The story behind the Christian tradition of Christmas – that is the birth of Christ – was etched into my memory decades ago. But for children, while Jesus may be the reason for the season, Christmas is all about family gatherings, taking trips to visit grandparents and of course, trying to keep their noses clean so that they remain on Santa’s “nice list.”
However, after reaching the age during which St. Nicholas lost his hold over me and my every waking thought, there were other elements of the season that grew in both importance and relevance, most notably the sights, the sounds and the smells of Christmas.
When I was a little boy, our family only had one color TV in the house – believe it or not. It was a very heavy RCA television that Daddy had placed in the living room.
I guess we were lucky to have what was then a technological wonder since some of our relatives, in their exuberance to experience “color TV,” had taken their black and white components and placed strips of crepe paper across the screen for a unique “colorful encounter.” Indeed, necessity is the mother of invention.
With my mother and most of my aunts being elementary school teachers, and with Momma having an unquenchable love for music and laughter, it was a foregone conclusion that when any of the Christmas movies were being shown, we’d all converge in front of the television. I would be warm and cozy in my pajamas that featured “the feet” sewn in since I could never seem to keep up with both of my slippers.
My parents would sip on their specially-concocted “eggnog cocktails” while I nibbled on Christmas cookies, sweet potato pie and homemade vanilla ice cream.
But it was the movies that made those evenings with my parents and my older sister so unforgettable. More than 50 years later, I still remember every lyric, every phrase uttered by the characters – even most of the song-and-dance routines which were foundational to my favorite Christmas movies.
My earliest memories are of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” who learns that being different should not be viewed as something negative. We all have our unique gifts and talents. The point is embracing them and discovering how they can contribute to the larger community. I still know all of the words to those Burl Ives classics.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” also had several messages – lessons for both children and adults. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me shout. And with its beautiful music, it even gave me inspiration. After all, it was Schroeder playing versions of “Jingle Bells” and then Beethoven who inspired me to begin playing the piano.
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” always seemed rather silly to me. But after becoming a father and later a grandfather, I grew to understand the multiplicity of teachable moments that can be found and shared in this holiday classic. And by the way, just where did Cindy Lou Who and the rest of the Who people come from, anyway? And were there any Who people of color? That’s a thought I’ve had in recent years.
A few films have become almost as important to me as prayer in the morning, quiet time for reflection after dinner and daily walks to the park with my two beloved girls, my boxer Baby Girl and the latest edition – a tiny Dachshund who we found abandoned in the park a few months ago who I’ve named Duchess.
First, there’s the 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol.” All other versions pale in comparison to this one which I prefer seeing in its original black and white. Who needs Ted Turner’s “colorized” version? Some things are best if they remain as they were. This was my mom’s favorite holiday movie – this and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” They remind me of times when life was full of promise, when the world appeared to be a place filled with magic where all of my dreams could come true. After all, if Ebenezer Scrooge could change and if Tiny Tim’s future could be recast for the better, than certainly all things were possible.
For laughs, there are two movies that stand out: “Home Alone” and “A Christmas Story.” Ironically, as a youth, the absence of little brown boys who looked like me in either of the films never bothered me. I’ve since concluded that if you understand the true meaning of Christmas, you understand that it’s not about the external trappings which we often allow to hold us back. It’s a spiritual encounter.
Finally, there’s Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington who bring Black culture to the 1947 version of “The Bishop’s Wife” in roles originally portrayed by Loretta Young and the debonair Cary Grant – this time in “The Preacher’s Wife.” Whitney sang like she never sang before. And who could resist Denzel back in the day? Whitney should have gotten an Oscar just for being able to say, ‘No.”
Lest I forget, a new classic, just released this year, has joined my list: the Netflix original, “Jingle Jangle.” I take my hat off to John Legend who co-wrote the songs and served among the team of producers. It’s a beautifully written work with dancing, singing and powerful messages – replete with moments that will make you laugh and cry. Best of all, the young children featured in the movie are talented far beyond their years – and they look like my little bronze-colored grandson.
These are a few of my favorite things. What are some of yours?