Sunday, November 29, 2009
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of our nation’s most beloved poets, in addition to the many poems that have become engrained in our country’s conscience, also gave us the words to one of our most beloved Christmas carols. Longfellow’s poem, Christmas Bells was written in December of 1863, during not only one of the darkest periods of Longfellow’s life, but that of the nation as well; The Civil War. As with many literary works, the inspiration and circumstances which led to Longfellow taking up the pen began sometime before that dark, yet in the end, hopeful, December…
Longfellow married Frances Appleton on July 13th 1843, and they began to raise their family in Cambridge, Massachusetts. First came a son, Charles in 1844. Then over the years the Longfellows added four more children to their growing family: Ernest, Alice, Edith, and Allegra. In 1861, the Civil War had begun, and tragedy struck the Longfellow household. Frances was fatally burned in the library of their house in July of 1861. Henry was dumbstruck with grief. He has his children, but the joy was out of his life. When the holidays arrived, Longfellow wrote: “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” The following year when Christmas arrived, he wrote in his journal: “A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me.”
The war continued to cast a grim pallor upon families in the North and the South in 1863. Charles Appleton Longfellow was now 17 and eager to make his mark by joining the military. His father disapproved, but Charles ran away from home and petitioned Captain W.H. McCartney, commanding Battery A of the 1st Massachusetts Artillery to enlist. Captain McCartney, familiar with Charles and his family, wrote to get his permission. By this time, perhaps knowing Charles wouldn’t give in, Henry reluctantly agreed.
Charles turned out to be quite adept as a soldier, and a skilled leader. In fact, when Henry thought he might help his son by seeking the aid of some famous friends, including a US Senator, to secure a commission, he was pleased to learn Charles had earned his commission and advancement on his own merits. Now a Second Lieutenant, Charles saw action at Chancellorsville, Culpepper and many other skirmishes. In November, during the New Hope Church campaign in Virginia, Charles was shot in the left shoulder. The bullet nicked his spine and exited his right shoulder, barely missing paralyzing him. Charles was taken in with the other wounded into the church. After the battle, Charles was sent with other wounded back to Washington DC.
On December 1st, Henry received word about Charles and rushed to Washington DC, and then brought Charles back to Cambridge to recover. It has barely been two years since the loss of his wife, the loss of his first born son seemed to be too much to comptemplate. But his son had survived thus far, and was recuperating. In the midst of still grieving for his wife, Longfellow found hope anew in the survival and return of his son to his home. It was during that time in December of 1863, while nursing his son back to health, Longfellow penned the words to the poem, Christmas Bells:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!
Charles was unable to recover sufficiently to rejoin his unit, but did survive his wounds. He was discharged from the Union Army in 1864. Longfellow’s poem not only expresses his previous despair, but then it also bears witness of his newfound hope. The Bells that often rang out during the holidays had for two years did nothing but remind him of loss, and did nothing to lift his spirits. And, as he wrote in several stanzas, the War also paralleled his feelings of despair- that the Bells did nothing but mock those who had lost – that there was no chance for that old hominy of Peace on Earth Good Will to Men. And yet, Longfellow was able to find hope, through the survival of his son, and realized that God did not sleep- despite the war, the destruction and the loss. God was not dead, and that the Bells seemed to ring louder in the war- to bring more hope to mankind- that one day “The Wrong shall fail/ The Right prevail/ With peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Eventually Longfellow’s poem was set to music, initially in 1872 by John Baptiste Calkin, which provided the traditionally known hymn. It has been rearranged several more times, but the best known of these is the famous arrangement by Johnny Marks, who also wrote Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Marks’ arrangement seems to be the more popular modern version as it has been recorded by many artists from Bing Crosby Kate Smith and Frank Sinatra to Sarah McLachlan and Johnny Cash. It’s popularity as a Christmas Carol is only matched by its profound attachment to our National heritage and culture.
The stanzas specifically referring to the War were removed for the music arrangements and some of the lines were rearranged, but the message of newfound hope and faith in God, and a desire for goodwill towards all men, even in the midst of our darkest days, still comes through. Longfellow’s story of tragedy and loss, and newfound hope is one that should resonate with anyone who has experienced loss, or has been lost, and question the purpose of their lives or how anyone could wish another Merry Christmas. Stop for a moment and look for the hope and listen for the faint peels of the Bells as they try hard to ring out their message to all. If we stop looking, we will never find it. But if we recognize it when it brought to us, like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, we can also realize that God is not dead, nor doth he sleep, and that hope is there and His arm is outstretched to us. And more than anything else, perhaps we need to realize that peace on earth, goodwill towards men starts with us. Goodwill doesn’t stop and start with Government, leaders, Actors, Celebrities or anyone else. It’s everyone’s own responsibility. We need to find that peace within us first, and then impart that peace, in the form of goodwill, towards all others. It is my fondest wish that we will all remember Longfellow’s story and his words from the carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. For the true message of the carol is to share with others- I also was once without hope, but I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day- and I heard the message of hope and peace – for all. And it filled my heart.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep/
God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I have lamented in the past how we often seem so in a rush to get to Christmas, that we often overlook or zoom past Thanksgiving. I still believe that is the case in some ways- especially in the commerce sector. However I received a recent email from a friend- a Shelf Foreign Correspondent (did I mention he lives in Northern California?) that offers another point of view that still ties into what Thanksgiving is all about. I wanted to share that with all of you as part of our annual Thanksgiving message:
"I wanted to respond to your Thanksgiving post (as I sit here listening to my favorite Christmas album). I completely agree with folks who decry the over-commercialization of the holidays in general, and I therefore understand the frustration with the rush to the big money-making holidays. But for me, Thanksgiving and Christmas are inseparably intertwined.
My fondest Thanksgiving and Christmas memories are both based on the same thing: a warm heart, and a loving family. While the presents at Christmas were great as a kid, the things I remember most fondly were the dinners, both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The whole big family (10 of us, before I left home), and often a large parcel of single friends, other families, and neighbors would sit down together for massive meals. And while the food was good, it was more the experience of it that warms my heart. We would sit and eat slowly, dining as much on conversation as on the food prepared. It happened in rounds; we would chat while the first bit settled, and then go back for more. When we got to full, we took a break for a few hours, and then began the pie course. I remember just sitting and loving the sound of the family talking, the stories told, and the feeling of people enjoying one another's company. It was different from regular dinners. The fancy china was broken out. It was special. And the warmth of the gathered family, occurring on both of these days, both based in gratitude towards the gifts of God, and most supremely the gift of His Son.
We have to fight the urge to break out Christmas music before Halloween every year in our house. This year, I was the most disciplined in this regard. I know that we are perhaps on the extreme end of things. But the love of family and gratitude toward God are unifying holiday themes for me, and I like to think of Thanksgiving and Christmas as the two anchors of the time of year where these things are perhaps closest in our hearts and minds. I don't think Thanksgiving is a merely a prelude to Christmas. I just think that Thanksgiving and Christmas are co-captains of the best season of the year."
Thanks Matt for the message. And to all of you- no matter where you may be, with family or unable to be with them, no matter whether religious or not- remember that Thanksgiving is primarily about families, memories and making new ones. To all of you- have a Happy Thanksgiving.
But Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that's what they mean by 'Thanksgiving,' Charlie Brown.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
You may already know that Turner Classic Movies is hosting their first annual TCM Classic Film Festival April of 2010 in Hollywood, CA. They will be presenting more than 50 classic films, and hosted by Robert Osborne- with many talks and special guests such as Leonard Maltin, Peter Bogdanovich, and Douglas Trumbull. News comes today that there will be several specials screenings. From the news release:
"spectacular events will include the world premiere of a newly restored edition of George Cukor’s music-filled 1954 drama A Star is Born; the North American premiere of a restored version of Fritz Lang’s 1927 science-fiction silent masterpiece Metropolis; and a 50th anniversary screening of the influential French classic Breathless, the film that launched Jean-Luc Godard’s career."
Especially note worthy is the first North American screening of the restored version of Lang's Metropolis. Last year a a 16mm negative was discovered in Buenos Aires that included an additional 30 minutes of footage that hasn't been seen since the films 1927 premiere in Berlin. A live orchestra will providing the music for the silent film classic. Hopefully news and details of a DVD release won't be too far behind.
Information on tickets, passes and the Festival, for anyone lucky enough to be out there, can be found at the Festival website.
For those of you who have been keeping up with the Universal library on made to order DVD through TCM archives collection, you may know that a film fans have been eagerly hoping will make it to DVD will debut on the TCM/Universal collection starting Friday Nov. 20th. Remember the Night, starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck is the story of a prosecutor (MacMurray) who finds himself falling in love with a shoplifter (Stanwyck) during a court recess at Christmas time. The rarely seen Christmas film will not only soon be available to fans on DVD, but it also is one of the headliners for TCM's Christmas movies throughout the month of December. Thursdays in December (including Christmas Eve, natch) will feature lineups of beloved holiday classics. Here is a listing of the Christmas film line-up that winds up with a special Sherlock Holmes marathon on Christmas Day (what TCM is unashamedly calling Holmes for the Holidays)
(a complete month schedule can be found on TCM.com)
The following is a complete lineup of TCM’s Thursday primetime and Christmas Day schedule:
Thursday, Dec. 3
8 p.m. – A Christmas Carol (1938), starring Reginald Owen and Gene Lockhart.
9:15 p.m. – Little Women (1949), starring June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh and Margaret O’Brien.
11:30 p.m. – Tenth Avenue Angel (1948), starring Margaret O’Brien and Angela Lansbury.
1 a.m. – 3 Godfathers (1948), starring John Wayne, Pedro Armindáriz, Harry Carey Jr. and Ward Bond.
3 a.m. – Hell’s Heroes (1930), starring Charles Bickford and Raymond Hatton.
4:30 a.m. – Bush Christmas (1947), starring John Fernside and Chips Rafferty.
Thursday, Dec. 10
8 p.m. – It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947), starring Don DeFore, Ann Harding and Gale Storm. 10 p.m. – Fitzwilly (1967), starring Dick Van Dyke, Barbara Feldon and Edith Evans.
Midnight – Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), starring Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Lewis Stone.
2 a.m. – Susan Slept Here (1954), staring Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds and Anne Francis.
4 a.m. – Little Women (1933), starring Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas and Frances Dee.
Thursday, Dec. 17
8 p.m. – Christmas in Connecticut (1945), starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet.
10 p.m. – Holiday Affair (1950), starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh.
11:30 p.m. – Never Say Goodbye (1946), starring Errol Flynn and Eleanor Parker.
1:30 a.m. – Period of Adjustment (1962), starring Tony Franciosa, Jane Fonda and Jim Hutton.
3:30 a.m. – Beyond Tomorrow (1940), starring Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith and Maria Ouspenskaya.
Thursday, Dec. 24 – Robert Osborne’s Christmas Picks
8 p.m. – Remember the Night (1940), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray.
9:45 p.m. – Christmas in July (1940), starring Dick Powell and Ellen Drew.
11 p.m. – Chicken Every Sunday (1948), starring Dan Dailey and Celeste Holme.
1 a.m. – Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), starring Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Lucille Bremer and Mary Astor.
3 a.m. – In the Good Old Summertime (1949), starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson.
5 a.m. – The Shop Around the Corner (1940), starring Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart and Frank Morgan.
Friday, Dec. 25
7 a.m. – Little Women (1933), starring Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas and Frances Dee.
9 a.m. – A Christmas Carol (1938), starring Reginald Owen and Gene Lockhart.
10:15 a.m. – The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), starring Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan and Monty Woolley.
12:15 p.m. – Christmas in Connecticut (1945), starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet.
2:15 p.m. – Little Women (1949), starring June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh and Margaret O’Brien.
4:30 p.m. – Holiday Affair (1950), starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh.
6 p.m. – Susan Slept Here (1954), starring Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds and Anne Francis.
Friday, Dec. 25 – Holmes for the Holidays
8 p.m. – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Richard Greene and Wendy Barrie.
9:30 p.m. – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce and Ida Lupino.
11 p.m. – The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), starring Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely and Genevieve Page.
1:15 a.m. – Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour (1931), starring Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming and Jane Welsh.
2:30 a.m. – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Andre Morell and Maria Landi.
4 a.m. – A Study in Terror (1965), starring John Neville, Donald Houston, Georgia Brown and Anthony Quayle.
You can stay tuned to the Shelf for a upcoming review of the first wave of the Universal/TCM Archives set: Horror Cult Classics, and of Remember the Night!
From some of our blogging neighbors:
Laura, our friend of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings fame, reports on a recent interview with Warner Home Video's George Feltenstein and the state of the Warner Archives program. Feltenstein offers that Warners will be making improvements to the DVD on demand library and program, perhaps, as Laura Mused, because of the newly created Universal/TCM Archives DVD on demand program. If so, that is a great thing- and may lead to other studios presenting their own form of DVD on Demand (Fox- I keep staring at you!) And if one were to compare- the Universal/TCM effort hands down is leading out of the gate in terms of print quality, extras an everything fans have come to expect from DVDs. Warners has the vast selection and titles- we just want you to up the game a bit. And George, you are a Classic Film Fan's hero- keep bringing your skill and knowledge to bear on the WB Archives and up the quality. Please read Laura's post - it's very informative and makes some dead-on observations - and has a link to the interview.
The inimitable Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear takes a look at those childhood heroes of mine, Rocky and Bullwinkle, who turn 50 years young today!
Shelf favorite, and constant object of adoration, the Self-Styled Siren as demonstrated why we admire her so much- she has been able to achieve every classic film fan's dream and programmed a film series for Turner Classic Movies. In January of 2010, TCM will present Shadows of Russia: a month long look at the many images of Russia and Communism through the lens of Hollywood. How it all came about is up on her site (and reading her recent take on rewatching The Bicycle Thief is well worth your time as well. )
Finally- several bloggers have noted and posted on the 100th anniversary of wonderful actor Robert Ryan, and deservedly so- in addition to being fantastic in so many noirs, his subtle ability to make any character breathe life hard is evident in so many other roles. Some of the best tributes read came from another Shelf favorite and regular read, The Classic Maiden and the bloggers over at TCM's Movie Morlocks.
That's all for today Shelfers- please stay tuned for more news and reviews and of course, more Thanksgiving 2009 celebration!
Oh my, yes. My life is just one long round of whoopee.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Shelfers, in the midst of your traveling and cooking or cleaning for the holidays, we hope that you will take the time to bow your head and take a moment of silence for an endangered species: Thanksgivingus animatis specialus. We will not review the material from our previous class, so if you need to- you may catch up later.
As we discussed previously, in the past decade the animated holiday special has all but disappeared from Network prime time television. This would be a real tragedy if not for concurring events and technology, namely cable and satellite television and DVDs. Walk into any Best Buy or Circuit City, etc. and you will see many holiday DVDs; movies and animated shows alike. In recent years, the networks have sniffed the ad revenue in the air again and perhaps have realized that there is indeed something to running those specials. In fact, ABC has taken a bit of a lead in running the classics. ABC secured the rights to air the Peanuts holiday specials, taking them from CBS, the long time champ of the holiday special. Peanuts ruled CBS for 35 years. What kid doesn't remember the CBS eye logo spinning around with the dramatic music surging underneath telling us another holiday special was next?
CBS was smarting when ABC took the rug out from under them. The specials were getting perfunctory attention at CBS- ABC took the initiative and invested advertising and commercials in the series and it looks like it has paid off. At first they claimed that ratings was not a big deal; the network claimed at the time that they "won't miss the ratings. They were pretty modest. It's a matter of tradition."
That was then. Now the ratings have turned around to ABC's favor in regard to their investment. Now they are taking another step in the right direction. This year ABC is also running a longtime fan favorite Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. This is perhaps the first time in many years it has been run in primetime on a major network. ABC is also running two Charlie Brown Christmas specials (there are actually three) and The Grinch as well. CBS still has the rights to several Rankin Bass specials, Rudolph and several Frosty specials and will be airing those (Rudolph runs twice!). For many years the original Charlie Brown, Rudolph, and Frosty were the only specials you saw on network television- and they were rarely aired on the weekend. You had to go to cable to see anything else. That is beginning to change. The original fans of these shows are now adults and have or are starting to have kids of their own. They want to share these (and see them also) with their own children. Something that became tradition, then went away, seems to be making a comeback - at least where Christmas is concerned.
What does this mean for Thanksgiving specials? Well, not much- at least not in the present. The truth is that Thanksgiving specials were never in great abundance. Thanksgiving day has been the official start of Christmas programming for television right after the Macy's parade has gone off the air. I mean if Macy's winds up with Santa Claus as a finale- who are the networks to delay the inevitable. ABC, in a bold move (students, please not the light air of sarcasm in this statement) is airing A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on the night of Thanksgiving. This year that seems to be it. However, in the 70s and 80s in the weeks before Thanksgiving, families were able to sit down in front of a least a couple of animated Thanksgiving specials. Very few of them retained a special place as a must see special- but there have been more than you think. Today, in honor of this most rare of species we will list out the Thanksgiving animated specials that have appeared over the years, many which have been largely forgotten (some deservedly so). A few deserve to be remembered and seen still. Perhaps you will enjoy this trip down memory lane. Take the time to watch the specials when they air, and perhaps the trend that is returning, starting with Christmas, will spill over to Thanksgiving as well.
Not counting the occasional Saturday morning holiday themed special, very few Thanksgiving specials appeared in prime time. Here are a few that only appeared a few times.
The Mouse and the Mayflower (Rankin Bass, 1968)
If you thought the masters of the holiday special missed Thanksgiving, you are wrong. Rankin Bass hit Thanksgiving hard like your Aunt Mabel's Turkey Tofu Loaf. This cell animated adventure is about a Mouse that takes a trip along with the pilgrims aboard the Mayflower and ends up saving the ship and eventually Thanksgiving. Natch. Rankin Bassaficionadoss (including yours truly) eagerly await the DVD release of this classic. You can find it only used on VHS if you can't wait.
The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't (Hanna Barbara, 1972) This was a fairly saccharine-sweet adventure style cartoon. A young settler befriends a young Indian around the time of the first Thanksgiving. Some forest animals of the Snow White variety hang out with them, until they are dangerously cornered by a bear. Who will save the day? I actually don't remember this from childhood, but from having seen it on Cartoon Network about seven years ago.
Bugs Bunny Thanksgiving Diet (Warner Brothers, 1979) Bugs Bunny is the head of a diet clinic helping out other Looney Tunes characters with food related problems. Each problem transitions into a classic cartoon with a food theme. This one is actually funny and the new animation does a better job of leading into older segments. Although not on prime time anymore, you can probably find this on VHS at a rental store or online.
Daffy Duck's Thanks For Giving (Warner Brothers, 1980)
This is really only a Thanksgiving special in name only. Classic Daffy Duck shorts are joined by new animated transitions which have Daffy trying to get "J.L" to produce a new Daffy Duck film adventure: "Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24th 1/2 Century."
(Paramount, 1988) While is not necessarily a "Thanksgiving special" it is an enjoyable and fairly informative look at the story of the meeting of the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Part of the "This is America" series, this special is available as a second feature on the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving DVD.
Garfield's Thanksgiving (Fox, 1988)
A great classic! Garfield's vet tells Jon that Garfield must go on a diet, right at Thanksgiving. Jon is able to convince the lady vet to come over for Thanksgiving. When she comes over, she takes pity on ol' Garfield and tells him he can take a break from the diet for the special diet. Jon almost ruins dinner, but luckily it's his Harley- riding Grandma to the rescue. This one is readily available on the Garfield Holiday Celebrations DVD.
And of course perennialnnel classic:
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (Paramont, 1973)
What else can we say, other than perhaps no other special is able to top it. Peppermint Patty invites herself, Franklin, and Marcie over to Chuck's for Thanksgiving. One problem - Charlie Brown and Sally are headed to Grandma's for dinner and aren't cooking. Linus recommends that perhaps they have two dinners: one for the gang early and then the Browns can head to Grandma's. Snoopy handles cooking duties which includes Jelly Beans, toast, popcorn, pretzels and sundaes. Peppermint Patty gets pretty ticked and freaks out. Marcie reminds her that she invited herself over and PP apologizes to Chuck. Then Charlie Brown does what he should have done in the first place: he asks Grandma if his friends can come for dinner. When the gang heads for Grandma's condo, Snoopy and Woodstock then pull out the real Thanksgiving food that he hid for themselves. Woodstock, who apparently has no issues with cannibalism, wins the wishbone. I love this special- it's actually one of my favorite Charlie Brown specials. Also it has a very under-appreciated song: "Little Birdy." Love it. Do yourself a favor - watch it Thanksgiving night.
Well Shelfers- that's the case for Thanksgiving we think it deserves all the respect we can give it. Hopefully animated specials will continue the trend and return in abundance soon. Until then, enjoy them on DVD or cable if you can.
Friday, November 13, 2009
You will, no doubt, remember our award winning coverage of the history of animated specials and the Top Shelf picks for Halloween specials. When I say award winning, I mean that it should have won an award if there was such a thing. But let's stay on track here...
Thanksgiving is no stranger to the animated special. However, it does get short shrift as far as the amount and quality of specials. In fact, we dare say that only the Fourth of July and Labor Day fare worse. Labor Day was a goner the minute Jerry Lewis locked it in, and they realized no one care to see an animated musical about the AFL-CIO. Columbus Day doesn't count, because we all know it's not politically correct. Are there still places that celebrate that archaic holiday? I mean when will people learn that Columbus, OH is frightening place and never deserved a holiday to begin with. Just think of all the other deserving towns or cities that deserve... wait a second... I'm getting some information from the production team... Christopher who? Oh... I see. Well, that's different. Ahem.
Back to our feature.
Like the Thanksgiving animated special, the holiday itself is sort of in a bit of limbo. I know many people who enjoy Thanksgiving as one of their favorite holidays, myself included. Everything about it is pleasant, especially the older you get. I mean, once you get bumped up from the kiddy table to fill a vacancy at the "Main Table" - there's no turning back. At least until Aunt Mabel comes back next year when her rheumatism isn't so bad. Darn that Aunt Mabel.
Since Halloween folded up and left town, Christmas busted into town, without any regard for Thanksgiving, or even without calling ahead first to let us know it was on the way. In the rush to get the house ready- Thanksgiving- expected and invited- was knocking at the door. We answer the door sheepishly, knowing what needs to said. Thanksgiving, grinning from ear to ear has no clue. All we can say is, "Come on in, Thanksgiving. Good to see you. Sorry we can't visit long. You see, Christmas just blew into town and we kind of weren't expecting him this early. I'm sure you understand. Just stay and have some dinner and watch a little T.V. before Christmas gets here. Then we've got to rush, rush, rush. You know how it is. The house has to be just right."
Yeah. See what I mean. Short shrift.
Retail stores are barely putting discount signs on the Halloween candy the day before Halloween, and the Christmas candy and other holiday flash and tinsel was on the next shelf- waiting for Halloween to vacate the place like some New Yorker waiting for the tenant above them to die so they can move in to that rent controlled haven. It's fairly pathetic. The day after Halloween, I snuck down to the nearby unnamed electronics store chain and they were playing Christmas music. Freakin' Christmas music. Shelfers, I know you have been there. I know you have your own sad little experiences. It's not that Christmas isn't great. It is. We are big fans of Christmas here at The Shelf, as you will see coming in the month ahead. But all things must be enjoyed in moderation and in perspective. In fact, I would argue that without first commemorating a day of thanks, we are essentially diluting the true spirit of Christmas and the season in general. Since when did our culture stop needing to feel and recognize gratitude? Since never. Duh.
Popular culture is a wonderful thing, but it sort of has an "evil twin" side to it called over-commercialization. That used to be a very popular term back in the 60s and 70s when everyone worried about the holidays becoming too commercialized. But I've got news for ya': it's been going on for decades. It's fine in some aspects. Surely, certain holiday commercials and products occupy warm spots in our hearts. But when it is done in non-stop excess, we can't enjoy it. In fact we may resent it. And the thing is, Thanksgiving is kind of hard to commercialize, outside of food and maybe cards. It doesn't mean companies haven't tried, but in the end a day based on gratitude is a hard way to sell toys and candy. So the companies pay perfunctory tribute to Thanksgiving while they are rolling out the toys and candy and hawk decorations and advice on how to have the perfect Christmas. The T.V. and stores tell you to hurry, "time's a-wastin' "(wither Snuffy Smith?) and you have to buy this and that to have it just right. If it's not right, then no one will enjoy it! Rubbish. As it is- all this stuff puts family time in tretcherous territory. Now, don't get me wrong. Decorating, baking, etc. is wonderful for the holidays. But when you are worrying about perfection, what time do you have left for the loved ones who don't want perfect- they just want you. Truth hurts, doesn't it? If you only learn one thing today Shelfers, learn this: There can be too much of a good thing. Too much of anything leaves little room for anything else.
Remember Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory? All the kids that were abducted by Oompa Loompas and never seen again, were children in excess. All kids like candy and television, etc., but it has to be moderated by things like heart, learning, and living a good life. The true blessing of childhood is the ability of children to see truth, feel love and express them both. When we adults cram everything down their throats and indulge every single whim- we dilute that. Sometimes to the point of obliterating that. That's what the Oompa Loopmas were singing: "Who's to blame? The Mother and the Father." Didn't catch that the first time you saw it did you? Oompa Loompa, Doompety do.
Perhaps it's the feeling that holiday purchases are being forced down our throats- or perhaps it's because we feel like the things like products and perfection are getting in the way of time with family and friends; but that same thing happens to holidays. Days that were meant, like children, to express love and truth- become diluted by gross commercialization.
Therefore, today at the Shelf we are making the case for Thanksgiving. We throw the gaunlet down- we dare you to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, in full, and hold off on Christmas til next week. Sit down with your kids and enjoy some holiday cheer. Keep the Christmas stuff in the attic for now. Watch some Thanksgiving specials, bake some pumpkin pies, and heck throw in the ol' hand turkey. Enjoy Thanksgiving in it's fullness and aromas, in it's family time and goofy traditions. And be grateful that old Aunt Mabel is still around to tell you those silly stories about her rheumatism. Remember she may not be around next year. While you may be bumped up to the "Main table," we know that you look back at the kiddy table with fondness. Maybe next week once you are in the stores, hearing der Bingle croonin' about Rudolph above the din of the crowd, you will have carried a bit of the grateful spirit along with you. And then you'll thank us. Trust me, it will be worth it.
And next year, when Christmas blows into town right after Halloween skips out, tell 'em you already got company. Thanksgiving is propping it's feet up and staying a while. Tell Christmas you'll be glad to see it in December.
Later, in part II, we look at the rare species known as Thanksgivingus animatis specialus. Be here.
I went down to buy a turkey tree and all they have are things for Christmas.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Yes, I realize that it's perhaps "un-pc" to like Thanksgiving and that there are many exaggerated aspects of the "first Thanksgiving" story, etc. I don't care. I don't care. It doesn't change what is supposed to be the spirit of the holiday. Our nation has declared a "day of Thanksgiving" many times in our past- for various reasons. A national annual Thanksgiving holiday should be even more important for us today. A time to put aside our differences for a day of goodwill and reflection and gratitude is a valuable thing. We should take advantage of it and enjoy it and really be grateful for the things and freedoms we do have.
So this month we will be celebrating Thanksgiving- with fun and food and some serious reflection. You can expect Thanksgiving specials, posts on family and food, Thankgiving culture and history and other assorted Thanksgiving-y stuff.
First up today- a Thanksgiving cartoon special!
Presenting Tex Avery's Jerky Turkey. Enjoy:
Stay tuned for more Thanksgiving fun.
Psst...Hey Junior, ya wanna buy a hot Turkey?