Ignore the sexism if you can, and revel in a world of palatial flats where everyone adores the prime minister, says Guardian columnist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
By: Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
What is it about Love Actually? Richard Curtis’s ensemble Yuletide schmaltz-fest came out 16 years ago, and yet whether you adore it or despise it – for this has never been a film to provoke milquetoast emotions – you can’t deny that it remains a cultural touchstone.
The Christmas-centric plot facilitates the film’s annual exhumation by the sort of earmuff-sporting crowd who get excited about the switch to red Styrofoam cups in high street coffee chains, duly followed by its summary dissection by a bunch of misanthropic pseudo-nihilist killjoys whose concept of festive filmic fun is limited to watching the snowy bits in Andrei Rublev. No one comes out of this grudge match well. As I read on a desk once, the darkest parts of hell are reserved for those who, in times of moral conflict, maintain their neutrality (it was attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, but it seems it’s actually Dan Brown).
Surely, you are thinking, it’s just a Christmas movie? You are wrong. It isn’t just a Christmas movie. It is the Christmas movie that devours all other Christmas movies. Continue reading →
20. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” Jimmy Boyd (1952)
Jimmy Boyd was only 13 when he recorded this naughty little gem. The Catholic Church condemned the song for implying even a “tenuous link” between sex and the religious holiday, and radio stations in several markets banned it for some time. Under the mistletoe, Mommy not only kisses Santa, but “tickles” him. And Daddy never suspects a thing – pathetic cuckhold that he clearly is.
19. “Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth” Bing Crosby and David Bowie
Bowie hated “Little Drummer Boy” and insisted on infusing the “Peace on Earth” tune to create this beautiful medley. Bing was a complex guy – a lousy father and skirt-chasing boozer – but as an old man, he was hip enough to sing a Christmas medley with Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie. Love this still!
18. “Baby Its Cold Outside” (Duet by Ray Charles/Betty Carter)
This is such a great song, and there’s been lot’s of fine versions over of the years, including over the end-credits of the sometimes-hilarious movie “Elf.” But no version can touch this one by Brother Ray and Betty Carter. I particularly love Betty’s vocals on this. Are the lyrics offensive in the year of #METOO ? #perhaps
17. “Carol of the Bells”
This song is based on a pagan folk chant welcoming Winter Solstice. It was Christinitized by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1904. Awesomely cool song, and Ukranian-cool, which is the best kind of cool.
16. “Feliz Navidad” (Jose Feliciano 1970)
Might be the best known and most sung Christmas song in the world. And as Steve Buscemi’s character says in Fargo, “with Jose Feliciano, you’ve got no complaints.” This song also contains all the Spanish words I know.
15. “Thank You Very Much” (from “Scrooge” 1970)
From my favorite film version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” this song was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Song in 1970. Strangely enough, the original “Scrooge” soundtrack was never released on CD. Great cockney voices, great dancing, and a great lyric: “And if I had a bugle I would blow it / To add a sort of ‘ow’s-your-father touch/ But since I left my bugle at home /I’ll simply have to say / Thank you very, very, very much!”
14. “Winter Was Warm” Jule Styne (music) and Bob Merrill (lyrics) sung By Jane Kean
Sad, beautiful song from “Mister MaGoo’s Christmas Carol,” which is a Stevenson family holiday cartoon staple. What a great idea – winter was warm. This tune always brings a tear to my eye, and in the cartoon it brings a tear to MaGoo’s eye (the ‘good’ eye that MaGoo could occasionally will to open)
13. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” – sung by Darlene Love
The best of Phil Spector’s Christmas recording. Darlene Love performed the song every year beginning 1986 on the final episode before Christmas of Late Night with David Letterman.
12. “Merry Christmas From Ken Griffin”
As a kid, this severely-scratched LP was among the most-played at Christmas time. Ken Griffin’s organ brought pleasure to many during the holiday season (perhaps even multiple pleasures.) Ken died of a heart attack on the road in 1956, but left behind this “Moby Dick” of organ music, complete with all the Christmas standards, from “The First Noel” to “Jingle Bells” (I prefer Griffin’s version of “Jingle Bells” to Ella Fitzgerald’s… and I am not at all kidding.) Listen in HIGH FIDELITY here (sounds best when playing with your toys, such as Rock’em, Sock’em Robots)
11. “My Favorite Things” (John Coltrane, 1961) The wintertime imagery of the lyrics had made this tune from “The Sound of Music” a holiday standard by the early ’60s. But I like it best with no lyrics voiced, and only John Coltrane blowing away on soprano sax. My dad would bring home a free multi-performer Christmas album when he purchased new snow tires from the local Firestone dealer. Vic Damone, Dinah Shore, Dennis Day, Jerry Vale and the usual suspects. But Coltrane was never on the annual Firestone Christmas LP.
10. “Happy Christmas” (aka “War Is Over”) – John & Yoko.
“War is over, if you want it…” We want it. I wonder if there has ever been a Christmas without a fucking war going on somewhere? Some of the images in this video are hard to watch, but that’s what make them so appropriate.
9. “Dah Who Doraze” (aka “Fah Who Foraze”)
From “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – Do you think The Who’s would concern themselves over the phony Fox News ‘War on Christmas’? …No. They would say, “Christmas day is in our grasp , so long as we have hands to clasp.” Who knew.
8. “If We Make It Through December” – Merle Haggard
“I don’t mean to hate December | It’s meant to be the happy time of year And my little girl don’t understand | Why daddy can’t afford no Christmas here…” God bless him, Hag was one of the greatest. With the exception of this beautiful song and Brenda Lee’s gleefully goofy “I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus,” I pretty much cannot stomach country Christmas songs. Sorry.
I7. “Fairytale of New York” -The Pogues
The line “I’ve got a feelin’ this year’s for me and you” nearly makes me cry every time I hear it. Rest in Peace, Kirsty MacColl. Sláinte to Shane Mac, Christy Moore and to the boys of the NYPD.
16. “O Holy Night” – Rickie Lee Jones with the Chieftains
This version is from the Chieftains’ splendid “The Bells of Dublin.” Rickie’s lead vocal, almost whispered at times, coupled with the dissonant uilleann pipes, provide a beautiful contrast to the grandiose “fall on your knees!” lyric. (Though I can dig it grandiose, as well)
5. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” 1984 performed by Band Aid
Far cooler than “We Are the World” and a great 80s-era rock artifact. I only wish Joe Strummer had contributed vocals on a verse (wonder if Geldolf asked him?) The song has been critized for its clumsy and even racist lyrics, yet it has raised more than $24 million to feed the world.
4. “Christmas Time is Here” (from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”) Vince Guaraldi Trio
The entire Charlie Brown soundtrack is the perfect antidote to shitty Christmas music (which is to say, most Christmas music.) I love the dancing at the Christmas party in the cartoon, with Schroeder rocking-out to Vince Guaraldi’s piano
3. “The Christmas Song” (written by Mel Torme) best performed by Nat King Cole
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” Nat, you had me at hello.
2. “White Christmas” (written Irving Berlin)
Best versions are of course by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, and although I generally dislike R&B treatments of Christmas songs, I’ve grown to love this groovy version by the Drifters (featured in “Home Alone”) perhaps best of all!
1. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” 1944 (written by Hugh Martin)
There’s wonderful versions of this Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Chrissie Hynde and Cat Power, but Judy Garland’s screen performance from 1944’s Meet Me In St Louis stands alone.
Why is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas my favorite Christmas song? I think it is the sadness in the song. I’m mostly Irish and the poet Yeats said, “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” On top of that, I find this song deeply spiritual. “Next year all our troubles will be miles away” is more of a request than an affirmation (like Shane MacGowan singing “I’ve got a feelin’ this year’s for you an’ me,” and Haggard telling himself “If we make it through December, everything’s gonna be alright”). Is there a sadder, more beautiful Christmas prayer than asking that “next year all our troubles will be far away?”
The Pogues’ and Kirsty MacColl’s “Fairytale of New York” is a certified Christmas classic, but did you know that it is also problematic? The song has come under fire because of the use of the word “f**got”—some want to bring attention to it so people won’t singalong with that word anymore, some want the word bleeped out of the song entirely.
Singer Shane MacGowan has responded to the controversy about that particular verse, explaining that the reference was never intended to be homophobic but rather, in context, was part of a character study …
The focus on doing a Christmas roast menu can often mean pubs miss another obvious opportunity: festive bar snacks.
James Scott, who is the executive chef for the multi-award-winning New World Trading Company, has a few tricks up his sleeve that can help you create a great festive snacks menu.
James stresses it is a good idea to get ahead of the game and plan your pub’s festive snacks early. He says: “We find customers are making enquiries for Christmas parties a lot earlier than previous years, so it makes sense to be ready.”The process all begins as soon as one Christmas ends and we start collecting feedback in preparation for the following year. This way it is still fresh in our minds and we start getting some ideas and inspiration down on paper around January/February.”
If you keep things simple and use a template similar to your existing snacks menu you can avoid making too much extra work for yourself.
“The price points for the Christmas nibbles are based on our current menu price points for bar snacks,” James continues, “just with a festive theme. The key is to make them affordable to guests.
“We used our normal suppliers — we asked them if they had any ideas for the nibbles. Christmas pudding sausage meat was intriguing to us, so we played around with it and decided to do it as a sausage roll.”
So when he sat down to put together the Christmas snack menu, where did he start?
“We haven’t previously done a Christmas nibbles menu,” James says, “so we wanted to have a bit of fun with it. If you are in the bar having a drink rather than a sit-down meal, these are the perfect Christmas-themed snack for that.
“We took this as our focus, alongside the wider feedback we received on Christmas, what has worked in the past and what we believe guests want.”
Getting the look
Presentation of snacks is central to their success and for delivering the wow factor for people — although practicality plays a part as well.
James says: “The dishes are presented in small cast iron pots — they are the perfect size for nibbles and are robust enough for the wear and tear of a busy period.”
Another vital element is to make sure the new menu does not have a negative impact on the back-of-house team.
“It will mean a little extra work for the kitchen team,” James says, “but we use some of the ingredients or recipes in the main menu anyway.
“Training will be given to the chefs and general managers over November to ensure it is fresh in their minds and they will get to sit down and have a pre-Christmas meal where they will be served the menu and nibbles to get them into the festive spirit,” he adds.
And do not forget to push the menu out to your customers when you are ready to share it — after all, you will need to drive footfall to make it a success.
New World’s festive menu will be presented to local punters before being rolled out across the company’s pubs.
James continues: “We will also be including it in our email marketing, point-of-sale and shared with members of our new loyalty scheme ‘My New World’.
“Once we get in the festive period, these will also form a key part of our Christmas and social media campaigns.” [ . . . ]