News of the Week: 12 Days of Christmas, Kirk Douglas at 100, and 90 Years of Route 66

Maybe I Can Just Get You a Gift Card?

Gift caard

If you were thinking of getting someone two turtle doves for Christmas, they’ll cost you $375. That’s up from $290 last year.

That’s one of the revelations from the 30th annual PNC Christmas Price Index. You probably didn’t know that for the past 30 years there has been a PNC Christmas Price Index, but it keeps track of what things cost every holiday season, and that includes the items in the “12 Days of Christmas” song.

Four Calling Birds will run you $599.96, while Six Geese-a-Laying go for $360. Don’t even think of getting anyone Seven Swans-a-Singing though; that will cost you $13,125 (I’d stick with the geese). If you have a lot of people on your list, buying or hiring the gift for each day will cost you $34,363.49, with the cumulative total for all 364 gifts, including 12 partridges and 40 golden rings, hitting $156,507.88.

What I want to know is, how do they figure out the price for hiring Ten Lords-a-Leaping?

RIP Van Williams, Billy Chapin, Andrew Sachs, Margaret Whitton, Don Calfa, Alice Drummond, and Milt Moss

Van Williams is most famous for playing Britt Reid — a.k.a. The Green Hornet — on the series of the same name in the ’60s. He also starred in Bourbon Street Beat and Surfside 6 (playing the same character, private eye Ken Madison), as well as Westwind and The Tycoon. He also appeared in The Dick Van Dyke Show, How the West Was Won, and The Rockford Files. He passed away last week in Arizona at the age of 82.

Billy Chapin was a child actor who won acclaim opposite Robert Mitchum in 1957’s The Night of the Hunter and in the movies The Kid from Left Field and Tension at Table Rock. He also appeared in TV shows like Leave it to Beaver, Fury, and Dragnet. He died at the age of 72. His sister, Lauren Chapin of Father Knows Best, announced the passing on Facebook.

Andrew Sachs also died last week, at the age of 86. He played the waiter Manuel on the classic John Cleese sitcom Fawlty Towers.

Margaret Whitton played the baseball team owner in the Major League films. She also appeared on the stage and in movies like The Secret of My Success, 9 1/2 Weeks, Ironweed, as well as the TV shows A Fine Romance, Cutters, One Life to Live, and Spenser: For Hire. She was 67 when she died on Sunday.

Don Calfa was a veteran character actor who you might remember as the guy who kills Bernie in Weekend at Bernie’s. He also appeared in New York, New York; Foul Play; 1941; Bugsy; 10; Running Scared; Cinderella Liberty; and Return of the Living Dead. He also had a recurring role on Doogie Howser, M.D. He died last week at the age of 76.

Alice Drummond was another veteran character actor, appearing in such movies as Ghostbusters, Doubt, Joe Gould’s Secret, and Awakenings. A stage actress, she also appeared on TV in Dark Shadows, Lenny, Spin City, Ed, and Kate & Allie. She died at the age of 88.

Milt Moss? He was a comic and actor who couldn’t believe he at that whole thing:

Now, if all of these passings depress you, please take note that Kirk Douglas is still with us. Today is his 100th birthday.

Get Your Kicks

Route 66, the iconic American highway that runs from Chicago to Santa Monica, turns 90 years old this year. In this Wall Street Journal video, reporter Jeff Bush explains that even though it’s arguably the most famous road in the United States and people want to preserve it, parts of it are in danger of vanishing.

By the way, if you’re doing the math, that’s right: Kirk Douglas is older than Route 66.

What Are Your Favorite Christmas Songs?

We all have our favorites. My taste is rather old school — Dean Martin, Perry Como, Jo Stafford, the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack — but there are some modern holiday songs worth a listen, too (beyond that Mariah Carey song, which I’ve heard 15 times since I started writing this paragraph), like the several versions of “This Christmas” (Seal’s is quite good), Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree,” and anything by Josh Groban.

“Hard Candy Christmas” is a beautiful tune. It’s one of those not-really-a-Christmas-song songs that has become a Christmas song. It was performed by Dolly Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and this version by Leigh Nash will really get to you:

Gifts You Never Thought Of: The Phone Bed

You own a cellphone, right? At the end of the day, you probably put it on a table or your nightstand to recharge, not even giving any thought to whether or not the phone is going to be warm and comfortable. No worries, because The Phone Bed solves your problem!

The Phone Bed is a bed. For your phone. It’s from ex-Huffington Post chief Arianna Huffington, who has made it her mission to make sure everyone gets enough sleep. I think everyone should get enough sleep too; I just didn’t realize that mission included phones.

It costs $100, but your phone will charge on top of a silk-clad mattress, and the frame is made of solid wood and includes velvet-lined compartments for tablets. Hey, it’s a neat thing, I’m just not sure it’s $100 neat.

Hopefully next year someone will make a gilded, jewel-encrusted altar where I can put my keys.

This Week in History

President Martin Van Buren Born (December 5, 1782)

Our eighth president served one term in office, from 1837 to 1841. His political enemies once tried to smear him by saying he was too close to the Pope.

And remember: if you encounter the notorious Van Buren Boys gang, flash their sign.

Walt Disney Born (December 5, 1901)

Disney’s very first TV special, One Hour in Wonderland, aired on Christmas Day in 1950 and was sponsored by Coca-Cola.

13th Amendment Ratified (December 6, 1865)

The Constitutional amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.

Tuesday is National Cocoa Day

Hot cocoa

As the air gets colder and colder, our desire for hot drinks that include some type of chocolate grows stronger and stronger. There comes a point in the season where you shift into “hot cocoa mode.” Before you reach for that hot cocoa or hot chocolate, please note that there are differences between the two, even if a lot of people think they are interchangeable.

As The Nibble explains, hot chocolate is made from actual shaved chocolate, while hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder. Now, you could just go out and buy some Swiss Miss or Carnation packets — both are completely acceptable! — but how about making your own? Here’s a classic recipe from Momables, and here’s a slightly different take from Alton Brown.

I always add a little French Vanilla Coffeemate to mine. I’m drinking a cup right now.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Jane Addams Day (December 10)

This memorial to the cofounder of Hull House, the NAACP, and the ACLU doesn’t mark her birthday but the day 85 years ago when she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Poinsettia Day (December 12)

Did you know that the poinsettia is named after an American botanist named Joel Roberts Poinsett? This day marks his death and also honors Paul Ecke Jr., whose experiments pretty much created the entire poinsettia industry.