For as long as I can remember, watching “A Christmas Carol” has become a mandatory experience every December.
Last night, we watched the George C. Scott version. Christmas cannot arrive without experience my favorite version with Alistair Sim. The Jim Carrey animated one was better than I thought it would be. There’s also the original 1938 rendition with Reginald Owen. Patrick Stewart, there’s a Mickey Mouse version, even “Scrooged” with Bill Murray dances around the plotline: a jaded person is changed by being visited by three spirits. (four, if you don’t include the messenger, Jacob Marley)
Spirit #2 was sent to make Scrooge more aware of the world around him in the present day. Spirit #3 had the job of showing him what would happen if he didn’t change his ways. The best job of the trio–Spirit #1. In the days before home movies, he showed Mr. Grumpy Pants those special moments of his life that he had pushed away.
I like to imagine the stories that Spirit #1 would show me, if he ever pays me a visit:
The year of the train set. When my parents decided I was old enough, they went to Sears and bought a scale model train set. I don’t remember if it came on the board, but my dad took a sheet of plywood, mounted the tracks and painted grass and a lake in the middle so that I could watch it go ’round and ’round.
The year of the bike. I was old enough to ride, so the Sears replica of a Schwinn Sting Ray (can you tell, we were a Sears family) showed up one year, compliments of Santa. It’s a stretch, but I can remember using the planter out in the front of our house to gain my balance and launch off down the street.
The year of the no hockey set. I remember clearly asking Santa in my letter for a hockey set. You know, those table-top things that you played by sliding rods and twisting them. It looked so fun on TV. The kids were smiling and laughing. But Christmas morning, no hockey set. Thinking about it, that could have been one of my uber-naughty years. Never mind.
Going to church. Yeah, we spent a lot of time there. Every Sunday. Every Advent service. Christmas Eve. Christmas Day. New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day. I have to say, there’s nothing more torturous than waking up to see what Santa brought you, seeing a pile of presents under a tree and then having to wait until after church to open them. It did make the gift-giving last longer, I suppose.
The Snow Man Family. We lived in southern California. I’d bet that we spent most of our Christmas Days in 70-degree weather. But one year, my dad bought some designs (kind of like McCall’s for men) that you glued on to plywood and then mounted in your front yard. He made a snowman, snow woman, two snow kids and a snow dog. And to make it even cooler, he bought fiberglass snow. You’d roll it out on your lawn and it would look like snow. Well, it did the first year. You couldn’t walk on it, or it would get the snow dirty. And even then, after a couple of seasons, it looked more like old snow and we eventually tossed it out and just planted the family in our grass.
I’m excited because a couple of decades ago, I bought the same pattern, but never got around to making my own Mr. & Mrs. Snowman. In between all the madness this year, I’m attempting to bring them to life by this weekend. I’ll let you know if I succeed next week with pictures.
The Holiday Food. OK, we ate well as kids, especially in the Christmas cookie department. My mom made some incredible treats, and I’ll try to remember as many as I can:
- Chow Mein Noodles. Sounds weird, but imagine chocolate or butterscotch-covered chow mein noodles with Spanish peanuts thrown in. Pretty tasty.
- Coconut Balls. Chocolate-covered shredded coconut and I seem to remember an edible wax being put in the chocolate to help it firm up. No wonder I can put a wick in my mouth and it’ll burn for a week.
- Peanut Butter Rolls. Taking a break for a moment from covering everything in chocolate, these were made with powdered sugar and mashed potatoes. Then, once you have that rolled out, you spread peanut butter on it, roll it and then slice it. The peanuts gave it protein, so it was a healthy snack.
- Pfeffernusse. I think that’s the name. Kind of a ginger-bread cookie, apparently German-style, covered in powdered sugar. They weren’t my favorite, but I believe it was my grandmother’s recipe, so I had to honor the tradition. I should be thankful I wasn’t Norwegian. It could have been chocolate-covered lutefisk.
As for the main course in Christmas dinners, it was either a turkey or some kind of special Yugoslavian ham that dad was able to get through his work connections at United Airlines.
After growing up and having a family of my own, I did experiment one year when I was going through a serious Dickens phase, and actually prepared a Christmas goose along with oyster stuffing. It became known as the year nobody ate except me.
The Doll House. Now, I’m one of the parents. The Great Idea Department thought it would be a wonderful surprise for our daughter, Christina, to wake up to a spectacular new doll house. I mean, on the box, it was beautiful. But to aid in the surprise, we waited until the kids went to bed before opening the box to assemble it. That’s when we realized it was more of a model, than a toy. I’m talking individual shingles that each needed to be glued to the roof. I believe we went to bed that year around 3am.
OK, the ghosts of Christmas Present and Future got tired of waiting and left. But actually, who needs ’em? If you live in the present, that puts Ghost #2 out of work and really, Ghost #3 is just trying to scare you from a worst-case syndrome. If you’re living in the present, as you should, you’re in control of your life and the future will happen as it should.
Thanks for letting me drag you along through these holiday home movies and may I encourage you to set up a meeting with Ghost #1. I’ve already nabbed him for another appointment next week. Grab him before he gets too busy.