SO, HOW ABOUT NEW YEAR’S EVE? – Rich Paschall

The Jackpot Question, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

By now you are expected to have a good response. So what is it? What are you doing? Certainly, your friends have been asking and you must have something interesting to say. Unless you are under 18 or over 80, you do not get a pass on this one. So, what’s it going to be? Party? Dinner and dancing? Will you be outside watching fireworks or in where it is warm? If you are in Florida or Arizona, I guess you could be outside watching fireworks where it is warm.

Happy New Year!

Since there seem to be so many different things to do, the question might actually be more or less logical. Restaurants, bars, and hotel ballrooms all have some sort of package deal. There are shows and concerts of every type. Whether you are in a big city or a small town, plans for the celebration abound.

For some strange reason, everyone is expected to have a plan.

One year, when downtown Chicago still had a glut of movie theaters, I was on a double date at a late showing of a movie that finished up just before midnight. I do remember which movie, but not the date. We had just enough time to empty out into the intersection of State Street (that great street) and Randolph where Chicago used to conduct a poor man’s version of the final countdown. Since it was quite cold and we were not loaded with anti-freeze, we stayed for the countdown and ran off for warmer places. It was an experience I do not need again. If I watch the ball drop in Times Square, it will be on television from another locale.

Since then I have ventured to house parties, bar parties, restaurants, and shows, but I am not sure any of these supposed grand events were particularly memorable. They certainly did not ring out like many of the grand events we see in the movies. If you missed all of them, then I will suggest that you put “movies with new year’s eve scenes” in your internet search so you can find a lot of them. Maybe you will get some cool ideas.

Since the death of one year and the dawn of another seem to evoke feelings of nostalgia, then you may know that “When Harry Met Sally” contains one of the most memorable and nostalgic New Year’s scenes of all. Indeed it is the climax of the “will he or won’t he?” scenario. It has all led up to one fateful New Year’s Eve moment.  The typical New Year’s Eve hoopla only adds to the drama of the moment.  (SPOILER ALERT). I love making dramatic “spoiler” pronouncements, and here is that great scene from one of our favorite movies.

The director of the movie needed no special music as “Auld Lang Syne” made the perfect background song. And what does this sentimental tune actually mean? We don’t know, something about goodbye and hello. It doesn’t matter, our sentimental feeling just associates with it and that is all that counts. So will you have a sentimental moment?

For some gentlemen, the coming of New Year’s is met with all the anxiety of asking someone to the high school prom. You know you are supposed to do something. You know it is supposed to be really good. You know it is going to cost you money, which you are not supposed to care about. You also know, just like the high school prom, you might get shot down when you ask the “jackpot question.” Unless you want to get teased by family and friends, you may just have to ask the question anyway.

Ooh, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance:
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s Eve?

Did you ask yet? What was the answer? If you haven’t asked, what are you waiting for?

Seth MacFarlane is the creator of Family Guy, American Dad!, The Cleveland Show and stars in “The Orville.”

CHRISTMAS EVE 2018 – Garry Armstrong

It was a very enjoyable Christmas Eve. A drama free (dee-lish) dinner.

Everyone enjoyed their gifts including the furry kids who hadn’t destroyed their toys as of Christmas morning.

I had a long and delightful phone chat with my family. Two younger Brothers, cousins, and cousin-in-law. I was able to hear everyone clearly (first time!) with my cochlear implant. I think I was a bit giddy because I rambled all over the place, chatting about how the cochlear implant has changed my life.

We shared memories about Christmases past. Lots of laughter as I said goodbye.

Owen brought over a bunch of old ’78’s (Those of a certain age know what I’m talking about).

We listened to vintage performances of Christmas music performed by Bing Crosby, Mahalia Jackson, Gene Autry and Red Foley. Yes, Red Foley. “White Christmas” is still a signature song of the season and it belongs to Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby.

One of the 78’s contained soundtrack music from the 1942 film, “Holiday Inn” in which Bing Crosby introduced Irving Berlin’s beloved “White Christmas.” Gene Autry’s “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” brought back a rush of childhood memories as did a rendition of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” I found myself singing along — softly — because I sing off-key.

What a blast! Thanks, Owen.

I, too, wonder about the mince-pie mystery.

What happened to mince-pie? Marilyn and I have been searching in recent weeks for mince-pie, fresh or frozen.  No luck.  No answers.  I just read an online piece about a cache of mince pies discovered in England, stashed in a basement — from World War Two. A Mom’s gift to her Son in the army. The pies are over 70 years old. No mention of how they taste.

This still doesn’t answer our mince-pie mystery. Russian collusion?

Christmas Day is upon us. The house is quiet. The furry kids are searching for their toys. Santa Claus has been very kind to us. Yes, Donzo, there is a Santa Claus.

I suppose he forgot about you.

OUR MANAGEABLE LITTLE CHRISTMAS AND HOW IT GOT THAT WAY – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was little, everyone’s trees were covered in tinsel and some fluffy white stuff. It imitated snow on the branches of your tree and placed judiciously, was quite lovely. The white fluffy stuff was banned because it was mostly fiberglass. It was lethal to pets and dangerous for people, too.

2003

As for tinsel, I think it was a cleanup issue. It got into everything. Animals ate it, including dogs, cats, and baby rug-rats. It did look very pretty, all silvery on the trees. It came in other colors too, but I don’t think most people really got “into” the pinks and oranges and blues.

From when I married Jeffrey in 1964, we had ‘real’ trees. It was a family thing, to get the biggest tree you could, then spend hours reconstructing it with saws and wires to make it look perfect

2015

Real Christmas trees weren’t expensive, either. Even though they made an awful mess (I was usually still trying to get those dried pine needles out of the wood floors a year later when the new tree was going up), it wasn’t a big deal to get a tree and there was a tree lot on every corner.

2017

Then one year — it must have been during the late 1970s — the price shot up and a tree that had cost $10 the previous year was $50 the next.

We still got a real one until the end of the 1970s when Jeff and I divorced and I moved to Israel.

2014

By the time I came back from Israel (August 1987), a $10 tree was $100. Garry and I bought got real ones for a few years when we had the townhouse in Boston. One was so perfect — and so WIDE — it took up the entire living room. The following year I tried to find an unreal tree that would fit into our actual space.

Christmas cactus – 2018

Then we moved here and since we live 5 doors down from an actual Christmas tree farm (which today I noticed is for sale, so there goes Arrowhead Farms!), you could choose your tree in August or September, watch it grow, then cut it down yourself immediately before you were ready to put it up. Talk about a FRESH tree.

I never had trouble putting up the tree and everyone was eager to help decorate it, but no one ever wanted to take it down or put away the decorations. We still had a tree standing one year on my birthday in March.

2016

We had a few more live ones after that, but the bloom was coming off the rose. Even a six-foot tree took up more room than we could really give it. There was nowhere to walk around it — and the dogs were always trying to eat the glass ornaments.

NO ONE wants their dogs eating glass anything, much less those fragile ornaments. Cats just liked to play with them, but the dogs liked a good hefty bite! Then, for a while, it became almost impossible to get glass ornaments. Some sort of national agreement that all decorations would be plastic.

A few years ago when my son and his family moved out, Garry and I realized we didn’t need gigantic trees. We started buying little real trees in pots on the theory that we could plant them in the spring, but they never survived long enough to plant. They dried out and died long before it was warm enough to plant anything.

2014 – The year of two small trees!

Finally, three years ago, I found the perfect fake 4-foot tree. It looks so much like a real tree, most people think it is real until they touch it and even then, they aren’t sure.  I had a lot of searching to do to find it.

Also, it is big enough to have some presence. It feels like a tree, not like a toy yet it is small enough to put on our huge coffee table on which we never serve coffee. The table really functions as a place to show off old pottery and other small decorative things because under the glass top is a shelf for “stuff.” And it’s big enough to sort the laundry.

2013

Thus we found a viable version of Christmas for us. It is big enough to be a Christmas but sufficiently small and neat to make it something we could do ourselves without winding up exhausted with a giant mess following the holiday.

I think our 4-foot always-decorated tree is perfect. It safeguards all our earlier Christmases and it’s ready in half a blink to take its place. From last year, it also has lights.

2018 again

There’s nothing religious — per se — about the tree but there is symbolism in it and continuity. It means something because we’ve always had some kind of Christmas. This is easy, pretty, painless … so we get to keep our personal history.

A very little, very pretty Christmas from us to you! And don’t forget: at least one of us is sort of Jewish, in a casual sort of way.

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by CLEMENT CLARKE MOORE – Marilyn Armstrong

By Clement Clarke Moore


‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads.

1864
1864

And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

1883
1883

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

1886
1886

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

1896
1896

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack.

1898
1898

His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

1901
1901

He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.


A quick note:

Back when newspapers were getting read by normal people, every year The Boston Herald printed this poem on its front page. The Herald was disbanded this year, a very sad day for Boston now reduced to just one newspaper, so I have undertaken to print the poem myself.

The pictures are originals of the book’s covers through the years. Sometimes called “The Night Before Christmas” and other times called “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and periodically both, the covers show this variation.

Most people know it by both titles anyway. I used to know it by heart.

WORK, HOLIDAYS, AND PERSONAL CHOICE – Marilyn Armstrong

I know you think you are helping people by trying to get everyone to close on holidays, but it isn’t necessarily everyone’s best choice or preference.

It might be the right thing for you … but what about me?

Taking wing

What about the people next door? Are they just like you? Same holidays? Same available choices? Same kind of family?

Same religion?

When you promote a work ban on holidays, consider that many folks don’t have families. These are people who are grateful to be working.

Moreover, there are many individuals and families who count on the extra money they can earn by working holidays.

Not everyone is equally enthusiastic or sentimental about traditional celebrations. There are plenty of people for whom Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Columbus Day are non-starters.

They have their reasons and they are entitled to them.

Not everyone has someplace to go and a warm, fuzzy family to share with. It’s wonderful to be grateful for what we have.

It’s also good to be mindful that not everyone is equally or similarly blessed … and not everyone celebrates the same holidays.

And. Even those who celebrate the same holidays do not necessarily celebrate them the same way you do or on the same dates.

‘TWAS THE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS AND UP IN THE HOLLOWS – Kim Harrison

‘Twas the week before Christmas, and up in the Hollows . . .

‘Twas the week before Christmas, and up in the Hollows,
Solstice bonfires were burning, to toast the marshmallows.

The pixies were snug in their stump, even Jenks,
Who claimed he was tired, and needed some winks.

So I in my parka, and Ivy in her boots,
Were toasting the season, with thirty-year hooch.

When out in the street, there came such a crash,
I thought that it had to be ‘coons in our trash.

Away to the gate, I trudged through the snow,
While Ivy just said, “If it’s Kist, say hello.”

I lifted the latch, and peered to the street,
My face went quite cold.  We were in it thigh deep.

‘Twas a demon, who stood in the headlamps quite bright,
With his coat of green velvet, and his uncommon height.

His eyes, how they glittered, his teeth how they gnashed,
His voice, how he bellowed, his tongue, how it lashed.

The street wasn’t holy, so on Big Al came,
As he bellowed, and shouted, and called me by name.

“Morgan, you witch.  You’re a pain in my side.
“Get out of your church.  There’s no place to hide!”

Like hell’s fury unleashed, he strode to my door,
Where he hammered and cursed, like a cheap jilted whore.

But Ivy and I, we circled round back,
To stand in the street and prepare for attack.

“You loser,” I shouted.  “I’m waiting for you.”
And the demon, he spun, taking on a red hue.

Ivy stood ready, and I whispered, “Okay . . .
“If he wants to get rough, I’m ready to play.”

With nary a word, us two girls got to work,
Putting foot into gut, of the soul-sucking jerk.

I circled him quick, with a few words of Latin,
While Ivy distracted him with lots of good wackin’

“Get back!” I yelled out when my trap was complete,
And Ivy somersaulted right over the creep.

My circle sprang up, entrapping him surely,
Al fussed and he fumed, like a demonic fury.

The neighbors all cheered, and came out of their houses,
Where they’d watched the whole thing, like little house mouses.

So Ivy and I, we both bowed real low,
Then banished Big Al, in an overdone show.

But I heard Al exclaim, ‘ere he poofed from our sight
“You won this time witch, but I’ll get you one night!”

Kim Harrison
December 14th, 2005

Kim and Guy wish you and yours all the best of the holiday season and a glowing new year.

Pssssst! If you are looking for something exclusive for your Hollows fan, or something special for yourself, my next release, PERFECTION is available for pre-order. Unlike my usual publications, there will be only 1,500 of these hardcovers, and all of them are signed. They won’t be readily available through the usual stores, so this is the best way to get them, and pre-ordering makes me look good. (Wink)

But please pop over to Subterranean Press and pre-order one before you go and put this under your tree as, unlike my usual publications, there will be a limited number of these signed and numbered, and they will not be readily available in the stores come March.

I’ve even got a gift card for you to print out to put under the tree.  Happy Holidays!

RUDOLPH AND OTHER STORIES OF CHRISTMAS SONGS – Rich Paschall

Some of the stories behind our favorite Christmas songs, by Rich Paschall

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-the-movie-1998b

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, and eventually to television and movie specials. Rudolph really did “go down in history.”

The animated Christmas special is now over 50 years old and 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 hot 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 known 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 with a storyline about two performers in love with the same girl. Crosby loses out to Astaire and leaves the musical act to run an Inn that is only open on holidays. Astaire comes to the Inn after his dance partner (yes, that same girl) leaves him, giving us the opportunity to hear a variety of holiday songs by legendary songwriter, 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 an estimated 50 million copies of the single and holds the top spot by far. If you consider all of the compilation albums on which it appears it is likely over 100 million.

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.