News of the Week: One Small Gift, Chia Pets, and the Caffeine-Addicted Family Celebrates Christmas

In the news for the week ending December 24, 2021, are Christmas Eve traditions along with Scrooges, Grinches, Hasselhoffs, and more.

Christmas Ornaments by window on a snow covered Christmas morning.
Christmas Ornaments by John Atherton, December 18, 1943 (©SEPS)

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The Meaning of Christmas (Eve)

When I was a kid, my mom let us open one small gift the night before Christmas. I don’t know if this was because it was a longtime tradition in her family, or if she felt sorry for us because we had to wait until the next morning to open our presents, or if we were bugging her and she just wanted to shut us up, but somewhere along the way the tradition began.

The first thing everyone has to decide is, what is the definition of small? Is it something really small, not much bigger than the size of your hand? Not really. I mean, have you seen kids’ hands? So the parent says it’s okay to open something a little larger. Not too large! And nothing heavy.

Of course, opening one gift on Christmas Eve can be tricky. Do you give your kids a hint because they might be disappointed if they open socks, or do you just leave it to fate? I remember one year I opened something that wasn’t particularly exciting (I don’t remember what it was, but I rolled the dice and lost) and my mom let me open something she knew I’d enjoy.

But then the kid thinks to themselves: do I want to open two gifts on Christmas Eve? That’s one less I’ll get to open tomorrow!

I remember one year my mother, having to buy for seven kids and others, forgot to buy anything to put in our stockings and didn’t realize it until late on Christmas Eve. So she had to scramble. I remember getting a lot of oranges and bananas in my stocking that year.

What’s your Christmas Eve tradition?

Hey, This Qualifies as a Small Gift

Instead of trying to guess what that person in your life who is hard to buy for might want for Christmas, just go ahead and get them the gift that anyone with any common sense would like: a David Hasselhoff Chia Pet.

Holiday TV

Lots of good stuff on TV today and tonight (Christmas Eve). Starting at 8 a.m. ET, Decades has a Christmas sitcom marathon, featuring The Donna Reed Show, The Odd Couple, Cheers, The Lucy Show, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Freeform has several animated holiday classics starting at 6 p.m., including How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. Turner Classic Movies has a marathon of holiday movies starting at 8 p.m. ET with The Bishop’s Wife, followed by the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol and Remember the Night, the 1940 comedy/drama with Fred Macmurray and Barbara Stanwyck that has become a Christmas staple.

NBC has It’s a Wonderful Life at 8 p.m., while TV Land has all of the Everybody Loves Raymond Christmas episodes (“Season’s Greetings” is my favorite). Hallmark Channel and Lifetime continue their nonstop marathon of Christmas rom-coms, and TBS has their annual 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story that runs through Christmas evening.

On Christmas Day starting at 3 a.m., E! is running an all-day marathon of It’s a Wonderful Life (in case you missed it on Christmas Eve). Cartoon Network gets into the marathon game with three consecutive airings of The Wizard of Oz starting at 8 a.m. ABC has the Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade at 10 a.m. and then has three NBA basketball games starting at 2 p.m. (assuming they aren’t postponed because of COVID). There’s football on too: FOX has the Cleveland Browns/Green Bay Packers game at 4:30 p.m.

Of course, that’s only a small sampling of what’s on. Click here and here for more.

This Is Still the Best Christmas Commercial of All Time

I don’t understand why they don’t run this every year.

Uploaded to YouTube by FM1156

You Have to Read This!

I’m starting a new feature this week: a link to the one story that you absolutely must read, no matter what. First up, the story of Si Spiegel, a man who was not only a World War II hero, he’s also the man responsible for making the artificial tree a Christmas tradition. He’s still going strong at 97.

Hey Tom Hanks, if you’re reading this, please make a movie about this man’s life.

RIP Joan Didion, Carlos Marin, Ken Kragen, Eve Babitz, Manuel Santana, Bridget Hanley, Phil Chen, Wanda Young, Henry Orenstein, and Elfrida von Nardroff

Joan Didion was an acclaimed and influential author of novels, essays, short stories, and screenplays. She died yesterday at the age of 87. Didion wrote several pieces for the Post. Her classic essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” first appeared in our September 23, 1967 issue, and the Christmas essay “The Big Rock Candy Figgy Pudding Pitfall” appeared in our December 3, 1966 issue. She also wrote a piece about meeting John Wayne.

Carlos Marin was one of the singers in the popular singing group Il Divo. He died Sunday at the age of 53.

Ken Kragen was the person responsible for getting all of the stars to sing on the charity song “We Are the World.” He also managed people like the Smothers Brothers, the Bee Gees, and Olivia Newton-John and produced many TV movies and specials. He died last week at the age of 85.

Eve Babitz wrote numerous books and articles about ’60s Hollywood and celebrity culture, dated everyone from Jim Morrison to Harrison Ford, designed album covers for the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, and hung out with people like Steve Martin (she got him to start dressing in suits), Jack Nicholson, Salvador Dalí, and Frank Zappa. She died last week at the age of 78.

Manuel Santana was a Spanish tennis player who won the French Open twice, Wimbledon and the U.S. National Championships once, and gold and silver medals at the 1968 Olympic Games. He died Saturday at the age of 83.

Bridget Hanley starred in the ’60s series Here Come the Brides and appeared in many other TV shows. She died last week at the age of 80.

Phil Chen was a bassist who played on such Rod Stewart songs as “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?,” “Young Turks,” and “Hot Legs.” He also played with Jeff Beck, Donovan, and the Doors’ Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore. He died last week at the age of 75.

Wanda Young was a singer with The Marvelettes who sang lead on “Don’t Mess with Bill” and background on “Please Mr. Postman” and “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game.” She died last week at the age of 78.

Harry Orenstein survived the Holocaust, built a toy company in the 1950s (it made the small Suzy Homemaker appliances), brokered the deal that brought Transformers to stores, and even found a way to make TV poker entertaining. He died last week at the age of 98.

Elfrida von Nardroff won more money than anyone on the 1950’s quiz show Twenty One. It was later discovered that she and other contestants received many of the answers in advance. She died last month at the age of 96.

This Week in History

How the Grinch Stole Christmas Airs for the First Time (December 18, 1966)

Here’s how Theodor Geisel’s (aka Dr. Seuss) classic book became a holiday TV staple.

 A Christmas Carol First Published (December 19, 1843)

Its original full title was A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. It could be the story with the most adaptations ever, in books, stories, and stage and film versions.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Christmas Morning (December 24, 1955)

Children sneaking downstairs on Christmas morn
Christmas Morning
John Falter
December 24, 1955

Is there a better day in a kid’s life? Probably not.

Christmas Recipes: Part 2

In part 1, I linked to a bunch of recipes for cocktails and appetizers. This week: the main course and desserts.

And for that main course, how about something besides turkey? Don’t get me wrong, turkey is great! In fact, that’s what I’m having. But you probably know how to make one already, and just a month ago I told you how Juila Child made hers, if you’d like to try that. So let’s do something different.

How about a Lemon Rosemary Chicken or this Prime Rib with Peas from Curtis Stone? Recipe Tin Eats has a Maple Glazed Ham that looks fantastic, or you could try something really different and make Rachael Ray’s Christmas Pasta.

For dessert, Delish has a Peppermint Bark Trifle, Ina Garten has Rugelach, and The Pioneer Woman has a Pumpkin Roll.

Whatever you decide to make this year, whether just for yourself or a large gathering, have a great (and safe) Christmas.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

College Bowl Games (December 25-31)

You probably missed some bowl games that have already taken place, like the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but there are still plenty coming up this week, including the Quick Lane Bowl, the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, and the Cheez-It Bowl. Here’s the full schedule.

National Fruitcake Day (December 27)

Or as some people call it, “National Throw Away the Fruitcake You Got for Christmas Day.”

Featured image: Christmas Ornaments by John Atherton, December 18, 1943 (©SEPS)

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  1. Ya’ll forgot a big thing in the Folgers commercial. You used to get a woosh! As the vacuum was released on opening the can. Now all we get is a plastic can and no vacuum freshness.

  2. Merry Christmas Bob, of course! My bad for not saying it yesterday. I had the same problem as Henry Kelly in not being able to access the Si Spiegel feature for the same reason. A lot of links will let you read it for 20 seconds or so, then something pops up from the bottom covering it all up unless you’re subscribed. More login/sign-in/password/user name crap I don’t need!

    Ironically, part of my comments involved the (silver) artificial tree my mom got after my little disaster. One Christmas Eve tradition I liked as a child were the caramel popcorn balls my mom made fresh each year that were incredible! Unfortunately, she ‘overindulged’ one year (while making them) and got SO sick, she never made them again. ’65 was it.

    Mr. Mayor, thanks for the warning about Comet TV. I’d never heard of it before, but have now! Their programming would have ME throwing up. All the more reason to keep the TV off most of the time.

  3. I clicked on the link to read about Si Siegel but couldn’t read it because I’m not a NY Times subscriber.

  4. Merry Christmas, Bob! Just wanted to share that reading your column has become a Saturday morning tradition for my husband and me. Keep up the great work in 2022!

  5. Comet TV had Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Silent Night Bloody Night, Silent Night Bloody Night 2 and Black Christmas. Because nothing says Merry Christmas like blood and gore. Merry Christmas, Bob.

  6. First of all, what a gorgeous ‘opening’ illustration at the top! It’s nice to read about your Christmas Eve tradition of opening one small gift. That’s a really nice memory. I don’t have any that stand out like that. My mom loved the silver artificial tree that could be easily assembled and the branches inserted in the designated holes creating a tree once completed and you’d add the ornaments. One year this actually wasn’t done until Christmas Eve.

    Before there was Santa Snow Spray, there was this earlier version involving putting the vacuum cleaner in reverse and it was a disaster. I loved helping, but at 3 and a half I got a hold of the hose, flipped the switch and… and after that never again! The silver tree it was from then on. (I wrote of that in an ad feature here several years ago.)

    My faith in the USPS has been restored. I was finally notified my out of state package was delivered on Wednesday! The best gifts are the ones you make yourself, but have to admit it was fun getting gifts by Mattel like the Monkees Guitar, Creeple People, Thingmaker, Creepy Crawlers with the hot Plasti-goop. Soooo outlawed, unfortunately.

    You know, one wonderful Christmas song that’s always overlooked is the Eagles understated totally doo-wop ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’. I no more got through hearing it drinking some hot cocoa at Coco’s the other night when ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ started. I’d hoped to dodge getting crapped on by THAT partridge this year.

    Bob, you’re so right about the 1986 Folger’s ad (above) being the best Christmas commercial of all time. It would never be run today. It’s 1:08 long, which it needed to be, but that’s the length of 4 ads in very expensive air time now. It has the sense and sensibility of when the U.S. was a very different country, long ago. We’re lucky the basic tune and slogan is preserved in the stressed-out 15 second Zoom/work pandemic ads of the Deadly 20’s.

    I love the 1955 John Falter Post cover. The colors, beauty and deceiving simplicity are amazing here. It looks like the youngest child knows he’s not supposed to go downstairs at the crack of dawn, but would like to.


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