1. “All I Want for Christmas Is You”: Favorite bookish couple.
I have a lot of favorite book couples, including Lizzy and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice and Eowyn and Faramir from LOTR. But this said “bookish,” which makes me think nerdy, so I’m going to go with Anne and Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables. Among other things, their relationship is built on academic rivalry. This image is from the marvelous 1980s Canadian TV adaptation starring Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie. One of my favorite scenes is where Gilbert gives Anne a standing ovation after she recites “The Highwayman.” He’s always so proud of Anne’s intelligence and her hard work.
2. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”: Name a book where a character is away from home (school, vacation, etc.).
Jane, Unlimited is a unique speculative fiction story that relies on a classic premise: an orphan travels to a strange mansion. Very gothic! Jane is visiting Tu Reviens, the large and intriguing island home of her friend Kiran, where everything from art theft to alternate dimensions may be happening. The premise is reminiscent of Jane Eyre as well as Rebecca, but spins off into an interesting type of choose-your-own-adventure story.
3. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”: Name your favorite “little” book (children’s book, short story, novella, etc.).
Ella Enchanted, a classic middle grade Cinderella tale, is one of the books that inspired my love of fairy tale retellings. It is on the bookshelf next to my bed, along with 101 Great American Poems, which I think was a gift from my mother about fifteen years ago when I was in high school. I have read both countless times, and they are great for when I want a quick, satisfying read before bed.
4. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”: What book(s) do you hope Santa brings you this year?
I have a lot of books on my wishlist, and my family always gets me lots of books for Christmas. One I’m really looking forward to is Daemon Voices, a collection of essays by the author of His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman.
5. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: Which book turned your nose red (made you cry)?
I scared my husband when I was reading The Book Thiefbecause he looked over to see me silently sobbing with huge tears rolling down my face. “What’s wrong?!” he said. Oh nothing, just this book broke my heart into pieces. What a beautiful, powerful book. Narrated by Death, it’s the story of a young girl in Nazi Germany who steals books.
6. “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”: Your favorite book/kind of book to read during the holidays.
In my Seasonal Reads blog series, I mentioned that I frequently read The Dark is Rising during December. It’s full of both warm and cozy Christmas cheer as well as ominous Yuletide magic. I love the whole series, but this one in particular is my favorite. I also love Christmas cozy mysteries and Regency romances.
7. “We Three Kings”: Your favorite trilogy.
I’m going classic for this one: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I first read in high school, right when the movies were coming out. It’s still one of my favorite series. Trilogies are very standard nowadays, especially for YA fantasy, and I think that can be traced back in part to LOTR.
8. “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow”: A character you would love to be snowed in with.
If I were snowed in, I would want Hercule Poirot of Agatha Christie’s mystery series to be one of the party. Because inevitably there would be a murder, and then we could rely on Poirot to solve it! I’m imagining something like the premise to Christie’s play The Mousetrap, which places a bunch of guests trapped in a manor inn together. But luckily Poirot would be there to solve the crime before any further murders take place. Plus Poirot is just a genial guy.
9. “Last Christmas”: A book that seriously let you down.
Sometimes I hear about YA books that are getting a lot of hype and figure I should check them out. Spoiler alert: they don’t always live up to the hype. That’s how I felt about Snow like Ashes and An Ember in the Ashes (maybe I should just avoid books about ashes?). The first books in the series were fine, but nothing spectacular, and the follow-ups got less interesting so that I didn’t continue on with either series.
10. “White Christmas”: An upcoming release you’re dreaming about.
One of our local papers had a fun poll this Christmas season: a bracket of holiday movies, competing for the title of champion. In their poll, the winner turned out to be (no surprise) It’s a Wonderful Life. As a huge fan of Christmas movies (even bad, made-for-TV ones), I decided to go ahead and fill in my own picks.
The 4 regions:
It’s a Wonderful Life
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
A Christmas Story
The Santa Clause
The Bishop’s Wife
Semi-finalist: #7 Home Alone
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
The Preacher’s Wife
A Madea Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Semi-finalist: #3 Love Actually
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Frosty the Snowman
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Hallmark movies (multiple)
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
The Year Without a Santa Claus
The Christmas Shoes
Semi-finalist: #1 How the Grinch Stole Christmas
A Christmas Carol (1951, Alastair Sim)
Scrooged (1988, Bill Murray)
A Christmas Carol (1984, George C. Scott)
Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)
A Christmas Carol (1999, Patrick Stewart)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Scrooge (1970, Albert Finney)
A Christmas Carol (2009, Jim Carrey animated)
Semi-finalist: #6 The Muppet Christmas Carol
So here’s my full bracket:
There are two films in this list of 32 that some people might question. Die Hard is typically thought of as a mere action movie, but I definitely think it is a Christmas movie because the holiday is key to the plot and themes. Plus, I’ve always liked that Hans Gruber sounds like Franz Gruber, who wrote “Silent Night.” The Nightmare Before Christmas, on the other hand, is not a Christmas movie, and I wouldn’t have included it here. Despite the fact that it has “Christmas” in the title, it’s more of a Halloween movie. But I’m sure many people feel the exact opposite about these two. You can fight me in the comments.
There are also a bunch of these movies that I haven’t ever seen (including half of the Christmas Carol versions), so I just didn’t vote for any of those.
The hardest head-to-head match up in the first round was White Christmas vs. Die Hard in the Old School category. I love them both, but they are so different it is hard to compare. I went with White Christmas because I love the music, and also I saw it more recently haha.
In the semi-finals, I also had trouble with How the Grinch Stole Christmas vs. The Muppet Christmas Carol. The Grinch was a Christmas tradition in my house growing up, and I can probably quote most of the movie (not to mention singing the song). But how can you beat the Muppets and Michael Caine singing in the Dickens classic? I gave the edge to the Grinch because the nostalgia factor was stronger there.
No one that knows me will be surprised that I picked Home Alone for my number one Christmas movie. Growing up, it was a tradition to watch this movie on Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday season. I recently even went to see the Cleveland Orchestra perform the movie score live. It really is such a good movie: great writing and acting, plenty of comedy of all kinds, 90s nostalgia, and a killer score by John Williams that manages to be festive yet sinister. It also really captures the spirit of Christmas in childhood.
So that’s why Home Alone is my #1 Christmas movie. What’s yours? How would you fill out your bracket?
Around this time of year, the sounds of the season are constantly playing in my house and car; Celtic Woman, Straight No Chaser, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and many others are regulars in my playlist. I love Christmas music, and my very favorite album is the sadly-rather-obscure John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.
We had this album on vinyl when I was a kid, and I learned to use the record player just to be able to play it. It has some darling versions of classic Christmas songs:
The Twelve Days of Christmas (BA DUM BUM BUM)
Little Saint Nick by Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem (RUN RUN REINDEER)
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Piggy pudding?!?)
Silent Night in both German and English, with a brief history of the song
There are also wonderful original songs, most of which I’ve never heard covered by anyone else, which is a shame:
The Peace Carol (beautiful flute part)
When the River Meets the Sea (more beautiful flute)
A Baby Just Like You (can you tell I play flute?)
Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913
This last one is my favorite track on the album. It is a solo by John Denver–no Muppets, therefore less interesting to me as a kid. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it to be one of the most meaningful Christmas songs I know. The lyrics are adapted from a poem of the same name by Robert Bridges (which is now in the public domain).
Noel: Christmas Eve 1913
Robert Bridges, 1844 – 1930
Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis
A frosty Christmas Eve
when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone
where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village
in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me
peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds
ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above
with stars was spangled o’er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep
that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching
by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields
and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels
or the bright stars singing.
Now blessed be the tow’rs
that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer
unto God for our souls
Blessed be their founders
(said I) an’ our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ
in the belfries to-night
With arms lifted to clutch
the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above
and the mad romping din.
But to me heard afar
it was starry music
Angels’ song, comforting
as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderly
to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me
by the riches of time
Mellow’d and transfigured
as I stood on the hill
Heark’ning in the aspect
of th’ eternal silence.
A frosty Christmas Eve, when the stars where shining
I traveled forth alone, where westward falls the hill
And for many, many a village, in the darkness of the valley
Distant music reached me, peals of bells were ringing.
Then spread my thoughts to olden times, to that first of Christmases
When shepherds who were watching, heard music in the fields
And they sat there and they marveled, and they knew they could not tell
Whether it were angels, or the bright stars a-singing
But to me heard a far, it was starry music
The singing of the angels, the comfort of our Lord
Words of old that come a traveling, by the riches of the times
And I softly listened, as I stood upon the hill
And I softly listened, as I stood upon the hill
Because you probably just skipped reading that wall of text, I’ll sum up. The narrator is out walking and hears the church bells ringing for Christmas. The music, seeming to come from the sky, reminds him of how the angels appeared singing to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. He feels their words (Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis = peace to men of goodwill) speaking to him through the Christmas bells.
It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one that gets at the heart of the Christmas season. It’s a time to pause and appreciate what we have, the beauty of nature and humanity, and let peace fill out hearts, even at the darkest time of year.
So to all you people of goodwill, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you peace–now and throughout the year to come.