Category Archives: Holiday

Holiday: July 4th Fireworks

Fireworks have been around for centuries, but they were mostly like large firecrackers until traces of flammable metals were added, and then they exploded in color. Uploaded by

They can be spectacular. In New York City, they exploded more than 22 tons of pyrotechnics a couple of years ago. Or they can be modest, a few minutes of “oooh” and “aaah” in small towns all across the country. Big or small, they reflect the pride Americans feel on their greatest patriotic holiday.

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The celebration probably goes back to 1777, the first anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In Philadelphia they rang bells, fired guns – and lit what firecrackers they had. John Adams, the second President, wrote, “”It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with…illuminations from one end of this continent to the other…”

Fireworks also evoke this line in the “Star Spangled Banner”: “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air…” Historically, fireworks were known more for their sound, creating a loud bang but not much color. In the 1830s, trace metals that burn at high temperatures became standard, and suddenly fireworks were a visual treat as well. Unfortunately, video doesn’t do them justice, but here’s a part of the 2010 July 4th show in New York:

Song: “God Bless America”

Kate Smith has always been identified with this great song, written in 1918 by Irving Berlin. She introduced it on her radio show in 1938, then sang it in the movie "This Is The Army" during World War II. Uploaded by

Hard to believe, but “God Bless America” languished unsung and unknown for its first twenty years. The great Irving Berlin (Great American Things, May 11, 2010) composed the song in 1918 for a review he created, then decided it didn’t really fit. Then, as World War II threatened Europe (and Berlin’s fellow Jews), he resurrected the song for Kate Smith, who sang it during her radio show on the twentieth anniversary of the end of WWI.

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Many people are unaware of the opening stanza, which Kate Smith always included: “While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free / Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.” Of course, Smith has been associated with the song ever since. She performed it in the WWII musical, This Is the Army, itself adapted from Berlin’s Broadway Musical of the same name.

“God Bless America” is easier to sing, and less “militaristic” than the Star Spangled Banner, leading some to urge its adoption as our national anthem. That’s not likely to happen, but the song can still bring a thrill to any Patriotic American. Here’s Kate Smith’s original version, followed by a great rendition by Martina McBride.

Film: It’s a Wonderful Life


In the movie's climactic scene, George Bailey runs to his family down the street of Bedford Falls in the snow. But the performers suffered - it was 90 degrees the day the scene was filmed. Uploaded by

(Originally posted December 1, 2009)

This movie is shown on TV at Christmas, but it’s not really a Christmas movie. It just happens that its climactic scenes take place during the season. It’s a film about – well, about the goodness of ordinary people. And second chances. And sacrifice.

It’s a Wonderful Life was originally planned as a vehicle for Cary Grant. But he was never pleased with the scripts developed, and decided to make another

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Christmas movie, The Bishop’s Wife, instead. Frank Capra then bought the rights, but still had a difficult time getting a script he liked. Though he may not have known it at the time, when he cast Jimmy Stewart (Great American Things, April 8, 2009) as George Bailey, he ensured that his film would be revered forever.

The box office wasn’t kind to the movie, however. It had the bad fortune to be released one week after The Best Years of Our Lives (Great American Things, May 25, 2009), which turned out to be the highest-grossing film of the decade, and which also took most of the Academy Awards for which It’s a Wonderful Life was nominated.

The American Film Institute named it number 11 in its 100 Years…100 Movies awards. And Jimmy Stewart’s performance was chosen as the eighth greatest performance of all time by Premiere magazine. Both Stewart and Capra said that It’s a Wonderful Life was their favorite film. “The film has a life of its own now,” Capra said in 1984, “and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

Film: Miracle on 34th Street


The American Film Institute has named Miracle on 34th Street number 9 on its list of most inspiring films, and the number 5 fantasy film. Uploaded by

Does Santa Claus really exist? Edmund Gwenn has made believers out of generations of movie lovers thanks to his performance as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street. This film, which also starred Maureen O’Hara and a very young Natalie Wood, is in the pantheon of Christmas classics that are a must-see every Christmas season. For me, the other movies in that category are Scrooge (the musical with Albert Finney), It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and White Christmas.

Uploaded to Flickr by djabonillojr.2008.

20th Century-Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was not enthusiastic about making this movie. It seemed just too corny for him. Director George Seaton eventually won him over, but only after agreeing to direct the next three films of Zanuck’s choosing. Zanuck also believed that the largest audience for movies is in the summer, so in spite of Miracle on 34th Street’s content, he dictated that it be released in May. The studio’s  marketing department had to promote the movie without letting on that it took place at Christmas. Watch the trailer below to see how they accomplished this.

Miracle on 34th Street won four Academy Awards, losing out for Best Picture to Gentleman’s Agreement. The American Film Institute ranked it number nine in its list of inspiring movies, and as the number five fantasy movie of all time.



Album: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Soundtrack

The execs at CBS didn't know what to make of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Commercialism? The Bible? JAZZ??? But Vince Guaraldi's score won the day, and became an instant classic. Uploaded by

Even today, it doesn’t seem like a natural fit for a jazz soundtrack to accompany an animated Christmas show. Certainly the executives at CBS in 1965 didn’t see how children would appreciate this very adult musical form. But Charles Schulz had vision, and Vince Guaraldi’s sparkling jazz balanced the sophisticated themes of commercialism and secularism that Schulz included in his story.

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In the book A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition, executive producer Lee Mendelson discussed how he chose a jazz soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas (Great American Things, December 14, 2009). “Once we completed filming I had to add some music. I had always been a great fan of jazz, and while driving back from Sparky’s (Charles Schulz, ed.) I heard a song called ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind.’ The radio announcer said it had won a Grammy and had been written and performed by a San Franciscan named Vince Guaraldi…It turned out that Vince was a big fan of Peanuts, and he agreed to work on the music.”

Several of the tracks are classics, including “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Linus and Lucy,” in which the characters memorably danced on the stage as Schroeder played the song on his piano.

By the way, the children who sang the hauntingly beautiful “Christmas Time Is Here” weren’t professional musicians. They were members of a children’s choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael, California. Was the best part getting to sing in a professional sound studio? Nope. It was getting to go out for ice cream afterward.

Song: “White Christmas”

"White Christmas" was released in July 1942 - and did nothing. Must have been the season. By the end of October it was number one, and upon re-releases reached the charts an astounding 20 times. Uploaded by

My favorite Christmas album in my childhood was Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas, which was released as an LP in 1949 and has never since been out of print. It’s still one of the most popular Christmas albums ever, and of course it contains the classic Irving Berlin song, “White Christmas.”

Crosby first performed “White Christmas” on his NBC radio show on Christmas Day, 1941. He recorded it the following year, and included it in an album of songs from the movie Holiday Inn. The album debuted in July, and maybe the season wasn’t right, because the song floundered. But by the end of October it topped the charts, where it stayed for eleven weeks. Re-released each holiday season, it also went to number one in 1945 and 1946. In fact, it appeared on the

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charts for twenty separate years, eventually leading Billboard to create a separate chart just for holiday music.

The song as it appeared in Holiday Inn received the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and it helped make the movie White Christmas the runaway box office champion of 1954. The song’s many appearances on the charts have led to it being the best-selling single of all time – more than 50 million sold, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Counting the albums it’s been on, that total exceeds 100 million. Bing Crosby gets the credit, and deserves it; but don’t forget the brilliance of Irving Berlin (Great American Things, May 11, 2010) who wrote this wonderful song.

Kid Stuff: Lionel Trains



The first Lionel trains were created by a fan manufacturer to feature its motors. Turns out people couldn't have cared less about the motors or the fans, they wanted those trains. Uploaded by

For many families of the 1940s and 1950s, a Christmas tree wasn’t complete without a Lionel train set encircling it. This wasn’t accidental, of course; as early as the post-WWI era, Lionel made the rounds of major department stores, showing them how much better their Christmas displays would look with a toy train included.


For many years, Lionel  disdained realism in its products. It made its trains larger and painted them in brighter colors than its competitors. Model train aficionados turned up their noses, but the mothers and fathers who bought

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Christmas trains loved Lionel. It overwhelmed other manufacturers, eventually becoming synonymous with toy trains.

Lionel’s golden decade was 1946-56. Then something happened – kids became more fascinated with toy cars than trains. The company failed to diversify, lost business, and eventually had to file bankruptcy in 1967. General Mills purchased the brand name, and eventually a new Lionel company formed, but it has no direct link to the original.

Even though toy trains aren’t what they once were, seeing a train set humming along beside stations and through tunnels, is still a wonderful sight. Lionel trains were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2006.

Holiday: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" made its debut in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis. Judy Garland introduced it to the world. Uploaded by

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is one of the relatively few Christmas songs  to have their genesis in films or on Broadway. This song made its debut in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, sung by Judy Garland.

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In the movie, Judy Garland’s father planned to move the family to New York, a move which pleased no one. Garland sang this song to her little sister to cheer her up. One line in the song, still heard occasionally, went:

From now on we’ll have to muddle through somehow.

Then in 1957, Frank Sinatra recorded the song for his album A Jolly Christmas. He asked the song’s writer, Hugh Martin, to change that line to make it more, well, jolly. So now we usually hear:

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

Since that time, there’s been one more change to the lyrics. A line that always bugged me was “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow.” Turns out Martin originally wrote: “…if our Lord allows,” but it was removed so the song wouldn’t be too religious. I’m surprised to see that this kind of negative sentiment already existed more than 60 years ago.

Holiday TV Show: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rankin/Bass created this stop-action animation version of Rudolph in 1964. It's now the longest-running animated Christmas program, which is just holly jolly with me. Uploaded by

Rudolph started life in a poem, written in 1939 by Robert L. May. His brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, liked the poem and turned it into the popular song we all know. Then in 1964, it took on new life as an animated television special on NBC. It’s now the longest-running animated Christmas special, and one of only four from the 60s still on. (The others are A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman.)

The TV special’s plot is necessarily a bit more complex than the song’s. There are additional characters, including prospector Yukon Cornelius, a reindeer

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babe named Clarice, a new reindeer named “Fireball,” and the arch-enemy — the Abominable Snowman. And there’s the narrator, Sam the Snowman, who just happens to resemble Burl Ives. How else would we have been able to hear “A Holly Jolly Christmas?”

The version we see now (on CBS) has been digitally remastered for enhanced clarity. The folks at Rankin/Bass created this stop-action animation classic. It looked clunky when it first appeared, and it looks positively antique in the age of Pixar. And yet, somehow, that’s part of its charm. That, and the music, and the story of Rudolph the underdog (underreindeer?) who saved Christmas. For many families, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a viewing of Rudolph.

Kid Stuff: The Polar Express

The Polar Express is a picture book, written by sculptor turned illustrator/writer Chris Van Allsburg. It won the Caldecott Medal for Children's Literature in 1986. Uploaded by

Children’s author Chris Van Allsburg created this beautiful Christmas story about a fantasy train that carried children to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to see Santa Claus. One boy in particular is picked up in front of his house, then journies with other kids in their pajamas on this magical adventure.

When he arrives at Santa’s workshop, the boy is chosen by Santa himself to receive the first gift of Christmas. The boy can choose anything in the world he wants, but he asks for a beautiful-sounding silver bell from Santa’s sleigh. He puts the bell in his pocket, but soon realizes in horror that his pocket has a hole

Chris Van Allsburg. Uploaded by

in it, and the bell is gone. The next morning, however, his sister sees a package with the boy’s name on it at the back of the tree. It’s the bell, of course, which Santa found on the seat of his sleigh.

Director Robert Zemeckis adapted The Polar Express and made it into a live-action animated film, “starring” Tom Hanks. The movie was well received, but it’s the book that still captures the imagination of children with its beautiful and evocative illustrations. It won the Caldecott Medal for Children’s Literature in 1986. Both the book and the movie end with this beautiful quote:

“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”

Holiday: Andy Griffith Show Christmas Episode

The Christmas Story is the title of this memorable and touching episode, the only one The Andy Griffith Show ever made with a Christmas theme. Uploaded by

This is the first time a single episode of a TV show has been featured on this list, but this one is a logical choice. The Andy Griffith Show (Great American Things, April 20, 2009) was in its first season, and this was just its eleventh episode. But all the attributes that would make it one of America’s all-time favorite shows were on display from the start.

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The plot – and I certainly hope this isn’t spoiling it for anyone, surely you’ve seen this episode – involved department store owner Ben Weaver insisting that family man Sam Muggins be put in jail for selling moonshine. Andy has no choice but to agree, knowing that it means Sam won’t spend Christmas with his family. Then he and Barney have the idea to move their Christmas celebration, complete with Barney dressing as Santa, to the jail and inviting the Muggins family.

Ben appears to be furious, but Andy soon realizes the miser has no one to celebrate Christmas with, and wants to join the celebration. Eventually, Ben has himself arrested so he can participate, but not before bringing gifts for everyone. Two interesting facts about this episode, titled “The Christmas Story”: It was the only one the show ever produced with a Christmas theme, and its cast included Margaret Kerry, the model for Tinkerbell in the animated classic Peter Pan.

As of now, the whole episode is available on YouTube:

Holiday: Toys for Tots

One woman wanted to donate a toy to a needy child, but couldn't find an organization to work with. So she asked her husband, a Marine reservist to help. He did - by starting Toys for Tots. Uploaded by

We all know, and are grateful for, the toughness of our U.S. Marines. But since the late 1940s, millions of American children are glad they have a softer side, too. A member of the Marine Corps Reserve, Major William L. Hendricks of California, learned there was no place to donate toys to kids when his wife wanted to give away a handmade doll. He started an organization locally, and gave away 5,000 toys that first Christmas. The Marine Corps Reserve adopted the program and took it nationally the following year (1948).

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For many years, people could donate new or used toys. Marines would fix the old ones before they were given away. The program was so successful that not enough time was available for refurbishing used toys, and only new ones have been accepted since 1980. A separate organization, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, now exists to provide fundraising and operational support for the program.

Toys for Tots has often been a favorite project of America’s First Ladies. Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Michelle Obama have made the charity one of their priorities. Between their efforts and that of the Marine Reserve, they’ve obviously been hugely successful: the charity has collected and delivered more than 500 million toys.

Album: “Thriller”


Thriller contained nine songs, seven of which were released as singles. All made the top 10. It's the best-selling album of all time, and it still sells more than 100,000 copies a year, 28 years after its introduction. Uploaded by

Remember music videos? Okay, music videos are still being made, so let me put it another way: Remember when music videos mattered? If you can recall that distant past, you’ll know the impact that the album Thriller had on the pop music world. First came “Billie Jean,” pretty much Michael Jackson by himself. Then “Beat It,” with a group dance. And finally “Thriller,” probably the most famous music video dance ever. (Just ask Philippine convicts if you doubt this claim.)

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Of the nine songs on Thriller, seven were released as singles, and all went to the top ten. They included “The Girl is Mine” (No. 2), “Billie Jean” (No. 1), “Beat It” (No. 1), “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” (No. 5), “Human Nature” (No. 7), “P.Y.T. Pretty Young Thing” (No. 10), and “Thriller” (No. 4).

Thriller was named the number 20 album on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It won eight Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. And it’s the best-selling album of all time, still selling an amazing 109,000 copies each year, 28 years following its initial release.

Americana: Arlington National Cemetery

For Memorial Day, U.S. soldiers place American Flags on each gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery, some 260,000 in all, in a ceremony called Flags In. Uploaded by

In these 624 Virginia acres are all the reasons you’ll ever need to be thankful to be an American. Here you’ll find the memorial to those who’ve sacrificed their lives for our country, from the American Civil War to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The most meaningful verse of “America the Beautiful” puts it this way: “O beautiful for heroes proved, in liberating strife. Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.”

Uploaded to Flickr by grid.epsilon.

Among the thousands of gravestones at Arlington are a number of specific memorials. Most famous of these is the Tomb of the Unknowns, symbolically honoring all those who died and whose remains were never identified. Other memorials are dedicated to those who died on the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, Pierre L’Enfant (the designer of Washington, DC), the victims of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, the victims of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon, and women who served in the military.

About 27-30 funerals are conducted at Arlington each day, some 6,900 each year. The total number of people interred at Arlington totals just under 300,000. Among the military notables buried at Arlington are Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, Omar Bradley, William “Wild Bill” Donovan, Abner Doubleday (who was a Civil War general), William “Bull” Halsey, Audie Murphy, Francis Gary Powers, Hyman Rickover, Philip Sheridan, and John J. Pershing.

One of the most touching and meaningful activities each year at Arlington is the Memorial week tradition called “Flags In.” During an approximately three-hour period, members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place flags in front of more than 260,000 gravestones. This military unit, known as “The Old Guard,” then stands guard throughout the Memorial Day weekend to ensure that a flag remains at each gravestone…

Holiday: Conversation Hearts

Which do you think is better, old sayings like BE MINE or new ones like UR HOT?

The primary manufacturer of conversation hearts in America, the NECCO candy company, makes more than 8 billion of them each year. That’s enough for everyone in the world to have a conversation. What shall we talk about, then?

In truth, we don’t have to talk anymore to have a conversation. Because the hearts now say “Tweet me”… “Text me”… “IM me”… and “E-mail me.” The public also suggested other sayings, so this year you’ll see “BFF”… “LOL”… and “UR hot”.

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Of course, if you’re old-fashioned – and what better day to be old-fashioned than Valentine’s Day? – you can still find such classic favorites as “Kiss me” … “So fine”… “One kiss”… and even “Marry me.”

NECCO’s popular Sweethearts feature new flavors this year. They’re now available in Strawberry, Grape, Green Apple, Lemon, Orange and Blue Raspberry. Supposedly they’re softer and taste less like Rolaids. But I don’t think people buy these things looking for great candy, do they? I sure hope not. They may change the flavors, and even the sayings, but conversation hearts are as much a part of Valentine’s Day as shoe boxes with a slit cut in the top for classmates to drop in your Valentines.

What, they don’t do that in school anymore? Oh, what today’s kids are missing.

Person: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Seldom has one person been able to accomplish so much to change his people - and his country. Uploaded by

In December 1999, the Gallup Organization compiled its data and named its Most Widely Admired People of the twentieth century. At number two on the list, ahead of Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill, ahead of Billy Graham and behind only Mother Teresa, was Martin Luther King, Jr.

Anyone who lived through the 1950s and 60s knows that King was the central figure in the major American issue of our time. He burst on the scene as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, following the refusal of Rosa Parks (Great American Things, Sept. 23, 2009) to give up her seat to a white man. King was arrested and his house was bombed, but a U.S. District Court’s ruling overturning the policy was a major breakthrough in the struggle for civil rights.

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King was influenced by the civil disobedience practices of Gandhi. He recognized how incendiary the pursuit of freedom was to the majority white public, and believed that nonviolent protest would help him achieve his goals more quickly. He used sit-ins and demonstrations, knowing that he would be arrested and that the resulting publicity worked in his favor.

His fight was not just against segregation, but against all forms of discrimination, so his campaign included voting rights and labor rights. He led marches on Birmingham, St. Augustine, and Selma. But his most famous crusade was the March on Washington that was, at its time, the largest protest ever in the nation’s capital.

Any discussion of Martin Luther King has to include not just his actions, but the inspiration he was to his people during their great struggle for equality. When he was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, his place in American history was assured, and a national holiday was established in his honor in 1983.

King was a Baptist preacher and an exciting orator. Undeniably, his most famous speech – and one of the most famous in U.S. history – was his “I have a dream” message delivered during the March on Washington:

Holiday: New Year’s Eve in Times Square

Times Square on New Year's Eve. Here's a good one - drinking isn't permitted at this event. Right. Uploaded by

Some one million people squeeze into New York’s Times Square each New Year’s Eve to watch the ball drop, signifying the start of a new year. It’s a scene watched by millions more on live television, and it’s now in its 106th year.

When the New York Times moved to the square in 1904, it convinced the city to name the triangular intersection after the paper. To celebrate, a huge event was held in the new “Times Square” on New Year’s Eve that drew about 200,000 people and started a tradition.

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The ball came three years later, lowered from a flagpole atop One Times Square. Over the years, it’s gone from being constructed of iron and wood to pure iron, to aluminum, and is now composed of 2,688 Waterford crystals. For 2009, the ball is twice the size as 2008, and has three times more LED fixtures. They even had to rebuild the flagpole to accommodate this thing. It’s now capable of putting on a fabulous light show all by itself, and will remain lit in Times Square all year long.

For many years, Guy Lombardo’s orchestra was synonymous with New Year’s Eve, and would play Auld Lang Syne from the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel while images of Times Square were broadcast on CBS. More recently, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve has been the broadcast standard, hosted for many years by the venerable Dick Clark, and now by the Dick Clark of a new generation, Ryan Seacrest.

Film: White Christmas

With wonderful songs by Irving Berlin, it was the first movie ever filmed in VistaVision. Wow. Uploaded by

Viewing a special movie on Christmas Eve is a tradition in many families. Some watch It’s a Wonderful Life (Great American Things, December 1, 2009), or A Christmas Story (Great American Things, December 9, 2009). At our house, though, it’s the 1954 classic, White Christmas.

Bing Crosby (Great American Things, December 19, 2009) and Danny Kaye are two Army buddies who form a hugely successful musical act. They then fall in love with a sister act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen) and scheme how to save their commanding general’s Vermont inn.

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As you might expect, though, it’s the music that makes the movie. Great, memorable songs by Irving Berlin, including “Sisters,” “It’s Cold Outside,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” and of course, “White Christmas.”

Some interesting facts about the movie:
* Danny Kaye’s part was originally written for Fred Astaire, then Donald O’Connor, then rewritten for Kaye.
* The film’s recording rights were with Decca, but Rosemary Clooney was contracted to Columbia. As a result there were two “White Christmas” albums. Peggy Lee sang Clooney’s parts on the Decca version. On the Columbia version, Clooney sang “Sisters” with her real-life sister, Betty.
* “White Christmas” did not first appear in this movie. In fact, this was the third movie to include the song.
* It was the top-grossing film of 1954.

The Arts: The Gift of the Magi

Written more than 100 years ago, the story is still performed regularly by theater groups. Uploaded by

Though it takes a distant back seat to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as our favorite Christmas literature, The Gift of the Magi has two distinct advantages over Scrooge and the Spirits. First, it’s an American story, written by Greensboro native O. Henry (William Sydney Porter). And second, it’s a short story. Very short.

Author O. Henry. Uploaded by

Most everyone knows the basic plot. Poor wife sells her beautiful hair to buy a chain for her husband’s prized pocket watch. Poor husband sells prized pocket watch to buy combs for wife’s beautiful hair. Both are disappointed, and yet realize the love that’s demonstrated by their gifts. It’s a typical O. Henry surprise twist ending.

The story has been told and retold in many forms in the century since it was written. At least four versions have been filmed, the most recent being a Finnish adaptation. You can read the whole thing from start to Finnish (oh, I’m so sorry) in just a few minutes here.

Song: “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

I wouldn't want to live where it snows all winter, but I love the one or two we get each year. Uploaded by

Okay, I have to admit that, as I write this, the first snow of the season is pouring down outside. And “it doesn’t show signs of stopping.” It’s a week before Christmas, we have a fire in the fireplace, and I hope we don’t have to go out for days.

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“Let It Snow!” (as we’ll call it for brevity purposes) is one of those songs, like “Winter Wonderland”, that’s not really about Christmas, but has become adopted as part of the season. In fact, its authors, the brilliant Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, are both Jewish. And like “The Christmas Song” (Great American Things, December 5, 2009), it was written in the middle of summer.

The song was first recorded by Vaughn Monroe (“Racing with the Moon”) in 1945. Although no singer’s version is the “standard”, it’s become one of the best-selling songs of all time.

Here’s a cool video – a homeowner has synched Chicago’s jazzy version to his Christmas lights: