Sunday, December 24, 2006

The List: Good, Bad and Ugly of the Christmas Season

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Well, here it is, Christmas Eve.

The lights are up, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and the hard-working folks at Wal-Mart and Target are getting that haggard, hollow-eyed look, like people who've been under several days of sustained artillery fire.

It's a wonderful season, to be sure. Time with family and friends, good cheer, and celebrations abound. But there's also a fair amount of crassness, commercialism and just plain silliness around this time of year, even more than usual. So, in our usual fair and balanced spirit, we bring you the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Christmas Season.

Best TV Christmas Special: I've thought long and hard about this one, and I've got to declare it a tie.

First among equals is the classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas." OK, when you look at it now, I'll admit, some of the jokes are clearly gags from the "Peanuts" newspaper strips shoehorned into the show as filler, the animation is crude, and you can even hear some clumsy splices in the voiceover track.

But I still choke up at that moment when Linus, having recited St. Luke's account of the angels proclaiming "peace on earth and goodwill toward men," picks up his blanket, walks offstage, and says simply "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Sharing the No. 1 spot is "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." It's clear that the Whos down in Whoville don't belong to any Christian sect we'd recognize. They're not even human. I mean, they have antennae, for crying out loud. But that doesn't stop the winsome little critters, even in the absence of presents, from joining hands and singing the immortal Christmas lyrics "Fah-who foraze, dah-hoo doraze, Welcome Christmas, come this way," and so on before they invite the even less humanoid Grinch in for dinner, thus proving that Christmas is truly an inclusionary holiday.

Take THAT, Bill O'Reilly!

Worst TV Christmas Special: There are so many contenders for this one, most of which have fallen by the wayside.

There was, for instance, the plethora of horrific Kathie Lee Gifford efforts. But the absolute worst, the Lead Standard by which all bad Christmas specials are judged, is George Lucas' "Star Wars Holiday Special."

This one's making the rounds again on Internet sites such as YouTube, despite LucasFilm's desperate efforts to get it taken down as fast as people upload it.

You can hardly blame Lucas. I'd be embarrassed to have anyone know I had anything to do with this piece of crap, too. It starts with Han Solo trying to run the Imperial Blockade to get Chewbacca back home to his family for "Life Day." (Yes, Chewie has a family, including a son named -- are you ready for this? Lumpy.)

And it goes downhill from there, reaching its nadir with Bea Arthur as an intergalactic barmaid. Singing. It was really, really bad. Back in 1978 when it first aired, I was a major "Star Wars" fan, and even I could tell it stank up the screen.

Best Christmas Song, Traditional: "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," mostly because of its association with the above-referenced Charlie Brown special.

Worst Christmas Song, Traditional: "The Little Drummer Boy" is pretty annoying, but it gets edged out by the maddeningly insistent "Carol of the Bells."

"Oh how they pound, raising the sound." Exactly.

Best Christmas Song, Modern: Bruce Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," featuring the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, on saxophone and backup vocals.

Worst Christmas Song, Modern: Again, there are so many to choose from here. I have to give the nod to "Jingle Bell Rock," mainly for the way it tries to tack "jingle" on to everything. "Jingle-hop," "jingle-horse," etc. I'm sorry, it just sets my teeth on edge.

Thing I'll Miss Most When the Season is Over: As always, the tree. I love bringing the tree home. I love hanging the lights and decorations. I love having the tree all lit up in the living room. It's always a depressing day when it comes down, sometime in June.

Thing I'll Miss Least When the Season Is Over: The "Peace Love and Gap" commercials, aka "Holiday in Your 'Hood." As my son has observed, "Yes, when people think Gap, they think immediately of the 'hood."

Running a close second are all those jewelry store commercials with women who are supposed to be gazing off camera looking raptly romantic over their new trinkets, but who actually look more like the result of a botched lobotomy.

So, dear readers, let me close with my holiday wish to you: May you treasure the good things about this and every other season, and may you always be able to laugh at the bad. Whatever holiday you celebrate, have a joyous one.

Dusty Rhoades lives, writes, practices law and celebrates Christmas in Carthage.