Some of the stories behind our favorite Christmas songs, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
I did not know Dasher, Dancer and the gang until I learned the song. Of course, I learned it rather young, so perhaps no one had a chance to tell me. Besides, why would I want to get to know them since “they never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games?” But then one foggy something eve, I guess it was, I learned more about him.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was a celebrity in this part of the country long before he became an international hit. Chicago-based department stores and mail order giant Montgomery Ward had been giving out their own coloring books at Christmas time for years. Robert L. May, an advertising copywriter, was assigned to come up with a Christmas story in 1939 — and Rudolph was the result.
When his wife passed away, the retailer offered to take May off the project, but he went on to complete it. The resulting book was distributed, but World War II stopped its publication due to restrictions on paper use. Rudolph made a grand reappearance in 1946.
Rudolph might have faded into a mere footnote of Christmas lore had it not been for May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks. He turned the story into a song. Which made Rudolph famous throughout the country.
The song led to sequels by May, eventually to television and movie specials. Rudolph really did “go down in history.”
2014 is the 50th anniversary of the animated Christmas special children and adults still watch today.
The song was recorded by cowboy star Gene Autry. Legend has it, he was not fond of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but his wife, liked the song. Autry’s 1949 recording became number 1 on the charts. It was the first number 1 song of the 1950s and became the second biggest-selling song of all time, until the 1980s. Another Christmas classic was already number one.
The Christmas Song is commonly called “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire” and also has a Chicago connection.
Musician, singer, actor, composer Mel Tormé, a Chicago native and performer about town before hitting the big time, wrote the classic in 40 minutes one sweltering July day in California in 1944.
Mel spotted a few of the opening lines in a notebook by Bob Wells, a frequent collaborator, and went on to finish them and add music. Wells had just been writing down a few cold weather ideas to help him deal with the sweltering summer weather.
The song was subsequently recorded by Nat “King” Cole and his trio in June 1946, but Cole convinced the record label to re-record the song with strings. It is the second version, recorded in August 1946, that became a hit. Cole went on to record it again in 1953 and 1961. The 1961 version is the one you hear continuously throughout the season. The vocal performance of the last version is considered the best of Cole’s recordings.
Tormé recorded the song too. Years later he added a verse and a “coda,” which came from “Here We Come A-Wassailing.” In 1992, the composer of one of the best know Christmas songs of all time finally recorded an album of Christmas songs. Legend has it that The Christmas Song was not one of Tormé’s favorites, but he was grateful for the royalties.
The all time best-selling song was written for a movie, but not for the movie of the same name. White Christmas was one of twelve songs written by Irving Berlin that were included in his 1942 movie Holiday Inn.
The romantic comedy musical starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in a boy-wins-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl story. Crosby leaves a musical act to run an Inn that is only open on holidays. Astaire comes to the Inn after his dance partner leaves him, giving us the opportunity to hear a variety of holiday songs by legendary song writer, Irving Berlin.
In the movie White Christmas is a duet when we first hear it, and when it reappears late in the story, the female character Lila, played by Marjorie Reynolds, sings it. The song picked up the Oscar for best song of 1942. The recording by Bing Crosby the same year has gone on to sell over 50 million copies and holds the top spot by far. It too is part of our non stop Christmas soundtrack.
It is the overwhelming popularity of the song that led to a movie entitled White Christmas. Of course, Bing Crosby is back in another role, this time teamed up with Danny Kaye. Fred Astaire turned down the project.
White Christmas, like Holiday Inn, achieved great success, but its soundtrack never got a remix into stereo for release as an album. The master recordings were destroyed in a fire.
I’ve learned a lot over the years. By my calculation, this is my 49th year of making Thanksgiving, not counting a few years when I was a guest at someone else’s table.
I remember when the torch passed and my parents no longer wanted the job. Suddenly, they were just as happy to eat my food. I knew at the time this was a significant change in our relationship, that something important had changed.
Since then — 40 years later — I’ve been making holidays. Although my son does the cooking, or most of it anyhow, he still doesn’t know how to make the holiday. How to set a table, figure out which dishes to use. Which flatware. Whether or not to put out the “good” glassware (but unlike me, he knows on which side the forks go versus the knives).
And despite them being among the easiest recipes in the world, no one but me can make the cranberry sauces.
Things I’ve learned after 49 years of family dinners:
- Don’t get a big centerpiece. It takes up too much room and will be in the way when people are trying to converse.
- Not only do place settings not have to match, making each setting different is a very cool “look” (though I didn’t do it this year).
- No matter how many people you have coming to dinner, there will be much more food than even the hungriest crowd can possibly consume.
- Don’t save the mashed potatoes. No one is going to eat them.
- The turkey will be fully cooked at least an hour before your calculations say it will.
- If you cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 180 degrees, it will taste like sawdust and no amount of gravy will make a difference.
- Buy a fresh turkey, not a frozen one. It’s worth it. Fresh turkey tastes so much better!
- Put a clear plastic cover over your good tablecloth. Your guests won’t mind and gravy does not come out completely, no matter what formula you use to treat the stains.
When I’m feeling ambitious, I get more creative with table settings. I have a lot of “fiesta ware,” bright, solid-color dishes that mix and match with other pottery. I’ve given away my 16-place-setting porcelain. Storing it took up more space than I was willing to devote to something I used maximum twice a year.
I don’t buy expensive stemware. It’s not that kind of crowd.
I don’t bother to point out no one is going to eat that much food. Don’t mention that nine pies for seven guests is a bit much. My daughter-in-law is Italian. I’m Jewish. My husband is Black. Excessive food is a cultural and genetic mandate. Please eat. Please overeat. If you don’t leave the table feeling slightly ill from over-consumption, I haven’t done my job.
The good news? I can put together a nice looking holiday table in under 20 minutes. Add on another half hour because I have to wash everything. I haven’t used it since last Christmas and dust will have its way. Still, that’s pretty good.
Gone are the big floral displays, the fragile serving dishes. The stemware broke and was never replaced. Ditto the serving dishes. A nice table is welcoming. A super fancy, overwhelmingly elegant table is less so and can be off-putting.
Less fuss means I don’t end the holiday exhausted and cranky. I might just survive through Christmas. Imagine that!
Since this is Thanksgiving in the USA this week, I thought I would celebrate all week. There is only one question this week and here it is. I haven’t made a list like this in a long time. I used to do it fairly frequently. I hope you want to play along!
List at least 50 Things You Enjoy. Here are some categories to inspire your thinking.
- Web Sites
- Famous lines from books/movies.
I have too many things to list individually and too many categories. Or not enough. Sometimes there is a thin line between the two.
I’ve had to give some thought to this to see if I could stay focused on important stuff and not end up with a list full of trivia.
Stuff I Do
- Laughing with people I love (You know who you are and I couldn’t live, wouldn’t want to live, without you.)
- Listening to audiobooks
- Taking pictures
- Hanging out with dogs
- Movies and television and anything Star Trek, or with horses.
- Japanese food and Wanakura
- Chinese food
- Gretchen Archer
- James Lee Burke
- Kim Harrison
- Jim Butcher
- Jasper Fforde
- Douglas Adams
- And many others, too numerous to name!
Let Music Fill the Air!
- Folk music
- Country music
- Classical music, especially orchestral and piano
- The Beatles
- Tom Paxton
- Judy Collins
- Credence Clearwater Revival
- Really, that’s just the tip of a huge iceberg of music.
- Crystallized ginger
- Salty, crunchy things
- Spicy things
- Hot pepper jelly
- English muffins
- And more and more and more!
- Pretty much anything with fur or feathers!
- Science fiction
- Urban fantasy
- Anything that makes me laugh
- Police procedurals
- Time travel
Oops, out of room. You see what I mean? But it could also be just a few things … because I like reading and that covers all the genres, authors, audiobooks, and everything else. There are so many way to do this.
Rather than saying I love books or reading, I could say I love that little crackle a brand new books makes when you first open in and that whiff of printer’s ink.
I should mention that not only do I love taking pictures, but I love cameras. And autumn, because that’s my favorite time to take pictures.
I could start naming all the people I love, one at a time and probably run out of room before I got to anything else. Or start listing favorite movies and TV shows. I never even got to them and I have a whole bunch of movies and shows I love.
There is a lot to love in this world of ours, in this period of time we call life. I’m glad to still be here, on this earth, in this world, with all of you.
Shaken and Stirred – What’s the most elaborate, complicated meal you’ve ever cooked? Was it a triumph for the ages, or a colossal fiasco?
Once a year, half the population of the Blackstone Valley dusts off their driver’s licenses, takes the old buggy out of storage, and heads for downtown Uxbridge. It’s the day before Thanksgiving … and what the weather people call “a wintry mix” is plopping from above.
The nasty, slushy, sloppy mix of ice and snow falling from the skies is the perfect finishing touch. Over all, when I think “holiday,” I think “expensive” and “work.” Sorry for my lack of spirit, but I think I’m one holiday meal over the line. Fortunately, the kids are doing almost all the cooking this year. If if were up to me, I’d send out for pizza, if anyone was open and delivering. Which they aren’t.
Fancy cooking has fallen victim to the years and maybe that’s not a bad thing. I used to make special dishes for the holiday. I have a bread pudding recipe to die for. Literally. It almost killed a guest one year when, despite active diabetes, he went berserk and couldn’t stop eating it. It’s that good.
I continue to make my cranberry-orange relish and cornbread. The relish is made entirely in a food processor. No one could call it complicated, but it’s a favorite. The cornbread is delicious, but ridiculously easy. It turns out that many fancy recipes are no better than simple ones. And not more popular, either. A lot of people prefer simpler food.
If you do make fancy food, you can watch hours — sometimes days — of kitchen prep vanish in a few minutes, sometimes seconds. It can be a bit disheartening. I used to wonder if anyone noticed what they were eating or if they cared.
I used to make stuffed cabbage. It was as good as anything you could get in a New York deli or restaurant. The recipe took me years to perfect and its preparation was a multi-day event. It wasn’t difficult to make, per se. No special genius required. You merely need to be willing to do everything.
The secret to gourmet food is not skipping steps. Not taking short cuts. Not skimping on rich, expensive, caloric, high-cholesterol ingredients. You have to use the heavy cream; milk doesn’t produce the same results. Do use the entire dozen eggs, the whole pound of butter. Don’t cut back on sugar.
I can’t eat that way anymore and neither can most of us. Or shouldn’t. I’d like to keep my new heart valve for a few years.
So, other than wrapping almost the entire turkey in bacon (it’s just once a year, after all), it’s a pretty simple — large — meal. Turkey. Cranberry relish. Cranberry sauce. Stuffing. Veggies. Hot cornbread. Pies for dessert. No one had time to bake all the pies this year. Usually we have a pre-Thanksgiving baking frenzy, but this year, we bought frozen apple, mince, and pumpkin, leaving only custard to make from scratch tomorrow. You can’t buy good custard pie.
Oh, nearly forgot. Mashed potatoes. Mashed sweet potatoes. Gravy. We forgot to buy cider to drink with the meal. It’s too horrible outside to go back to the store and the roads are a parking lot. All the last-minute shoppers are out there.
I have no idea what we’ll serve in the way of drinks. Oops.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. Whatever you eat, have fun. No fighting at the table.
I got tapped by Doobster at Mindful Digressions (who was tapped by Willow over at Willow’s Corner) to participate in a “blog hop” called “Holiday Touring.” A blogger chooses a holiday, then poses 3 questions to 2 other selected bloggers. The questions are about how, if at all, other bloggers celebrate that particular holiday.
Doobster’s holiday was New Year’s Eve. He tapped me and TC Connor over at For What Is Most Valued to carry on the Holiday Touring blog hop by selecting April Fool’s Day. Here are the questions he posed to us:
- What, if any, April Fool’s Day pranks have been pulled on you? Alternatively, what is your favorite April Fool’s Day joke?
- Do you pull pranks or practical jokes on April Fool’s Day? If so, please tell us about some of your best pranks or practical jokes that you have pulled off.
- April Fool’s Day should be a national holiday — yes or no? Defend your position.
And now, without further fanfare, comes a much longer than necessary set of responses to what appear, on the surface, to be ridiculously simple questions.
1) Nobody has ever pulled a prank on me, not on April Fool’s Day or any other time. I think my friends simply aren’t pranksters. Not to mention this has never been a “big” holiday in New England. Its main significance to me is that Garry’s birthday is a few days away.
2) WARNING! Gratuitously long answer coming up!
Israel, where I lived for 9 years, does not celebrate April Fool’s Day … but Purim is (in part) celebrated in a similar manner. Even more so because other than Purim, most Jewish holidays are pretty grim. On Purim, though, Israel TV broadcasts faux newscasts and other funny shows. One year, they showed a hilarious version of “Candid Camera.” It had us in stitches for a week. This was back in the eighties when we only had one Israel TV channel and your alternative was Jordanian, Syrian, or Egyptian television, depending on where you lived.
You had to be there.
It came to pass … 1985 maybe? … I was doing what I did. Writing manuals. In this case, for a hardware/software combination product which read fingerprints. Nowadays, we have iris scanners, so this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was a big deal in 1985. Cutting edge technology.
It was Purim (Note: Purim is not a “get out of work” holiday.) The graphic artist and I colluded to produce a parody of the manual I was writing. I wrote the copy, he did the illustrations. I produced a few bound copies, all very hush-hush, to pass around.
Except the boss found out.
Oy. Busted. I figured I should update my résumé and start job hunting. Instead, he thrust a copy of my mock manual at me and said: “Yours?”
Meekly, I said, “Yes sir.”
“Make me a dozen more of these,” he said. “It’s hilarious. I want to give copies to the investors.” I think I still have a copy of it somewhere in a crate in the attic.
3) Should it be a national holiday? I think it IS a national holiday. Our politics are an all-year-round joke. What, you aren’t laughing?
Now it’s time for my to pick a holiday and pass the torch to some unsuspecting blogger who is just sitting around waiting for me to tag him or her for this honor.
I’m spinning the wheel. Spinning, spinning, spinning … slowing … and it’s …
And your holiday is … (tension is mounting … the room is silent and everyone is holding their breath in anticipation) … NEW YEAR’S DAY. An official holiday on which nobody ever seems to know what to do. When I was young and still made parties to which people actually came and everything, I gave an annual New Year’s Day Pig Out because I knew that no one ever had plans on New Year’s Day.
Here are the questions:
1) What do you do on New Year’s Day? Sleep off your hangover? Host a Victorian feast for a few dozen good friends? Nothing?
2) What are your plans for the coming holiday, if any. If you have some, tell me (and the world) what they are. If you have no plans or are, heaven forbid, working … explain how you got yourself into that mess.
3) Does New Year’s Day have special meaning to you? I (for example) became engaged to my husband on January 1, 1990. If it doesn’t have special meaning, say whatever is in your heart. Sharing, as they say at WordPress, is caring.
Note: WordPress doesn’t really mean it. Neither do I.
Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Joints and/or Things You Enjoy What a combination! Things I just like … or joints. Mostly, I don’t like my joints. They are arthritic and sore. The hips and spine especially. There are other joints of which I’m fond, but for a bunch of reasons, I won’t be posting their pictures. Where […]
As we were packing up to come home — really, I wasn’t packing so much as stuffing my belongings into a duffel — I was bummed. At having to come home to reality. Reality is full of telephone calls. Details. Bills. Thanksgiving is next week, Christmas just a month after. Holidays and gifts mean money. Which is always a problem and […]