Another day on the family rollercoaster, from intimations of finality to declamations of hope. “Rollercoaster” isn’t the best word for describing the mortal infirmities of a family member, really. When you’re on the way up on a rollercoaster you know what’s over the crest, and when you plunge down you know it’s intended to gather momentum for the next ascent. And the ascents are always preludes to the fall. The ascent is what makes the fall possible. Also, there are no cameras taking pictures of the family as they file out of a conference room after a meeting. Buy them in the lobby. Ten dollars.

It’s more like the Zipper. The Zipper is the most pointless, confusing, terrifying ride on the Midway, and one of the oldest. The Tilt-o-Whirl is the only one that gives you a measure of control; the Scrambler or its variants is just something that goes around in certain patterns. The Zipper is random.

Most models of the Zipper follow a similar basic format: A long, rotating, oval boom with a cable around its edge that pulls 12 cars around the ride.

Depending on how many people are in your car, and what they weigh, and how much you move around, and whether the gods in a generous or mocking mood, you will be throw around without any way to stop the chaotic, spastic revolutions. Money flies out of your pockets, glasses come off, gorges bolt. It goes on and on until it stops. So that’s what this all is like. The fargin’ Zipper.

Working at home this week because I have the week off, odd as that sounds. I have three pieces due. Two are optional, but I hate to not be in the paper. People seem to like the column and it’s no great struggle to produce it, so I’ll take my “time off” to be understood as “don’t have to go to the office.” This was unwise today, since it led to brooding and lassitude. Tomorrow I will go Christmas shopping, because I have to get some frickin’ jingle in my heart or this entire month will seem like an endless loop of running into Munch’s “Scream” guy with my car and dragging him for half a block.

Every year is different, of course; you forget the years where it all felt rote until it didn’t. You assemble all the good memories into a compressed file where all the basics are represented at their best. I’ll probably convert Sunday’s Christmas concert into a good memory, even though it was somewhat fraught. Perhaps that’s good: extracting from the experience what I didn’t actually feel on top, but yearned to feel. Daughter is in choir, but heck, so are SIX HUNDRED other people; the concert had the usual marvelous accompaniment and extraordinary adult choir. (This is not a flashy megachurch, BTW, just a very large Lutheran establishment.) Every performance was exceptional. I couldn’t see any of it, since we were seated behind a thick pillar. The lights were wonky - something had gone amiss earlier, with streetlights and stoplights out, and the lights flickered and shut off and sprang to life again. When everything in the church went dead dark, you could tell people thought the power had gone out.

But that was part of the show. The young folk, berobed, filed down the aisles with candles. Because of fire regulations or just caution, they were battery-powered, and the kids pretended to light them by touching them together while they flicked the switch. Then: “Silent Night.” It’s a song that scales well - for humble voices and piano, it’s simple and sweet. For a massed chorus with an organ laying on the bass, it can make a stone feel light with awe. Of course, “Hark the Herald” on the way out, a song that always makes me think: now it’s Swedish meatballs and presents. Hurrah!

I do know this: trying as it all has been, daughter and I will watch “Arthur Christmas” on Christmas Eve, and when everyone has gone to bed I will watch the old British “Christmas Carol” or the Patrick Stewart version, which I’m not completely crazy about but have come to regard as a private tradition, everyone else in the family being less inclined to wallow in the Dickens.

Then the morning, and the wonderful glorious feeling you get when you wake and realize YOU DON’T HAVE TO ASSEMBLE A PINK BARBIE PALACE.

But all that is yet to come.

I feel better already.



This is absolutely fascinating. In Sweden, according to this article that might possibly be an elaborate prank on the Slate audience, it is a tradition on Christmas Eve for families to watch Donald Duck cartoons. The same ones as the year before.

Almost a side note:

Over the last half-century, the characters and sketches have become as much a part of the holiday as the Christmas tree, so much so that each time TV1 has suggested modifying the schedule, public outcry has forced the network to back down. In the 1970s, Helena Sandblad, then head of children's programming, attempted to pull the show off of the air because broadcasting a Disney program didn't jibe with the prevailing political ethos.

"Everything was pretty serious in the '70s and anything that was commercial, or considered commercial, was not good, was considered an ugly word," said SVT publicity officer Ursula Haegerström.

After newspapers got wind of the plans to cancel the show, the station was bombarded with letters, phone calls, and negative press. Sandblad received personal threats. "That was one of the worst audience storms in our history," Haegerström told me.

What fun it must have been to a kid in that time.

Well, here's Book Tip, introduced by my brother from the planet Metaluna:




Today in Yulification: I like this. They didn't change anything about the Cheez-Its; no "holiday colors." No "Limited Edition" packaging. Just Cheez-Its arrayed in the most non-denominational form possible.






This made me so very happy when I found it - possibly because I remember how happy it might have made me when I saw it as a little boy.

There's a time in your life when things fit together into a wonderful whole, when your world and the grown-up world - by which I mean, "stuff on TV and in the store" - clicks into place and everything is about Christmas. Everything! The next picture may explain, if the one above didn't do it.

You might say: why would a snowman shill for a hair dryer? It would kill him. But that's no ordinary snowman. It's Sam the Snowman from the Rudolph TV show. Simple commercial tie-in today, but when you're a kid this is a sign that everything is coming together into the Joyous and Unbearably Long Holiday season. Of course, we didn't know that we were being fed bad lessons; as one comment on imdb says:

Yes, the outdated and patronizing gender roles of the story are hard to take in this day and age. When I showed this to university friends one winter, both the men and the women booed the line about protecting the "womenfolk" (after the encounter with the Abominable Snowmonster).

If they made it today the "womenfolk" would have had the strength and facility with sharp implements Yukon and Rudolph possessed, and would probably have saved the menfolk.

Speaking of Yukon:

Mind you, there's no obvious tie-in. There's nothing that blares SEE THE RUDOLPH SPECIAL in big type. It was assumed you'd know who these guys were.

Proof we can date the rise of the Avocado color to 1967:

There were several kinds of elves; this fellow seemed the most numerous. His ilk were happy with their lot in life. They were not misfits. They were not scowling crew chiefs, and they were not the dorky tall one with the Mel Cooley glasses. They were talented toasters, too:

America's favorite peppermint prospector (that's why he licks the pick, so to speak; he was hoping to strike peppermint. That fact was edited out of the original, leaving millions of children to wonder what strange example of prospector know-how we'd just learned) comes with an ornament and an electric blanket:


I wonder how many people never considered one of those because they were certain it would catch on fire or electrocute them. Ah, Underwriters Laboratory, what do they know, prolly in the pocket of GE.

Hermey loves waffles. Everyone loves waffles! Well, actually, I can take them or leave them alone. They're fine right off the grill, but between the butter and the room-temp syrup, you ended up with a hard cold square. French toast is the far superior breakfast platform.


And here's your compilation of GE / Rudolph TV spots. With songs and the original elves doing DIFFERENT THINGS than the TV show, which was a treat when you were a kid. Like finding something in your stocking after you thought you'd dug out everything.



Additional Richie Rich up there, as the year-long effort to explain his world starts to wind down. See you around.





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