Best Movies, Best Foods, Best Gifts, Best Toys, Best Websites… Best Everything!
Best Christmas Website – The Cookie Shop
Every year, I try to do something for my friends that is unique and meaningful. This year, I thought I would share with you what I consider to be some of the best ideas for Christmas, beginning with the best website. I’m not one myself for baking, but this website by a Brazilian lady named Paula makes me want, not only to eat some gingerbread men, but to go to the trouble of baking them as well. I found her site while looking for a photograph of a gingerbread man to use in a Christmas piece I was working on. Paula’s men were the cutest and most artistically done of any I found. But her whole website is that way. Her creations are works of art. I hope you will enjoy them and tell her what you think. http://thecookieshopinenglish.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/ho-ho-ho-its-gingerbread-time/
Best Christmas Comedy – The Man Who Came To Dinner
Based upon the famous play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, The Man Who Came To Dinner is a tour de force for its star, Monte Woolley (The Bishop’s Wife). Woolley plays a famous radio personality, Sheridan Whiteside, who, on the one hand, is known and loved by some of the most important people in the world; and, on the other, has outrageous gall and a disarming knack for verbalizing just the right witicisms and put-downs to everyone around him. Just before Christmas, while on a lecture tour in a small Ohio town, Whiteside falls down some icy steps at the home of one of his hosts and becomes incapacitated. And so, while recuperating, and with the tact and grace of a water buffalo, he conducts his afairs – including a live radio broadcast on Christmas Eve – in a wheelchair from his hosts’ living room, much to their chagrin. Bedlam ensues and the family’s lives are turned upside down.
Meanwhile, his friends, who have heard about his accident, begin sending him the most fantastic Christmas presents – including four penguines and an octopus, whom he names after his host. And some of his closest friends – all theatrical types and insanely jealous of each other – begin arriving in person. When Whiteside’s secretary, played demurely by Bette Davis, falls for the local newspaper man, the narcissistic radio guru’s world is threatened; and so he must come up with a scheme to break them up. Enter Ann Sheridan, a self-obsessed actress friend of Whiteside’s that he has lured to Ohio, using as bate the newspaper man and a play he has written for which he needs a star. But the plan backfires, calling for the expertise of another friend, a womanizing comedian named Banjo, played wonderfully by Jimmy Durante. This is director William Keighley’s second best film, after The Adventures Of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, and one of the best comedies ever written. 5 Stars. Order it from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Man-Who-Came-Dinner/dp/B000EU1Q1S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1292112523&sr=1-1
Best Seasonal Treat – White Christmas Ice Cream from Publix
Publix Super Markets offer a variety of seasonal ice creams, but this is one of their best. Based on the famous coffee drink by Barnie’s Coffee and Tea Company, it contains the flavors of coffee, chocolate and coconut. It always sells out fast, so don’t wait.
Best Place to Buy a Christmas Tree – North Carolina
“Several years ago, just after Thanksgiving, my family and I were shopping in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, when we decided to buy a fresh-cut Christmas tree. We asked around and finally heard of a place that was supposed to be one of the best Christmas tree farms in North Carolina. This was a totally unplanned outing, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable activities my family has ever done together.
When we got to the farm, there were trucks full of hay ready to carry us up to the top of a mountain that was covered with Christmas trees. Once on top, as we all walked around, looking at the trees, it began to snow. As each person picked his or her tree, one of the workers cut it down, tagged it and thew it on a second truck. Pretty soon, we were all heading back down the mountain as another truck full of people was coming up. When we got down to the bottom, there was hot chocolate for everyone while we waited for the trees to be bound and tied to the top of our cars. The whole operation was very professional and a lot of fun. It was the most wonderful tree-buying experience I’ve ever had, and one I would encourage everyone to experience.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the tree farm. But here’s the official North Carolina Christmas tree website, where you should find everything you need to know: http://ncchristmastrees.com/ Happy hunting!
Best Christmas Toy – Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story 3
Since there have been three Toy Story movies, the Buzz Lightyear toy has been introduced three times in the past fifteen years. In my book, that’s enough longevity to call this a “classic toy.” It retails for over $50 – the Disney Store has an “Ultimate” Buzz Lightyear for $150 – but I’ve seen it for under $25 at Wal-Mart and other stores. Every kid in the past 15 years should have owned one of these, and there are plenty of adult collectors who still do – I among them. 🙂
Just a word about Buzz’s character: it, too, is classic, which is why the last two movies have centered around him. His is the kind of personality that you both admire and find humorous. He is an excellent leader and hero to the other toys; yet, he is full of vulnerabilities, not the least of which is how he takes himself so seriously, which the filmmakers take full advantage of and which helps to make him so endearing.
As far as the latest Toy Story movie, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars because there really isn’t that much that’s new – even the music is recycled; but the ending is sweet and I honestly don’t see how the series could have ended any better. Ken and Barbie are the newest additions to the supporting cast of toys but, sorry to say, they just aren’t cute or interesting enough to add that much to the story. There are some very clever moments, such as when Mr. Potato Head trades in his potato for a tortilla; but, again, there just aren’t enough to beat out the two previous films, which are masterpieces in my book. Nevertheless, ending the series with a 4-star showing is far more than most series do. The new, and probably final, Chronicles Of Narnia installment probably won’t even do that. Toy Story will always be one of the most successful franchises in history.
Best Christmas Gift – Heaven by Randy Alcorn
I’ve been bragging about this book for years. It is, as Stu Weber has said, “Other than the Bible itself… the single most life-changing book you’ll ever read.” And now it comes in a neat gift size: 50 daily meditations based on the book. And that’s not all! There’s also a $1 stocking-stuffer that covers the most asked questions about heaven. The idea behind both the gift size and the stocking stuffer is to whet the reader’s appetite so they’ll jump into the full volume. Other than the Gospel, it’s the greatest gift you can give to someone you love. The full, hard-cover edition is less than $17 on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Heaven-Randy-Alcorn/dp/0842379428/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1292123583&sr=1-1
Second Best Christmas Gift – Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan
Another great gift is the gift of music. Now, I know that everyone is not going to appreciate this. It’s a history of hymns in the form of stories, with the accompanying music. Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories by Robert J. Morgan is a great way to learn something about church history via its music. All the great hymns are included, and many that will be unfamiliar, but which have riveting stories attached to them. I like to use this to supplement my personal worship. It is heavy paperback, with torn edges for an heirloom effect. You can buy it from Amazon for under $14. There is also a Special Edition and a Book 2.
Another excellent gift is Hymns 4 Worship: Amazing Grace, if you can find it. It’s a double CD of traditional hymns by contemporary Christian artists. If you have a musician on your list, there’s also a keyboard and vocal collection of the music by Hal Leonard Corp. You can buy it at http://www.amazon.com/Hymns-Worship-Amazing-Grace-Integrity/dp/1423429923/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1292124839&sr=1-2
Best Christmas Candy – Moser Roth Chili Chocolate from Aldi’s
For the chocolate lover on your list, you will find no sweeter dark chocolate than this by Moser Roth, which has a touch of chili in it. The idea of mixing chili with chocolate came from South America, which you may also remember from the movie Chocolat. There are other brands on the market, but this from Aldi Grocery Stores is probably the most economical. Each bar contains five individually wrapped pieces and sells for around $1.60. I can’t think of a better way to get your daily intake of dark chocolate.
Best Christmas Album – Jim Brickman – Any of his annual Christmas albums
I’ve touted Jim Brickman’s albums before, but I just can’t think of any Christmas music that is more pleasant, peaceful and inspiring than Brickman’s. While it is mostly instrumental – piano – each album includes some larger production numbers with guest singers. Some of his album titles include “Peace,” “Homecoming,” “Joy,” “Christmas Romance,” “The Gift” and his most recent, “Hymns and Carols of Christmas.” Good music to wake up to, as well as nice background music for dining. Here’s Jim Brickman’s store on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Jim-Brickman/e/B000APVT2S/ref=ac_dpt_sa_bio
Best Christmas Wine – Landshut Riesling from Aldi’s
I don’t remember which member of my family discovered this wine, but we have been using it for parties and weddings over the past year, and it has been a big hit. It’s a Riesling, which most people like. And it’s priced around $5, which your pocketbook will like. Plus, the bottles are a pretty shade of cobalt blue, which you may find a use for as a decoration on a bottle tree, etc.
Best Place to Visit at Christmas – New York City
Other than driving up into the mountains to pick out a Christmas tree in the snow, I can’t think of any place more fun to visit at Christmas time than New York City. There is certainly plenty to do, with all the shows and restaurants. And, of course, the stores are gorgeous. But the thing I like best about New York at Christmas time is how friendly the people are – at least in Manhattan – and how you can “feel” Christmas in the air. The air is usually crisp and cold, with the smell of snow. If you’re blessed enough to catch New York in the snow, that is a real treat. As a matter of fact, I would have to say that anywhere you can go that has snow is better than anywhere that doesn’t at Christmas time. Snow is really what makes it feel like Christmas. So, bring it on! (i.e., “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”)
Best Christmas Show – Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite
I’m not a particular fan of Tchaikovski, although I do think that the Nutcracker Suite seems to say “Christmas” more than most other shows. I also like a live production of A Christmas Carol at Christmas time. Most nativity programs leave me a little flat. No one will ever do a better rendition of the nativity than was done in Ben-Hur (the book more than the movie) or in the movie, Jesus of Nazareth. The Nativity Story‘s version was good as far as it went, although they played down the announcement by the angels to the shepherds, for some unknown reason!
If you don’t go somewhere like New York and see a big production of the Nutcracker, and you can’t catch a live production of A Christmas Carol by a noted actor, then I think the next best thing, and maybe an even better alternative, is a small church production where you know the participants – something filled with lots of Christmas carols, hymns and heart. I have a friend named Curt Cloninger that does a wonderful show called “Celebrate the Child,” in which he portrays six different characters who were present for the birth of Christ, and also includes Christmas songs and carol singing. If you’d like to book Curt for his Christmas show or any of his other shows, you can go here: http://curtcloninger.com/
Best Christmas Hors d’oeuvre – My Family’s Recipe for Shrimp Dip
Every Christmas, when my family gets together for Christmas, we compete with each other for who can come up with the best variation on our family’s recipe for Shrimp Dip. Some of us like more onion, others like more catsup – I personally like more Worchestershire sauce. You can adjust it for your own taste. For years we enjoyed Shrimp Dip with Nabisco’s Bacon Thins crackers, but they’re next to impossible to find anymore; so now we have it with a variety of crackers and chips. I like Stoned Wheat Thins from Red Oval Farms. (Beware the non-sodium version, which have less flavor.)
So, without further ado, here’s our recipe for Shirmp Dip:
Drain one 4 oz. can of small (tiny) shrimp. Mash fine. Add 4 oz. cottage cheese (small curd), the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1-2 Tbsp. minced onion, 1-2 Tbsp. Worchestershire sauce, 2 Tbsp. tomato catsup, and 1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise. Mix well. Keep refrigerated. Spread on vegetables or crackers. Enjoy!
Best Christmas Romance – Christmas In Connecticut
Christmas In Connecticut is a screwball comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan, with a Christmas theme and romantic story that are fresh, clever and funny. A WWII soldier (Morgan), just released from hospital, has nowhere to go for the holidays, so his nurse fixes it up for him to spend them with a magazine columnist (Stanwyck) that is supposedly the country’s number one authority on home life – only she’s anything but. Living by herself in a flat in the city, she has dreamed up a husband, an ideal home in the country, a baby and an incredible knack for preparing the most delectable dishes to entice her readers – none of which exists. To complicate matters, her boss, played by Sydney Greenstreet, decides he’d like to join his columnist and her soldier guest, so he can see this domestic marvel in action. So, almost overnight, she has to come up with husband, home and hearth, baby and the ability to cook. Her friends jump in to help her, and all the pieces seem to be working, until she starts falling in love with the soldier, who reciprocates. It’s a lot of fun, filled with informative discussions on food, plumbing, the proper way to bathe a baby, various techniques for rocking in a rocking chair, how to flip a flap jack, how to give a nurse “the ol’ magoo” in order to get what you want in hospital, etc. You’re sure to go away with a real education! Five Stars. Order it from Amazon:
The Meaning of Christmas
I think you have to have been born in the South to understand this, but there is a real connection with Southerners between Christmas and snow. It’s almost as if snow validates the holiday. Maybe we’re just more romantic that people in other parts of the country, and we’ve really bought into the idea of a “white Christmas;” but every year, the entire South prays that it will snow on Christmas Eve. It’s not that we have horse-drawn sleighs anymore, as many Yankees would like to think; but we do like to remember them. Snow reminds us of how Christmas once was, a time of graciousness and charity. We wish we could get back to that, but we never do. And so the promise and joy of Christmas are always followed by a feeling of unfulfillment and melancholy. Snow softens that.
The other reason snow is so important to Christmas is because Christmas is a medieval, European holiday in origin, and therefore needs medieval, European symbols to support it. The birth of Jesus took place in an arid, Eastern country. It’s very difficult for Westerners to wrap their heads around the birth of a Savior in such a foreign place. So we wrap the story in things we understand, like snow and Christmas trees and candy canes. Snow is like a white security blanket that we hold next to our heads as we suck our thumbs and gaze at the Nativity. Snow represents the purity of Christ that He has so graciously clothed us with. When we twist that image together with one of the His righteousness – something else He’s clothed us in – we have the red and white of the candy cane, a beautiful medieval image that, like snow, helps to comfort and encourage us at Christmas time.
The great reformer Martin Luther introduced the Christmas tree into our tradition. But other than it, most of our holiday symbols are medieval and all point back to Christ and what He was born to bring:
“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18
Christ’s sinless blood washed away our sins, which were as red as scarlet, and made them as clean and pure as His own. That is the gift of a tiny baby sent from Heaven and born into an evil world. The Wise Men’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh pale in comparison.
More Best of Christmas
Best Christmas Story – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Best Christmas Decoration – Wreath of mixed firs, pine cones, red berries and red bow
Best Christmas Game – The Minister’s Cat from the movie Scrooge
Best Christmas Charity – The Salvation Army
Best Christmas Store – Wal-Mart
Best Christmas Drink – Eggnog
Second Best Christmas Hors d’oeuvre – Cheese straws with walnuts
Best Christmas Meat – Honey Baked Ham
Best Christmas Scent – Evergreens
Best Christmas Blessing – “God bless us every one” from A Christmas Carol
Best Christmas Place – Home (“There’s no place like home for the holidays”)
Most Inspiring Scriptures for Christmas – Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-15
Best Christmas Activity – Helping the poor and homeless
Second Best Christmas Activity – Caroling
Third Best Christmas Activity – Christmas Eve candlelight service
Best Christmas Surprise – A service person returning home
Best Christmas Greeting – Merry Christmas! (Don’t be afraid to say it.)
Waitsel Smith, December 12, 2010
For more on Christian Culture and Holidays, go to my Holidays website.
Text © 2010 Waitsel Smith. Photos © 2010 Waitsel Smith, plus additional sources. All Rights Reserved.