Christmas Movies

Dear Liza,

As you know, we are movie fans. So we have Christmas movies we absolutely cannot miss, or it just doesn’t feel like Christmas.

Our season starts with watching the original, non-colorized, “Miracle on 34th Street”, which was made in 1947 and stars a very young Natalie Wood as the skeptical Susan Walker. It is sweet, understated and reminds us to not get too grown-up.

Our next film this year was “Shop Around the Corner”, another quiet little movie. It came out in 1940 and stars Frank Morgan, Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. It is an early rom-com and more interesting than most.

Last night we enjoyed a newer movie, 2017’s “The Man who Invented Christmas”. This is a fantasy re-telling of what might have been going on in Charles Dickens’ imagination when he was writing his story of Christmas Redemption, “The Christmas Carol”. It stars the wonderfully crotchety Christopher Plummer as Scrooge and Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens.

And this, of course, leads into the best Christmas movie ever, “The Muppets Christmas Carol”. If you haven’t seen this, DO. It is funny, with Gonzo, with Charles Dickens, telling the story with the help of Rizzo the Rat (“I am here for the food.”) Kermit the Frog plays Bob Cratchit with Miss Piggy as his devoted wife.

But it is not just for kids (though my third graders always enjoyed it). Michael Caine, as Scrooge, finds nuances of sadness and regret that more celebrated actors missed. It is also a musical, and if you can get through Tiny Tim singing “Bless Us All” without tears, check your pulse.

We do love the more conventional ”Christmas Carols”, too. Patrick Stewart flexes all his acting muscles and lets us see the range of humanity caught in this one damaged, redeemable man.

I hope I have put you on to some movies that will become your favorites, as well.

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Christmas Carol

Dear Liza,

Christmastime always makes me think of Charles Dickens. In the 1800s, he wrote stories about life in London. Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and Oliver Twist made him popular all over the world.

But to me, his greatest work is a novella he wrote in a hurry just before Christmas in 1843 because he was out of money. This was A Christmas Carol, in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Starting with the eerie line, “Jacob Marley was dead, to begin with” , he weaves a tale of greed and regret, love and loss and redemption, that warms my heart every time I read it.

When I was teaching third grade, I used this story as the basis of of our literature lessons in December. I would read an abridged version of the story aloud over the course of several days. We would brainstorm words to describe Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge and then track his movement on Christmas Eve from reality to dream-like state, then back to reality. The story follows a classic Hero’s Journey, with the unlikely hero returning to real life with his reward of self-awareness and the joy of redemption.

For art lessons during those weeks, we learned about drawing faces to illustrate personality traits. Scrooge’s anger showed in pinched lips and wrinkled brows; Tiny Tim’s eternal optimism shone from his thin face.

And, in my humble opinion, the best re-telling of this story was made in 1992 by Brian Henson and his team of geniuses, The Muppets. Yes, the Muppets, Jim Henson’s puppets that we know and love. So, after we had analyzed and explored the story, we would watch the movie!

Human Michael Caine plays Scrooge to Kermit the frog’s Bob Cratchit, Gonzo’s Charles Dickens and a cast of mice, cows, and Christmas ghosts. The silliness of the Muppets softens the grim tale of Scrooge facing his greatest failings and his greatest fears all in one evening.

And because the Muppet version of the story includes songs, we interpreted lyrics. We noticed that songs sung by Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim have mostly words like “gift” and “light”, where the song describing Scrooge is heavy with words like “grim”, and the painfully true line, “There’s nothing in nature that freezes your heart like years of being alone.” I would write the songs out on long sheets of paper and circle words as we discussed them, creating a ‘Found Word’ poem in the process.

And of course, the overall message of hope for the future shows that while we cannot undo mistakes of the past, every day (in this case, Christmas Day) is ours to grasp and move forward with.

As you can tell, I loved teaching this story. Seeing students who were struggling with English grasp a new word because of its emotional impact, or hearing small groups singing the lyrics at our class party, brought tears to my eyes.

I recommend The Muppet Christmas Carol to anyone older than 7 and on this side of the grave.

Love,

Grandma Judy