New and Old (Tolerable) Christmas Traditions

With 20 days left until Christmas, there’s still plenty of time to beat a dead rocking horse. The bombardment of Lifetime-toned pop culture is really what this holiday is about, right? It’s seemingly one season that doesn’t really change and is more deeply rooted in tradition than say Halloween or Valentine’s Day.

But you don’t have to put up with incessant Kay commercials or Hess telling you about the new truck that’s here. With Bad Santa and Nogasake (Eggnog + Sake, courtesy of The Office), there are plenty of new traditions to complement the old.

Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis”

Catchy, hilarious, and even family friendly, “Christmas in Hollis” can be your alternative to “Dominic the Donkey.” *Shudders* the hee-haw’s in that song haunt me. But oddly enough, outside of cheese like Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time,” Christmas songs are usually done pretty well. Speaking of which…

John Lennon – “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”

It’s funny to see two vastly different Christmas songs from two Beatles. While McCartney’s is mawkish fluff, Lennon’s actually has some passion behind it. The choir helps make this song great, and really earns its softheartedness. I’ll add that you can do a lot worse than “Wonderful Christmas Time,” for those offended that I’d completely dismiss it.

Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas Songs…All 42 of Them

Stevens is from a very devout family, which translates to a dedication for the holiday and the songs associated with the religious connotations of it. There’s a uniqueness to these songs, which provides a refreshing twist among the classics that receive clogging airplay. At the same time, Stevens doesn’t really deviate that far from the originals he’s covering, keeping his versions faithful. There are plenty of songs to choose from if you’re digging Sufjan’s style, and if one thing is for sure, it’s that the artist put a whole-hearted effort into this project.

The Beach Boys – “Little Saint Nick”

Just a fun little song that is classic Beach Boys. They certainly don’t overdo it, nor do they  let its content change their style. With a nice, poppy swing to it and some great harmonizing, “Little Saint Nick” is incredibly catchy. A change of pace from the last two artists, it’s very upbeat, so it doesn’t hit you over the head with sentimentality.

Jackson 5 – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”

Aw, little Michael. This is another lively addition to the stack of traditional Christmas singles. The Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby classics are definitely tolerable (and great), but again, there’s something just fun about giving a twist to tradition. Granted, the next two selections are all about sticking to tradition…

It Gets Me Every Time…”A Charlie Brown Christmas”

Charles Schultz always did holidays right. Whether it was Halloween, Thanksgiving, or in this case Christmas, there was a nice blend of comedy and sentimentality. The music is also fantastic here, whether its the jazz that’s good for a colder night, or the sad theme that is also somehow very catchy.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” definitely earns its place in holiday tradition, finishing on a positive note. “Hark the Herald Angels Sings” is an adorable way to end it, and like other specials of this season, finds joy in seemingly bleak circumstances. Speaking of which

It’s a Wonderful Life

One can’t praise this film enough. It’s not only a great film for the holidays, but it’s a great film as a whole. The guardian angel/never being born concept has been emulated throughout pop culture, whether related to the holiday or not. And what’s even greater about It’s a Wonderful Life is that it has Jimmy Stewart, one of the best actors of all time.

Helmed by six-time Academy Award winner, Frank Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life was destined to become tradition. The Capra-Stewart combo had previously worked on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which earned both Oscar nominations. The story here is just too good, whether it’s charming with its classic characterizations, representing the fight for the little guy, or tugging on heartstrings. Let’s face it, it’s mostly doing the latter of the three.

Die Hard

What? It takes place on Christmas eve, involves family, and it has Christmas icon Alan Rickman in it. It’s also a family friendly movie that teaches a valuable lesson about stealing. When it comes down to it, do you really want to pass up the opportunity to see one of the greatest trilogies just because it’s not Christmas-y enough?

Love, Actually

As I said, Alan Rickman might as well be Santa. Granted, in both movies he’s not really the most…honorable character. But in this case, Love Actually, is actually Christmas-focused, with an incredible ensemble cast that unfortunately spawned the likes of Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve here in the States.

With Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Martin Freeman, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightly, Hugh Grant, Billy Bob Thornton as the U.S. President, and a scene-stealing Bill Nighy, Love Actually should draw in fans based on actors alone. It never feels too muddled and a lot of the stories are very sweet. Not to mention, the fantastic rendition of “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Olivia Olson, aka Marceline from Adventure Time. SPEAKING OF WHICH…

Adventure Time – “Holly Jolly Secrets (Parts 1 & 2)”

While Halloween brings mystery, suspense, and role playing into television, Christmas is usually a time to get emotional, especially by adding to a show’s mythology. The “Holly Jolly Secrets” two-parter is a perfect example of this, and Adventure Time is always at its best when you get back story on the characters and the Land of Ooo pre-Mushroom War.

This episode hits hard towards the end, and even makes the viewer sympathize with the Ice King. The payoff certainly makes this longer episode worthwhile, and somewhat eschews the show’s outrageousness for a bit of sincerity.

Hey Arnold – “Arnold’s Christmas”

(The video below can be inverted, if you’re using a Mac, press Control+Option+Command+8, PC’s are a little more complicated.)

I swear I was chopping some onions. This is a really heavy episode, especially for the age group watching Nickelodeon at the time of this its release. Like “Holly Jolly Secrets,” “Arnold’s Christmas” dives into the show’s mythology, and in this case, country star and boarding house tenant Mr. Hyunh.

Mr. Hyunh’s story about leaving Vietnam, because of the Vietnam War, is heartbreaking, especially for a character as harmless as he is. Arnold’s always the good guy, so watching him try to do anything possible to reunite Hyunh and Mai does more to pull on those heartstrings. But here’s a fun fact! The character Arnold does the shopping for is Mr. Bailey, a nod to It’s A Wonderful Life.

Arrested Development – “Afternoon Delight”

Nothing says “Christmas” like spending time with your family, and no show tinkers with the definition of “family” better than Arrested Development. From a sexually repressed staff, to an inappropriate rendition of “Afternoon Delight” by Maeby and Michael, to a candy coated $7,000 suit (COME ON!), the Bluths managed to throw one of the worst Christmas parties of all time.

While the episode is not particularly Christmas-y (thanks to the setting of the OC Orange County), it does have plenty of elements to make it a distinctly Arrested Development Christmas. There’s also the Christmas edition of Michael messing up Egg’s Ann’s name, calling her “Yam” this time around.

Community Christmas Specials 

The Christmas episodes in the first three seasons of the show were so good, that you can add “missing a fantastic Community tradition” on the list of why you should hate NBC for jerking the series around. The first one (“Comparative Religion”) is the only non-themed episode of the trio, but still deserves some respect for being one of the first season’s funniest episodes.

Then came one of the best episodes…well, a lot of the episodes of the second season were fantastic…but a very memorable episode of Community via “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” An homage to claymation episodes of years past, this second season episode also reached into the mythology of Community, exploring Abed’s past, in an episode that is pretty much a tear-jerker.

The most recent example of a solid Christmas episode of Community came via the inevitable Glee parody. What’s also funny about this episode is that it’s pretty much a horror episode, but instead of getting killed one-by-one, the good-looking kids each get persuaded to join Greendale’s glee club. Anyways, the results are pretty spectacular, and includes a very confusing number by Alison Brie…the writers definitely knew what they were doing there. Oh, and Childish Gambino is sort of in it.

I’d like to think that this year’s Christmas special would have done something like Home Alone 2, where Troy and Abed set up traps in their fort at Chang’s expense. But alas, we’ll never get to know. Thanks a lot, NBC.

Bonus:

Sick and tired of all those jewelry commercials? Well here are some great commercials that don’t layer on the sap.

via Garmin

via BMW

via NBA BIG

(Note: I left off some things here, in particular the awesomeness of Snow Miser and Heat Miser, the Seinfeld episode “Festivus,” A Christmas Story, and so on. Sorry.)

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