Songs to make your heart happy

It’s no secret that I love Christmas music. Heck, I just love music, period. I listen to everything from country to rap (if it has positive lyrics) to opera. Just about anything can get me singing along, tapping my toes or even dancing around the room.

I’ve been listening to Michael W. Smith’s new Christmas album since it came out several weeks ago. It features duets with country and other artists, including his longtime pal Amy Grant (and even one with her husband, Vince Gill).

I have Michael’s first Christmas album, which is 25 years old, and all three of Amy’s Christmas albums. (I totally missed Michael’s 1998 and 2007 albums. Where was I??? The only thing I can remember is that those are the years of Bruce’s two biggest Crohn’s flare-ups, including the year we got married. I guess I was a bit distracted.)

The thing I like about Michael and Amy’s Christmas albums is that they include not only traditional songs (with their own unique spin) but original or lesser-known music that makes my heart soar (orchestras, full choirs and instrument solos are plentiful). There are tender songs such as Amy’s “Breath of Heaven” and the hauntingly beautiful “Gabriel’s Oboe” (a version of this song was featured in one of my favorite movies, The Mission); Michael’s “Lux Venit” (co-written with Amy) and “Christ the Messiah,” both with choirs; and the gentle “Welcome to Our World” (both artists).

At least one album from each artist includes a song with bagpipes, which I personally love, although my dad always considered them noise (like listening to a “mashed duck”): Amy has “Highland Cathedral,” and Michael includes “A Highland Carol.” Beautiful, both.

But enough going on about Amy and Smitty. To the songs I wanted to share with you today:

The first two are from Michael’s 2014 album, “The Spirit of Christmas.” These are “lyric videos” – the only versions I could include here legally – although I do find the lyrics on screen distracting from the beauty of the music. To get the full force, close your eyes and listen to the soaring music. (Don’t worry – you’ll be able to understand the words; this isn’t Bob Dylan.) And if you want to go back and catch the lyrics visually as you listen, click and listen a second time. This particular album features mostly country singers, with the exception of Audrey Smith (Smitty’s granddaughter), Michael McDonald (the Doobie Brothers) and U2 lead singer Bono (another of my favorites), with a whispered take on “The Darkest Night.”

It’s all good!

This one, “All is Well,” features Carrie Underwood. Close those eyes and listen (after you click, of course).

And this one, “Almost There” – about Mary’s long journey to give birth to our Lord and Savior – features Amy Grant.

Switching gears a bit, I thought I’d throw in a third one, which is not a Christmas song at all, but I received a link to it (and two others by Crowder) in an email today from Capitol Christian Music Group. Called “This I Know,” it’s really good, especially if you like hillbilly music! And if you don’t, still give it a try. You don’t even have to close your eyes.

I had trouble deciding which of the three Crowder songs to share here. Seriously, I went back and forth for a few minutes before deciding to share the above video on this page. They’re all good in different ways. So if you visit YouTube, also listen to the inviting “Come as You Are” and the toe-tapping “Ain’t No Grave.” You won’t be sorry.

Finally, I’m giving a shout-out to my friend Lois over at Waxing Gibbous, who more or less inspired this little sing-a-long with her Song of the Month feature. Her latest is a song by The Martins, “This is the Promise” (also not a Christmas song), and it’s beautiful.

Which of these did you like best? Leave us a comment below.

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These boots are made for talkin’ – or ‘A Practical Girl’s Guide to Having Some Fun’

SuzysNewBoots12-13-14I’ve lived in Arkansas umpteen years and never had a pair of cowboy boots – never even tried on a pair, never really wanted any. But now I have a pair, y’all! (You’ll have to keep reading to find out which ones I chose.)

Why the turnaround? For one thing, cowboy boots have become quite a fashion item in the past couple of years, and I’ve seen some really cute boots lately – the variety of designs has really exploded. Some of my blogger friends got free pairs a couple of years ago by promoting a particular Arkansas-based retailer with a giveaway on their blogs, but even then I wasn’t that interested, except that I liked the idea of helping a local business.

Given enough time, however, I have been known to come around and get on a particular fashion bandwagon. (Remember stonewashed jeans in the 1980s? It took me years to own a pair [why would you want to buy something brand new that looks worn out?]. Platform shoes? A couple of years.) Often, by the time I’ve come around the trendy item is no longer “the” thing to wear. I just don’t want to be known as someone who does something just because everyone else is.

But cowboy boots are different. Cowboy boots, which started as more function than fashion, have been around for ages. Click here for a bit of boot history, which even mentions red boots! (Yeah, leave it to me to turn a happy Christmas tale into a history lesson about boots and those lovable Huns.)

My dad wore cowboy boots and always considered them the most comfortable shoes he owned. I never understood that – I always thought they would be stiff and hot – but he owned several pairs in his lifetime, and since he had back problems dating to before I was born, I figured there must be something to it.

Dad died in 1997 (Dec. 23, to be exact), and cowboy boot styles have evolved quite a bit since his day. So my mind started to open just a bit on the topic of girls (this girl, in particular) wearing cowboy boots.

DSC02819In October this year, I went to my cousin Nathan’s wedding, and the entire wedding party (from the bride on down the tiny little girls in their frilly dresses and denim vests and jackets) was wearing cowboy boots. It was an outdoor wedding (sort of – the weather was cool and drizzly, so they put up a big tent), and it was kinda country. Classy country, though. Not ritzy but cozy, homey and fun. Tiny white lights, handmade quilts, homemade soups, cornbread, pies. (Someone in our party may have had two pieces of the pecan pie, but I’m not telling.)

SONY DSCI was totally caught up in the beauty and fun of that day (probably the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever had the privilege of attending), and before it was over I said to Bruce, “I know what I want for my birthday: a pair of red cowboy boots.” (To my recollection, there were no red boots in the wedding party, but I just really like red.)

My birthday was in late November (Black Friday this year), but I didn’t get the boots. (Don’t blame Bruce – this wasn’t a gift he could just surprise me with, and I’m way too practical to spend that kind of money on a birthday gift for myself.) I had more or less talked myself out of boots, mainly because of the price tag.

All my life I’ve been accused of being “too practical.” (I’m thinking of you, Southern California car salesman who tried to sell me a red Mazda Miata when I was shopping for my first post-college vehicle.)

I’m originally a California girl, and I still consider that my home state. But, really, I have two homes. I refer to myself as a CalifArkansan (don’t try to say that too fast). I’m somewhat of a city girl but do enjoy me some country music, a mess of fried catfish (that one took me years) and a good dog (or two). I’m what Donny and Marie would refer to as “a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMZCWGyk388

So I just couldn’t stop thinking about cowboy boots (specifically, red cowboy boots), and I knew this wasn’t going to be just an impulse purchase. Maybe not a practical purchase, but, hey, a girl’s gotta go off the rails every once in a while, right?

Fast forward to Saturday morning, Dec. 13. I woke up thinking I didn’t want to spend the day catching up on Quicken and other household necessities. No, reconciling bank statements would not be the order of the day. I’ve been working a lot of overtime lately, and weekends have been for catching up at home – I always feel behind. But OT = a little extra cash, right? It was time for a day off.

Cue the red-boot fantasy.

I called Mom and said, “Hey, I’ve always wanted to stop by Western Trails, but we’re always too busy getting to or from Little Rock to drop in. Wanna go?” (There was no mention of boots – only the thought of getting out and visiting a store from which I had seen some neat jewelry and cute outfits.)

Mom, who is always in favor of shaking me out of practical mode, was game. So by midday, she and I – with Bruce as our chauffeur – set out for Pleasant Plains, about 15 miles south of Batesville.

The experience couldn’t have been more fun. (And for a gal who hates to shop, that’s saying a lot.)

When we entered the store, we had to take a moment to browse the pretty silver jewelry, which is the first thing that catches your eye when you walk in. Then we checked out the clothing section for about two minutes. But that wasn’t why I came. I was a girl on a mission:

To the boots!

The sales clerk showed me a few red pairs, and a few non-red boots also caught my eye. I tried on three pairs of red, but then someone, maybe Bruce, pointed out a pair of light brown boots with red accents. Red stitching and red crosses. I really liked them, but hadn’t I come for all-red boots. Nevertheless, they were worth a try, as they were really great-looking boots. I was still wearing one red boot on the left, so I tried the brown boot on the right.

Now, here’s a thing I love about a small-town store: As I walked around in two unmatched boots, everyone in the store gave an opinion – even folks I didn’t ask!

A guy near the dressing room, where his wife was trying on clothes, pointed and said, “That one. Definitely that one.” (Not the red one.)

Eight or nine people gave their opinions, and not a single one voted for red.

When I protested to each one that I came for RED boots, several folks (including the store owner) said, “Get both!”

Ha! Don’t I wish?

So … can you guess which ones I left with?

I left wearing the brown ones with the red crosses. No, they aren’t the red boots I set out on a mission to buy, but they are beautiful boots. And my mission is much bigger than red cowboy boots.

You see, crosses have a special meaning for me.

MrSmith_imageBruce and I don’t spend a lot on Christmas gifts. We give his son cash, my mom Mary Kay (I sell it, she wears it, so she insists that’s all she needs), my brother’s family small gifts of appreciation and affection, and each other some small token of what our life together is like. Last year (or maybe year before last), our gift to one another was a $6.99 DVD of one of our favorite movies starring a favorite actor: “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with Jimmy Stewart. (Not a Christmas movie, FYI, but one with plenty of heart.)

Even though we’re from different faith backgrounds, we both understand that the meaning of Christmas is not in obtaining stuff. We give charitably throughout the year – a lot less than we would like, but nevertheless with hearts that want to help those less fortunate. And we make Christmas a time in which we keep in mind that it’s about giving rather than accumulating.

So, for me, it’s hard to justify spending $200-plus on a pair of boots that I don’t need but merely want.

Having a new pair of cowboy boots won’t give me eternal happiness. But it’s OK to have them. And the red crosses are my reminder never to take my blessings for granted. They came at a cost.

Having red crosses on my boots is a symbol of what Christ did for us. He left the privileges of heaven to become human. Messy, exhausting, hard. Humanity.

Jesus came to save us from our own messes, our self-centeredness, our difficult moments … seasons … of humanity. He came to show us what humanity really could be, even in the smallest of moments. That handful of brown-boot-voting folks in Western Trails showed me a small glimpse of what humanity was meant to be: Giving. Connecting. Family, even – if only for a few moments. I may never see most of those instant friends again, but in those few minutes in the store, they gave me their own brand of Christmas spirit.

As we remember my dad’s home-going on Dec. 23, 1997, I get more sentimental each year. I miss him. But he’s exactly where he belongs: with his Savior and King.

After we left the store Saturday, I said to Mom, “I wish my daddy could see me in my new cowboy boots – I think he’d like them.”

She agreed.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (NIV)

If you would like to know more about Jesus and His purpose for your one and only life, please contact me. You can post in the comments and I’ll follow up with you privately. Or click here.

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Friday Five: Favorite Holiday TV Shows

Normally, I read Tara’s Friday Five around 5 a.m., and I kick myself for not having one ready: There is no way I can come up with a Friday Five and post something by the end of the day. And who wants to wake up to a Friday Five on Saturday?

I’m still in AWE of Tara’s ability to get so much done; she consistently posts a Friday Five, a Weekend Update, a Marathon Training summary (she’s a half-marathon veteran but is training for her first full marathon), book reviews and all kinds of other neat stuff. I want to be her when I grow up, and we haven’t even met!

But last week’s Friday Five was an easy one for me, so I got ’er done quickly and then, because I’m a fan of the Christmas season in general (movies, songs, food, decorations, TV shows and, of course, Jesus) – and, people, I just needed a break – I decided to do my own Friday Five spinoff so I wouldn’t be caught off guard this Friday. (I’m writing this Wednesday night – so there!) Despite the fact that I’m supposed to be balancing my checkbook right now, I’m taking a writing break to have some more holiday fun. I am way overdue.

I give you my Five Favorite Holiday TV Shows, in reverse order of preference:

  1. Frosty the Snowman (1969).

FrostyTheSnowman_imageFor starters, Jimmy Durante! (Kids, ask your parents.) This popular comedian and actor had a distinctive voice, a distinctive schnoz (a big nose) and the once-mysterious parting line, “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are” at the end of his radio show. Mr. Durante narrates this tale of good (Frosty) vs. evil (the magician who tries to steal Frosty’s silk hat, which, as we all know, is “how he came to life one day”).

Then there is Frosty, himself – a happy, friendly and self-sacrificing snowman. He allows himself to melt inside a warm building to save little Karen from freezing to death. (Maybe I liked this show so much when I was a kid because Karen is my first name.) There’s the flippity-floppity bunny rabbit, Hocus Pocus (he may be the evil magician’s sidekick, but he’s really a good bunny at heart – plus he’s really good at Charades), as well as those other animated kids, whose names I do not recall.

And, even though Gene Autry and countless others have recorded this song over the decades, I can’t imagine anyone other than Jimmy Durante singing “Frosty the Snowman” during the closing credits of this happy TV special.

QUOTE: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” (Frosty)

TRIVIA from imdb: Frosty the TV show came after the song became a hit for Gene Autry, who also recorded “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

  1. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966).

GreatPumpkin_image(You thought all of these faves were going to be Christmas shows and I was using the politically correct term “holiday” instead of “Christmas,” didn’t you? Didn’t you? Ha! I threw this in to throw you off.)

So … to our plot:

Poor Linus. He thinks this will be the year he gets a visit from the Great Pumpkin. As the rest of the Peanuts gang trick-or-treats, Linus and his blue blanket wait and wait in his pumpkin patch until … well, you wouldn’t want me to spoil the ending, now, would you?

One thing I can tell you: This is classic Peanuts, with the whole gang – Charlie Brown, Lucy, Sally, Pigpen, Peppermint Patty, Schroeder, Violet and, of course, Snoopy (aka WWI Flying Ace) – joining in the festivities.

QUOTE: “Everyone tells me you are a fake, but I believe in you. P.S.: If you really are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.” (Linus)

TRIVIA from imdb: “After the special originally aired, children all over the country sent candy to Charlie Brown out of sympathy.” (All Charlie Brown had gotten during trick-or-treating was a bag of rocks.)

  1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964).

Rudolph_imageFirst, there’s Burl Ives. He plays the narrator, Sam the Snowman. Not only does Burl narrate – he sings! (I have a sing-along Burl Ives album of Disney songs from when I was a kid. It’s an LP. I still listen to it. In fact I’m listening to it now, as I write.)

And then there is the sweet, sweet story of a little reindeer with the “blinkin’ beacon” who is ostracized by all the other reindeer – except, of course, Clarice, who thinks he’s cuuuuude! But the cast of characters also includes Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable Snowmonster (aka Bumble) and Rudolph’s fellow “misfit” Hermey the elf/wannabe dentist. Lots of wonderful songs in this one, including “We are Santa’s Elves,” “I am Old Kris Kringle” and “There’s Always Tomorrow.”

QUOTES: “Didn’t I ever tell you about Bumbles? Bumbles bounce!” (Yukon Cornelius)

“How do you like that? Even among misfits you’re a misfit.” (Yukon)

“Whoever heard of a skinny Santa? Eat. Eat!” (Mrs. Claus)

“How can I eat? That silly elf song is driving me crazy!” (Santa Claus)

“She thinks I’m cuuuuude!” (Rudolph)

Wahooooo!” (Yukon Cornelius)

TRIVIA from imdb: “Why is Dolly for Sue, who is apparently a perfectly ordinary doll, living on the Island of Misfit Toys? This gripping debate raged on for decades, until official word from Rankin-Bass recently decided the issue: Dolly for Sue is a ‘misfit’ because she has psychological problems – she feels unloved.” (Oh, good grief.)

  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).

CharlieBrownChristmas_imagePretty much anything the Peanuts Gang does is OK by me. I like this one the best, though. I don’t even know where to start, so I’ll just start.

My favorite things about this special:

Linus. Especially his soliloquy, in which he tells part of the Christmas story from Luke 2 (King James Version). He stands onstage in the spotlight, accompanied by his ever-present blue blanket, and in his sweet young voice he begins, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…” Notice that when he comes to the part that says, “Fear not,” Linus lets go of his security blanket.

The scrawny little tree. Sure, Lucy and the rest of the gang make fun of Charlie Brown’s pick for a tree for their Christmas pageant, but to me the tree symbolizes Hope. No one is ever beyond the reach of God, and out of His tender love we become beautiful. Isn’t that why Jesus came – to give us hope?

The music. Ever since I got a smart phone three years ago, I’ve had as my default ring tone the song that everyone recognizes as the Charlie Brown Christmas song, called “Linus & Lucy.” Also, “Christmastime is Here” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by those sweet little voices, and “O Tannenbaum” (I actually learned the words in German in fourth grade, and I do not know the English version, “O Christmas Tree”).

Snoopy. Well, because he’s Snoopy.

QUOTE: “Gee, do they still make wooden Christmas trees?” (Linus)

TRIVIA from imdb: “[Director] Bill Melendez tried to talk Charles M. Schulz out of using Biblical references (especially Linus’ speech) in this special. Schulz reportedly won him over by saying, ‘If we don’t do it, who will?’ As it turned out, Linus’ recitation was hailed as one of the most powerful moments in the highly acclaimed special.”

The special “broke many of the rules prevalent for animated holiday specials during the 1960s: it didn’t make use of a laugh track; real children were used for the character voices instead of adult actors imitating children’s voices; and Biblical references were used to illustrate the true meaning of Christmas.”

  1. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966).

HowTheGrinchStoleChristmas_imageNo, not the Jim Carrey version. Please. (Although I’m sure it was lovely, as it was directed by the multitalented Ron Howard. But, no.)

The 1966, animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has been my favorite Christmas show for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I simply enjoyed it; I couldn’t tell you why. Now that I’m grown (but not really), I can tell you these reasons:

Dr. Seuss. I think Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was one of the most brilliant poets ever to live. I could read or listen to his books all day long. He had a sense of whimsy and fun, he was clever as the dickens, and he had a social conscience.

Boris Karloff, star of countless horror movies in the early days of film, as narrator. His deep voice is just perfect.

The music (of course). Music, even if it’s just part of the background, is a huge part of any movie or TV show. It sets the mood of any scene. In this show, the highlights, for me, are “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”; the lively music as the sled gains speed; and “Fahoo Foraze,” which the Whos sing while standing hand in hand as the story ends.

The Whos down in Whoville. Those Whos are so happy, ain’t nothin’ gonna steal their Christmas cheer. Even when the Grinch (disguised as Santy Claus) steals all their food, their presents, their tree and even the log from their fire, plus the last crumb of food that was even too small for a mouse(!) … well, you can still hear them singing joyfully for miles around. (They must have taken a cue from Buddy the Elf.)

Cindy Lou Who, in particular. She is just too stinkin’ cute, with those big, innocent blue eyes and that adorable little sticking-up ponytail.

Max the dog. Ever year when I watch this show – and I see that greedy old Grinch strap those sawed-off antlers to Max’s head and make him pull that sleigh with all the Whos’ stolen Christmas presents up that snow-covered mountain – I say out loud, “Poor Max.” Out loud. Every year. But I love the excited, tongue-hanging-out expression on Max’s face when the sleigh gains momentum as it careens down the mountain and Max jumps on, thinking he’s gonna get a free ride. He’s happy for a moment, but … poor Max.

A big heart. The Grinch starts out with a heart that’s “two sizes too small.” But who can stay a grinch while listening to all those little Whos singing their hearts out on Christmas Day, when all their presents and decorations have been stolen? No one, that’s Who!

The message that Christmas isn’t about material things.

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

QUOTE: “I got hung up getting the Grinch out of the mess. I got into a situation where I sounded like a second-rate preacher or some biblical truism. … Finally in desperation … without making any statement whatever, I showed the Grinch and the Whos together at the table, and made a pun of the Grinch carving the ‘roast beast.’ … I had gone through thousands of religious choices, and then after three months it came out like that.” (Theodor Geisel)

TRIVIA from imdb: “The lyrics to the song ‘Fahoo Foraze’ were made to imitate classical Latin. After the special aired, the studio received letters asking for a translation from people who believed them to be real Latin.”

“Dr. Seuss disputed casting Boris Karloff for fear that he would make the Grinch too scary.”

“Thurl Ravenscroft received no screen credit for his singing, an oversight Dr. Seuss attempted to rectify by sending letters to every major columnist in America identifying Ravenscroft as the singer on ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.’ He is also part of the chorus on the other two songs.”

As you can tell, I’m a sucker for a happy ending. There aren’t any sad stories on this list of holiday specials. Well, as far as I know, Linus has never seen the Great Pumpkin, so his ending could be a bit happier. But he still has hope.

And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

What are your favorite holiday TV shows?

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Friday Five: Favorite Holiday Movies

It has been an exhausting and difficult few weeks, so when I saw my blogging friend Tara’s Friday Five this morning, I knew that it was time to put my long to-do list away for a few minutes and spend some time having fun.

And, if you know me, you know that talking about Christmas movies and singing Christmas songs are my idea of having F-U-N!

(Confession: I break out my Amy Grant Christmas albums – all three of them – around July every year. I’m sure Bruce loves them just as much as I do. Right, Honey? I’m waiting for someone to challenge me to a Christmas Song Trivia Contest. I would totally win. Any takers?)

I “met” Tara of Running ‘N’ Reading when she followed me on Twitter a few months ago, and I recently realized that we probably came face to face in August when she traveled to Batesville to run the White River 4 Mile Classic (she ran; I handed out cups of water along the route). We’ve gotten to know each other a little bit through our blogs, social media and the Arkansas running community, and we share a love of good books, too. Tara posts a Friday Five every single week (I don’t know how she keeps up with all her blogging, marathon training, book reviews and what-not and also finds time for work and sleep!), and it’s not often that I get to join in, but this is my way of saying, publicly: Tara, you rock!

Here are my Favorite Holiday Movies, and stay tuned for my Favorite Christmas TV Specials. (There are so many to love, I have to separate the movies and TV shows into different categories!) But don’t expect a Favorite Holiday Songs post, because the list would go to infinity and beyond.

In no particular order (mostly because I can’t decide for sure on No. 1):

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life  (1946).

ItsAWonderfulLife_image

Even before I began working at a bank that gives back to the community in so many ways, both large and small (I personally have been a recipient of donations to my “causes” from both the corporate entity and employee support), I loved the themes in this movie: generosity, community spirit, personal accountability, angels watching our backs (“Attaboy, Clarence! Attaboy!”), love (family, spouse, friends, neighbors) esprit de’ corps, buddies (remember Ernie and Bert, the cops?) and forgiveness. Mr. Potter, eat your heart out.

And then there’s Jimmy Stewart. Could you imagine anyone else, ever, as George Bailey? If anyone ever attempts to remake this movie (I sure hope no one has), the casting director would have a heckuva time finding a replacement for the incomparable James Stewart.

  • 2. Elf (2003).

Elf_imageThe first time I saw this story of a 6-foot-3 human who was raised by elves, I went to the theater thinking it was going to be dumb but I decided to give it a try. And the first time I watched it, I thought, “Yeah, it’s dumb but I kinda liked it.” Now it’s a can’t-miss movie every year, and I pop it into the DVD player several times a season (starting in … October?) while I’m puttering around the house on Saturdays. For sure, there are dumb moments, but maybe the adolescent in me chooses to embrace them (I still laugh out loud during the long-and-loud-belch scene).

But I love Buddy’s childlike innocence and enthusiasm. Can you imagine being happy and bringing holiday cheer every day, all year, to everyone you meet? As they teach in elf school: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” There are so many great one-liners in this movie, especially from Buddy: “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.” And to the fake Santa: “You sit on a throne of lies.”

(This was also the first time I became aware of the awesome Zooey Deschanel, who played Jovie. Love her.)

  1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947 and 1994).

MiracleOn34thStreet-1947This is one of those rare cases in which I enjoy the sequel as much as (well, nearly as much as) the original. (Notable non-holiday examples: Sabrina and True Grit, although my brother would challenge me on that last one.)

Natalie Wood is wonderful as the 6-year-old Susan, but little Mara Wilson is equally precocious; she steals every scene she’s in, because she’s just so stinkin’ cute. And the Santas (Edmund Gwenn, 1947, and Richard Attenborough, 1994) are both engaging and delightful. If I had to pick the main character love-interests, though, I’d choose the always wonderful Maureen O’Hara from the original and good-guy Dylan McDermott from the sequel (although John Payne is not bad on the eyes).

For me, the 1994 version is eye candy. The costume designer chose classic wardrobes for all the characters, and the scenery takes you back to days gone by. New York is stunning and nostalgic in this film. I have no doubt the visuals in this version are a nod to the 1947 classic.

That being said, notice that the piece of art I picked for the 1947 version is in color. Weeellllll, the original was in black and white, and that was just fine with me. Why do they have to go messing with the classics? (It sounds like I’m contradicting myself because of the above comments about sequels, but I’m talking Colorizing here, people. In the 1980s, Ted Turner turned a bunch of black and white classics into color versions for what purpose? Money? I guess I’d better stop here, because sequels are about money, too, no? Except I have to say this: “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a black-and-white movie too, although the movie poster above is also in color.)

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1983).

ChristmasVacation_imageThere are just too many quotable, laugh-out-loud and now-classic moments to list here. I live for the scene where Clark receives what he anticipates is the usual generous Christmas bonus (he has already made a sizable down-payment on the swimming pool he plans to build) and instead gets a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club. His rant/rave is over the top and classic Chevy Chase. (Wouldn’t anyone have a meltdown after suffering through a Christmas week like he’s had?) But Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany have their own hilarious moments … and should I admit here that I, too, have a cousin Eddie? Fortunately, my cousin does not have a dog named Snots.

(Note to Tara: Yes, I have had “Mele Kalikimaka” running through my head for hours now, but I forgive you. It’s such a great song.)

This movie is sentimental, well-acted and funny. If you need to laugh until you cry, check it out.

Where’s the Tylenol?

  1. Christmas in Connecticut (1945).

ChristmasInConnecticut_imageI’ve long counted this as my favorite Christmas movie, so I saved it for last. (I said I couldn’t decide on No. 1, but when it comes down to it, this still reigns.) This one is a bit hard to find in stores or online, but it’s worth the effort. Barbara Stanwyck is always outstanding, and here she gets support from Dennis Morgan as the lonely sailor, Sydney Greenstreet as her overbearing boss, and the delightful S.Z. Sakall as her “Uncle Felix.”

Premise: Stanwyck, as Elizabeth Lane, is a columnist for “Smart Housekeeping” magazine and writes ad nauseam about her wonderful husband, baby and house in the country, as well as all the yummy food she loves to cook for her family. Trouble is, in reality she’s single and childless, lives in a flat in New York City and doesn’t know a flapjack from a latke. When her boss invites the poor lonely (single) sailor to spend Christmas with her family in their Connecticut farmhouse – and then invites himself along – hilarity ensues. She has to come up with a husband, a baby and a farmhouse (no problem, right?) and learn to cook, pronto. Or, wait. Maybe “Uncle Felix,” who works at the NYC restaurant she frequents, wouldn’t mind tagging along to cook the meals. At least she’s got that part covered, eh?

When they arrive in Connecticut, secrets, borrowed babies (yes, babies, plural), hasty wedding attempts and, of course, a love story are the order of the day. This classic is in black and white, but I believe a colorized version is available (but who wants that?).

If you attempt to find this movie, do not make the mistake of renting the 1992 TV version directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and starring Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson. Do I really need to explain why? Lord, help us all.

What are your favorite Christmas movies? Let us know in the comment section below.

NEXT FRIDAY: Stay tuned for my five favorite holiday TV shows.

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