Any holiday celebration lasts from year to year by the momentum of tradition. It’s easy enough to avoid questioning the whys and wherefores of traveling to a particular relative every year or putting up certain decorations, if the stock reason is just “it’s the way we always do it.” As with all social conventions, I routinely check to see if the way things have always been done is still the best way to do it or the only way to do it.
At Christmas, I often enjoy certain movies and certain songs. I like to have a tree and a wreath and a stocking and put up decorations. Some years, I have no doubt that this is what I want to do and I can’t wait to surround myself in the festive trappings. Other years, I really try to examine my feelings about each stage of my festivities. Some things that really contribute to how merry I feel are those songs and movies.
Even with those silly, fun reminders of the season, I often wonder if I still like the old tunes or the old films. As I examine each, I find that some of the older ones that have lasted the test of time can really be peeled back to reveal several layers of meaning and between those, I find numerous reasons to hold onto my fondness. I do occasionally retire something from my Christmas past because I no longer have any interest in it, like the Garfield Christmas Special. But usually I find that the things I liked last year are still the things I like today. The caveat that I try to keep in mind is to avoid thinking that my old favorite is so great that no new upstart could compare. What I have found recently is that there are still some terrific new films and songs being created today. I’ll write another time about the deeper meanings of the oldies and the brilliant originality of the new goodies.
Something that’s surprised me is that I’ve found that some remade versions of old favorites can be just as good or even better than the original. I haven’t seen it happen much with movies, although I do love both Scrooged and the Muppet Christmas Carol. On the other hand, every year it seems I find that I like more reinterpretations of my old favorite songs. It didn’t surprise me too much to find that Diana Krall’s cover of Kay Starr’s “The Man With The Bag” sounded better than the original. Chris Isaac does a great version of “Mele Kalikimaka” with just enough whimsy that I think Bing would approve. I was floored by how much fun the Stuhr Remix of Kay Starr’s “I’ve got My Love To Keep Me Warm” was, off the Christmas Remixed album. But nothing compares to the Human Nature cover of Wham!’s “Last Christmas”. I was sure that it was an *NSYNC recording but I was wrong. There are Last Christmas Researchers who put a lot of effort into collecting the data to prove that, too: Last-Christmas.com. See? I’m not the only one with a peculiar fascination for that ditty.
But all of this is a bit of a rehash of other articles I’ve written. What really inspired me to write about a re-envisioning of Christmas are some movies I’ve seen recently that take established mythos and recreate it or expand upon it. There are some stinkers out there like the Santa Claus movie from the eighties where Dudley Moore just can’t stop making puns about elves because he has no elf control… Sorry. There’s pretty much any kids’ movie that takes a character unrelated to Christmas and presents them having a Christmas adventure, like Pinocchio’s Christmas — why would people do that to children? But every now and then, an old idea is given a new spin and something decent turns up, like The Santa Clause. I’m not kidding. There’s some real cleverness in the underlying idea in that movie. I can’t argue that the actors deserve any sort of award for outstanding performances, and I fear that the sequels are, well, sequels. The first one, though, is a fun reimagining of the Santa story.
Still, hands down, my favorite Christmas movie is a remix of its own: Elf. It sets the premise of a modern world with a modern Santa, just getting by because fewer and fewer people believe in him. It mixes that up with an old changeling story resulting in Will Farrell being raised by elves. If the portrayal of Buddy the Elf weren’t terrific enough because of how well Will stays in character, there are the added aspects of first love, holding onto childlike innocence, and a completely arbitrary and thus humorous villainous force: the Central Park Rangers! There is little traditional in the plotline of this movie, but it absolutely feels like Christmas.
Does the fact that I like something with little history behind it devalue its contribution to my Christmas? Of course not. I decide what’s important to me and tradition doesn’t do anything for me but give me a starting point. Come to think of it, there are dozens upon dozens of things I like at Christmas that my father wouldn’t recognize, because they are new or mixed up or recycled. If I were sharing another Christmas with my dad, I would definitely put on the original Bing Crosby Christmas album. Being on my own, I’m happier putting on Diana Krall or Barenaked Ladies. My father might be satisfied just to watch Holiday Inn (fantastic) or White Christmas (fantasticker), but I’ll watch those AND I’ll watch a Wish for Wings that Work.
I choose to enjoy things for myself, not because of a tradition. I choose to try new things to celebrate the holiday to see if I can enjoy it a bit more. So maybe I’ll do some old-fashioned things like having hot chocolate in front of my tree, and maybe I’ll do some new-fangled things like making and listening to a continuous mix of 190 different versions of “Last Christmas” on my iPod. I’m sure that whatever I do, I’ll be having a Merry Mixed-Up Christmas.