I know a lot of people dread this time of year - the excess, the expense, the commercialism. But for me, the holiday season is the "most wonderful time of the year," hands down.
My reasons are too numerous to list, but Christmas music would be right up there. If you wonder who buys all those "Holiday Hits by the True Value Hardware Singers" CDs, that would be me. Finding the all-Christmas-music-all-the-time Internet radio station? Guilty as charged. I do subscribe to the "one holiday at a time" rule, but the day after Thanksgiving, it's all go as far as music, holiday baking and decorating are concerned.
There is one guilty pleasure I take advantage of before the holidays truly start, and that is watching Christmas movies. Whether it's "Fa-La-La-La Lifetime" or the Hallmark Channel's "Countdown to Christmas," holiday lineup, I am glued to the set for the duration, which is odd, because I don't watch a lot of television usually. I don't mean that in a snobby way; the television I do normally watch is junk, typically consisting of "Shipping Wars" and "Project Runway," though because I sew as a hobby, I delude myself that the latter can be deemed as research.
I love the classics and watch them every year - Alistair Sim in "The Christmas Carol" still gets me every time, "It's a Wonderful Life," of course, and there is no one more beautiful than Loretta Young in "The Bishop's Wife" or Rosemary Clooney singing "He done me wrong" in "White Christmas." I watch "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and "Die Hard" (hey, it's a Christmas movie) every year with my in-laws. The more recent "Scrooged," "Home Alone," and "The Santa Clause" make an appearance in early December. But I also take in more than my fair share of television's cheesiest holiday offerings with titles like "Holiday in Handcuffs" or "A Boyfriend for Christmas." If it has faux celebrities in it like Kathy Ireland, Joey Lawrence or "that guy/girl who used to be in Beverly Hills 90120," so much the better.
The plot themes, if you can call them that, can pretty much be boiled into a few basic categories. There's the mistaken identity plot, where boy/girl gets conned/handcuffed into spending Christmas with another's family and has to pretend to be the boyfriend/girlfriend of someone they can't stand. Of course, the family loves the faux girlfriend/boyfriend/felon so much it all ends in a marriage proposal.
Another well-used plot device involves the "updating" of Christmas, where Santa has broken his leg/had a heart attack/has pneumonia and a son/daughter steps in from a high-powered marketing job in Chicago or New York to help Santa update his old-fashioned workshop. Of course, this never works out and the moral of that story is "tradition triumphs over the corporate commercialization of Christmas."
Sometimes writers try to update a plot line a little too much, as in Santa's sleigh getting shot down by Homeland Security ("The Santa Incident" 2010). I spent the whole hour of that movie trying to figure out why the toy robot (not a toy, really, but a hyperengineered tracking system) kept leading the elves around the city trying to find Santa by saying "turkey, turkey" in a stunted robot voice. Turns out it was saying, "tracking, tracking." Some of these movies are better with a little egg nog.
But the best movies, the ones that really say Christmas to me, are the tearjerkers. I am not proud to say that I am a mascara-streaked mess after some of these movies. There's the one where the young single aunt gets custody of her junkie sister's kids and has no idea how to raise them, but figures it out just when the junkie sister gets custody again. Then there's the one where the townspeople travel to another state to find pumpkins in August and decorate the streets and houses for Christmas in November because the little girl with cancer isn't expected to live until the holidays. Sam Elliott's in that one, as if it weren't sad enough.
Most times, but not always, there's a happy ending. I can usually suss out the ones that aren't going to end well, and I must say I do not watch them all the way through.
It's the season of miracles, after all. If the arrogant restaurant chef can fall in love with the condescending food critic over a plate of tapenade, then all is right with my world.
Jane Nordberg can be reached at jnordberg@ mininggazette.com.