Tag Archives: christmas

Have an Un-Expected Cinematic Christmas

17 Dec

Within a week, you will have watched multiple showings of It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Classic (with Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara) and Light (with Mara Wood and Elizabeth Perkins), and binge-watched a 24 hour showing of The Christmas Story, the ultimate and irreverent holiday movie for people who want to “shoot your eye out” for Christmas.  Now, me, I like to mix up my holiday movies with new and old, classic and irreverent and with a side trip to the multiplex for whatever is opening on Christmas Day for those without family commitments.  If you need a stack of films with just a soupcon of Christmas cheer or a full out jolly holiday flick, consider some of this assortment of titles:

The Christmas Carol has many cinematic incarnations.  Here are three that you may not have seen, that are personal favorites of mine:

a christmas carol kelsey grammar

The Christmas Carol with music by Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens.  TV’s Kelsey Grammer plays the unrepentant Ebeneezer Scrooge with some Broadway-style music that you will love.   My two favorites: “A Place Called Home”, sung by Jennifer Love Hewitt , and Ruthie Henshall’s “God bless us Everyone” are among the prettiest Christmas songs that you’ve probably never heard.  The only problem with this movie is that it was made for TV and retains the cuts/edits for commercial placement.


Scrooge with music by Leslie Bricusse.  In this musical version, Albert Finney plays miserly Scrooge.  The music by Bricusse (who also wrote the music for the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) includes one production number that later showed up, in of all things, a Volkswagen commercial.  The song called “Thank You Very Much” is a guaranteed earworm (one of those songs that will stick in your head long after the holiday).  Albert Finney manages to be sprightly as Scrooge, if such a thing is possible.  Scrooge’s suggestion that Bob Cratchett stuff a duck into a very large turkey made me think of only one thing: turkducken!


Scrooged with Bill Murray as Ebeneezer-ish Frank Cross is memorable for all the wrong reasons.  My two favorite scenes are Bill Murray trying to staple antlers on a mouse for a TV musical with Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim, and the always hilarious Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present makes it astoundingly funny.

auntie mame

Moving away from Ebeneezer and company, you must stop by Beekman Place, NYC, for a visit with the ever ebullient Auntie Mame.  If you have never watched this movie with the wonderful Rosalind Russell as Mame Dennis, you must see it at least once or, to quote Mame, you simply haven’t lived. Based on a novel by Patrick Dennis, the movie follows Mame’s escapades from her adoption of her orphaned nephew through his near marriage to the wrong person.  The Christmas tie-in is the Depression year when Mame gets fired from a job selling toys in a department store because she only knows how to write up credit receipts.  Yes, the musical version of this story (Mame, with Lucille Ball), was a great hit and had a catchy Jerry Herman score, but nothing – nothing – beats Rosalind Russell uttering the best known line: “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.  Live!”

little women 1933

Little Women in any of its three versions: Katherine Hepburn as a most believable Jo March, June Allyson as a mid-twentieth century technicolor Jo March (strange casting), or the most recent and true-to-the-book Winona Ryder version with Susan Sarandon as a wise Marmie. The March sisters conveying the true spirit of Christmas by selling back their treasured presents to buy their mother a pair of slippers, and giving their Christmas breakfast to the poor Hummel family is definitely worthy of the season.

nighmare before christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas raises the eternal question, is this a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie?  The answer is it’s either one and rewatching Tim Burton’s brilliant animation of how the king of Halloweentown, Jack Skellington, simply doesn’t get Christmas.  However, once he discovers the holiday, he turns his efforts to recruiting the denizens of Halloweentown to celebrate the other holiday.


The Apartment directed by Billy Wilder is one of my top ten favorite movies of all time.  It starts at a rowdy, Mad Men style Christmas office party and ends with Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine planning their future Christmases, together.  In between is the stylish humor and pathos that only Wilder was able to combine in a film.  One of the best closing lines: “Cut the cards and deal.”

meet me in st louis

Meet Me In Saint Louis with Judy Garland is a truly classic musical and features the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with Garland’s heart-tearing vibrato.  This is the story of the Smith family in the year before the St. Louis Exposition, a celebration of the greatness of the early twentieth century city.  Esther Smith (Garland) falls in love with “the boy next door,” Tom Drake just in time for her father to be offered a job in New York.  Playing Garland’s little sister, Tootie, is Margaret O’Brien, a great child star of the 1940s and early 1950s, whose specialty was crying on command.  The important trivia related to this movie is that Garland married the director, Vincent Minnelli, and then gave birth to their daughter, Liza, who made her first screen appearance in another musical, In the Good Old Summertime, at the age of one year.


Before the newest version of Annie hits the screen, next week, with Q. Wallis playing the orphan (only this time with eyes and no red hair), go back to the original and hear what the Charles Strouse score sounds like without a hip-hop update.  Aileen Quinn is the redheaded moppet;  Albert Finney, in another musical treasure, is the bald but benevolent Daddy Warbucks; and Carol Burnett is terrific as Miss Hannigan.  There was a later, TV version of the show with Alicia Morton as the moppet, Victor Garber as Daddy Warbucks, and Kathy Bates as Miss Hannigan.  Trivia for this made-for-TV movie: “Star to Be” (a sort of cameo part) is played by Andrea McArdle who belted out “Tomorrow” as Annie in the original Broadway production.

These and so many more Christmas-themed movies will get you through the post-holiday letdown with music, dance, and some-off-the-wall holiday interpretations, and all available through BCCLS libraries.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

The True Spirit of the Holidays

26 Nov

It’s time once again for the December Dilemma when children throughout America prepare for the loot bestowed on them in the name of Santa Claus or Judah Macabee, depending on their religious persuasion. Our children live in a “gimme” culture, and this year many retail Grinches are competing to see who can be the most mercenary by opening their stores before the last turkey leg vanishes from the Thanksgiving platter.

holiday image

How do we teach children the real spirit of the holidays: the gifts of light, love, and sharing bounty rather than the newest technological toy which has been their focus for weeks?

A friend of mine in Florida used to dress as St. Nicholas, not as the red-clad “Coca Cola Santa Claus,” he said, but rather as the Santa garbed in green velvet and a head wreath. He shared the story of the long ago Greek priest whose mission was to leave anonymous gifts of money for poor girls who needed a dowry, which in turn started the tradition of gift-giving at the holiday.

Hanukkah was a minor Jewish holiday until it came to America with European Jewish immigrants. The holiday is actually the celebration of a military victory in the second century BCE. Ironically, the victory by the Maccabees preserved the separateness of the Jewish people while, in this country, the holiday has melded into the commercial chaos of December with eight days of presents to prove that Jews are just as good as their neighbors. Many families, to preserve some sanity in the holiday, have established a ritual of giving charity (tzedakah or “justice”) during Hanukkah to reinforce the message of sharing with less fortunate people.

There are many books that teach the message of giving, sharing, and generosity that can help children understand that giving is a two way street. Here are just a few, primarily non-sectarian books, to help your child understand the underlying message of the holiday season:

Shoebox Sam, by Mary Brigid Barrett.

shoebox sam











Shoebox Sam is a shoe repairman who makes old shoes new again. However, on Saturdays, with the help of Della and Jesse, he repairs shoes for the feet of poor people who need help. When a customer unearths a particularly special pair of shoes, Della and Jesse see Sam promote the greatest charity of all.

14 Cows for America, by Carmen Agra Deedy.









Based on a true story, this book tells the tale of Naiyameh who was visiting New York City on 9/11/2001. Deeply troubled by the events of that day, he returned to his Masai tribesmen with stories of toppled buildings and a great city brought to its knees. The people of his tribe symbolically blessed fourteen cattle, representing much of the tribe’s wealth, and offered them for the healing of New York and its people.

Stone Soup, by Heather Forest.










This is my favorite version of a traditional folk tale about travelers who are turned away without food from the doors of villagers. Through subtle trickery, the travelers promise the villagers a delicious soup made only with a stone, but also with the contributions of food from everyone in the village. While Marcia Brown’s version of the story is more familiar, storyteller Heather Forest’s book reads particularly well because of the rhythms of the story.

How Dalia Put a Big Yellow Comforter Inside a Tiny Blue Box, by Linda Heller.

how dalia








Dalia shares her knowledge of charity with her brother, Yossi, as they save their change in a traditional tzedakah box to donate to a worthy cause.

One Hen, by Kate Smith Milway.

one hen








An Ashanti boy takes advantage of a microlending program to buy a hen. When he pays back the loan, the money is borrowed by other families to buy animals and start businesses of their own. Eventually, the boy’s initial investment in the hen results in a poultry farm that supports his family.

The Lemonade Ripple, by Paul Reichert.








Caroline sets up a lemonade stand on the street to help raise money for her friend’s wheelchair. Other children learn from her example and soon a “ripple effect” occurs, with many people engaging in philanthropic acts to help others in the community.

My Heart Will Not Sit Down, by Mara Rockliff.









During the Great Depression, a young boy in Cameroon hears that his teacher’s “village,” New York City, is in great financial trouble and its people starving. The boy vows to raise money to help people across the seas in America.

Give a Goat, by Jan West Schrock.










A class of fifth graders raise money to give a goat to a girl in Uganda after reading a book about how a goat will benefit an impoverished African family. This true story encourages children to raise money for organizations like Heifer International which provides farm animals to families around the world to help them survive.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, by Dr. Seuss.









The now classic tale of the nasty old Grinch with the miniaturized heart who reforms his stinginess in time to bestow Christmas gifts on the Whos of Whovilles. Combine this with one of the other books about real philanthropy for a total message of the holiday spirit.

To all of you, the happiest of holidays no matter what you celebrate, and an expansiveness of heart that will radiate the glow of the season wherever you go and however you celebrate.

-Written by Lois Rubin Gross, Senior Children’s Librarian

%d bloggers like this: