News of the Week: Random Thoughts, Letters to Santa, and the Great Cream Cheese Shortage of 2021

In the news for the week ending December 17, 2021, are Santa’s letter-answering helpers, a cream cheese crisis, words of the year, and more.


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Notes Jotted Down During an Unseasonably-Warm Week …

Quick poll: I sent out my Christmas cards last week. How many of you still do that instead of sending an email or text or ecard?

The CEO who fired 900 employees via Zoom has apologized and is taking time off. I was once fired with hundreds of other people too, but it came in a mass email. Not sure which way is worse. At least on Zoom you can get some satisfaction by showing your former boss one of your fingers.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, Clarence says that he is an “A.S. 2,” which stands for “Angel, Second Class.” So if the “S” stands for “Second Class,” why does he need the “2?”

If you read only one story this week, it should be this restaurant review.

What are the best Christmas songs of all time? I have my choices (they’re all from decades ago, from singers like Dean Martin and Rosemary Clooney and Perry Como, the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, traditional carols, and I’d throw in a few more modern songs), and USA Today has their list. With only ten spots, they leave out a lot, but any list with both Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses can’t be that bad (amazingly, Buzzfeed has an even better list).

If there’s one common denominator with every single couple that is shown a house on House Hunters and Love It or List It, it’s that they all want an “open concept.” When did this begin? When did it take over? Doesn’t anyone like actual rooms anymore?

Making Spirits Bright

This Lagrangeville, New York, family just set the Guinness world record for the most Christmas lights on a residential property. The 687,000 lights (using eight miles of extension cords!) are set to music and attract thousands of visitors. Donations are collected (for the community, not the lights), and the family says that they’ve raised $500,000 over the years.

I haven’t put lights up at my place in decades, but when I was a kid we put candles in the windows and lights on our porch. Probably around 686,896 fewer lights than this family has, but still festive!

Letters to Santa

Back in August I mentioned Santa Claus, Indiana, the home of the very first theme park in America, Santa Claus Land (now called Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari). But the town is also famous for something else: being the headquarters for the people who answer kids’ letters to Santa. CBS Sunday Morning took a trip to Indiana to talk to some of Santa’s helpers:

Uploaded to YouTube by CBS Sunday Morning

Bagels and Cheesecake and Frosting, Oh My!

The supply chain crisis has just gotten real. It is now affecting cream cheese! It’s so bad that Kraft, the makers of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, will actually pay you to not make cheesecake this year.

(If your favorite cream cheese isn’t on store shelves, you can always make your own.)

Words of the Year

It’s that time of year again, when we get all of the “best,” “worst,” “most,” and “least” lists. It’s also the time of year when we find out what words have been named the “words of the year” by various dictionaries and sites. There’s usually a word that’s popular I’ve never heard of before. Let’s see if that’s the case for 2021.

It should be no surprise that someone would pick vaccine, and that’s the top word from the folks at Merriam-Webster. The list of runners-up includes insurrection, woke, infrastructure, and cicada.

The Oxford English Dictionary went the vaccine route too, only they chose the shorter, more hip vax because it can be used in a myriad of ways.

The Collins Dictionary chose NFT (for “non-fungible token”), which just beat out the words crypto and cheugy. went with allyship.

Hey, this year there are two words I’ve never heard before: cheugy and allyship!

Headline of the Week

“Oxford Professor Tries to Work Out How Many Legs Are in the 12 Days of Christmas”

RIP bell hooks, Anne Rice, Michael Nesmith, Cara Williams, Al Unser Sr., Demaryius Thomas, Steve Bronski, Robbie Shakespeare, and Lina Wertmuller

bell hooks — born Gloria Jean Watkins — was an acclaimed author of 40 books on feminism, race, and sexuality and a professor at Berea College. She deliberately lowercased the spelling of her pen name in part to both honor and differentiate herself from her great-grandmother Bell Hooks. She died Wednesday at the age of 69.

Anne Rice was the author of the classic novel Interview with the Vampire (later made into a Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt movie) and several other horror/gothic novels. She also wrote books in other genres under different names. She died Saturday at the age of 80.

Michael Nesmith was a guitarist and singer with The Monkees. He also wrote songs for others (including “Different Drum” for The Stone Poneys) and later became a producer, with shows such as the Popclips music video show (which an executive later turned into MTV), the movie Repo Man, and the influential comedy sketch/music video collection Elephant Parts. He died last week at the age of 78.

A side note: Nesmith’s mother invented Liquid Paper.

Cara Williams starred with Harry Morgan in the ’50s sitcom Pete and Gladys and in the ’60s headlined The Cara Williams Show. She also received an Oscar nomination for her role in The Defiant Ones. She died last week at the age of 96.

Al Unser Sr. was a member of one of racing’s most famous families. He won the Indianapolis 500 four times. He died last week at the age of 82.

Demaryius Thomas helped the Denver Broncos win the 2016 Super Bowl as a wide receiver. He died last week at the age of 33.

Steve Bronski was the co-founder and keyboardist for the band Bronski Beat, known for such songs as “Smalltown Boy.” He died last week at the age of 61.

Robbie Shakespeare was a bassist and one half of the Sly and Robbie producing duo. He died last week at the age of 68.

Lina Wertmuller was the first woman to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director, for the 1975 film Seven Beauties. She died last week at the age of 93.

This Week in History

Boston Tea Party (December 16, 1773)

That night, 342 chests of tea were dumped into Boston Harbor, and to this day the water remains delicious.

Glenn Miller Disappears (December 16, 1944)

There have been several theories, but it’s most likely the UC-64 Norseman plane the bandleader was in experienced either mechanical problems or icing and crashed into the English Channel. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery has investigated a report that the plane was found in the 1980s, but a search hasn’t happened yet.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Bus Stop at Christmas (December 13, 1952)

Crowd with Christmas packages waiting for bus
Bus Stop at Christmas

This Stevan Dohanos cover is one of my favorites. The man with the serious face to the left of the tree is Post writer Rufus Jarman.

Christmas Recipes: Part 1

It’s a holiday so big we need two weeks just to do the recipes. This week: Appetizers and Cocktails.

Let’s start off with something everyone likes, a Classic Cheese Ball from Tastes Better from Scratch (Note: there’s cream cheese in it!). Taste of Home has these Cranberry Sauce Meatballs, which, if it’s the same thing I’m thinking of, I’ve had before and are fantastic. We can’t forget Martha Stewart, and she has a Hot Spinach Dip and these Rosemary Roasted Nuts (I’ll eat anything with rosemary). And Delish has a Pigs in a Blanket Wreath. Just make sure you take a picture of it before everyone devours it.

For liquid refreshment, Country Living has a Hot Toddy with Charred Oranges, a Driven Snow Cocktail, and the Best Old-Fashioned Egg Nog. Over at Delish, you can find a Boozy Grinch Punch, while Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman) has a Winter Sangria, a Classic Negroni, and a Pumpkin Pie Martini.

And the kids need something to drink too, so Drummond has three ways to up your hot cocoa game.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Winter Begins (December 21)

If you want to prepare yourself or throw a party, it starts at exactly 10:59 a.m. ET.

Festivus (December 23)

It’s “a Festivus for the rest of us.”

Featured image: Shutterstock

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  1. Thanks for the restaurant review. It should win all sorts of prizes, everyone it might be eligible. I just posted it to a Facebook group for word lovers, noting that while it isn’t particularly nerdy, it is one of the best things I’ve ever read. Send it to all the people you didn’t buy a gift for. They’ll consider themselves undeserving recipients of such bounty.

    I can’t take any Christmas song list seriously which omits The Christmas Waltz, a lovely song in spirit as well as in craft. Would it shock you to learn that Frank Sinatra’s version is the one to listen to?

  2. Well, I got most of my Christmas cards out on the 10th, including one 8 ounce out of state package-envelope. As of today, the 17th, the tracking still shows that date, 11:04 am, and nothing more. It was scheduled to be delivered 12/14. I could accept it not being delivered yet if it was showing ‘in transit’, but still only ‘accepted’ a week later? That is unacceptable. I even put ‘muy importante’ in the lower left hand corner with a red Sharpie, Bob!

    My mailman said he’s sure it’ll get there and likely just didn’t get scanned. I did wait in line and saw it processed with the required 10 stamps. Can’t ANYTHING work the way it’s supposed to anymore?! That restaurant review was too weird for words. The NY family’s Christmas lights are amazing, and so is the family otherwise. Bless them.

    I watched the Sunday Morning feature on Santa Claus, Indiana’s helpers answering children’s letters. I guess Santa pays for the postage? Bette Davis once sang instead of stamps she used kisses. Can you imagine all the food that’s rotted (aside from cream cheese) because of the supply chain crisis??

    I didn’t know Mike Nesmith had passed away until seeing it here, but knew he and Micky Dolenz were at the Greek Theater last month. The (11/14) concert is on YouTube. I watched part of it earlier after learning of this, and Mike did seem frail on stage. He was a good sport to do it. Putting on a show like that is hard work at any age. Weren’t there rumors Liquid paper was invented by Jackson Browne’s mother at one time?

    That IS a great early 50’s Christmas Post cover with appropriately unhappy people. Writer Rufus Jarman to the left of the tree. I clicked on the link and got ‘access denied’. The editors then had to have said to him ‘tell me something good’ at least once.


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