete three-sixty. Watching this intro now three things immediately come to mind:

1. I was a child whenever I saw it.

2. It was probably around 8pm in the evening. Most definitely before 9 when all “good” children were in bed.

3. Most importantly something really, really cool was about to be on television.

Although it was used through out the year for holiday specials this little intro always reminds me of Christmas and the days I watched them growing up. And since it is the first of December it’s only a matter of time before these shows are back on for another generation (or two) to enjoy.

Which leads me to the subject of today’s blog.

Every year there seems to be new Christmas/Holiday specials on. ABC Family even devotes the entire month of December to “The 25 Days Of Christmas” where they showcase a plethora of new shows mixed in with familiar classics.

Sadly, none of the new stuff can compare to those timeless shows of the 60′s and 70′s.  It amazes me that a cartoon or claymation show from forty years ago can tell a better story in 45 minutes then a state of the art two-hour Hollywood made for TV feature.

One of the things I’ve always loved about these specials were the villains and how in the end they all were redeemed. Whether it was by finding out the true meaning of Christmas or if necessary, getting all of their teeth pulled.

Although I could probably give you at least a dozen I’ve narrowed the list down to eight and can now present to you my picks for The Best Christmas Specials of All Time.

You’ll notice that this list contains a lot of Rankin-Bass favorites and for good reason. These two gentlemen were masters at making specials that appealed to viewers of all ages. All of these shows were, and thanks to magic of cable continue to be, specials I enjoy watching every year.

Let’s see if you agree:

8. Mr Magoo’s A Christmas Carol (1962): What’s not to love about watching Charles Dickens’ classic tale told with the wacky blind guy in the title role? I’ll admit the songs were pretty crappy but the ghost of Christmas future literally scared the crap out of me.

7. Twas The Night Before Christmas (1974): A Rankin-Bass cartoon with great songs and a wonderful story. A disgruntled little mouse sends Santa a mean letter and then has to redeem himself by fixing a clock in the center square of town to atone for it.

6. Frosty The Snowman (1969): Ok, I’ll admit it. I cried my eyes out on more than one occasion when Frosty melted.  But let’s get this straight – I was a child…yeah, let’s go with that.

5. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974): A Rankin-Bass feature where Santa decides to take a year off because no one appreciates him. It’s up to two misfit elves to go to Southtown and find people who have the Christmas spirit.

This show also featured the Miser Brothers. Nothing more needs to be said.

4. Santa Claus is Comin’ Town (1970): The true origin of Santa Claus. I was deathly afraid of the Winter Warlock. That is until he got his Choo-Choo Train and turned good. And what’s not to love about Topper the penguin and his cute little scarf?

 

3. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966): Another great story about redemption. I loved the Grinch’s dog Max. Most kids of my generation were familiar with the animation. It was done by Chuck Jones who was most popular for his work with Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry cartoons of the same era.

2.  A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): Whether it’s the Charlie Brown tree, Lucy getting kissed by a “dog”, Snoopy winning the lights and display contest or the message Linus delivers…it’s all wonderful. But the thing I remember most about this show was the music. Vince Guaraldi’s jazz from that special is one of the most recognizable sounds of the season to this day.

1. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964): There is absolutely no arguing that this is the greatest Christmas special of all time. I own a copy of this DVD and STILL to this very day watch it when it’s on TV. This is THE special I remember most when seeing the CBS “Special Presentation” intro. The only show that has run consistently every year on that channel since 1964.

Rudolph tells the story of a misfit reindeer with a light-bulb nose who teams up with an elf who’d rather be a dentist. Along the way they encounter a bunch of misfit toys that children no longer care for. And ironically, Santa somehow seems to have forgotten about them too.

 

I loved the music and characters but, like all Rankin Bass specials do – I was petrified of the Bumble snow monster until the very end.

Finally, and although technically not “Christmas”, I need to give an honorable mention out to Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976). If for nothing else than the picture below.

As December begins and the hustle and bustle gets into full gear I hope you’ll take the time to watch some of these specials again and make more memories. Also, let me know what your Christmas Special list would look like.

Happy Holidays to all!

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