Classic foods, films add to spirit of the holidays
how’s the christmas thing going for you so far? is your gift finding (and buying and wrapping) all under control? is the baking humming along or are you trapped in an eternal “i am baking, you are eating it all, ergo i am baking” treadmill of existence?
have you maxed out on christmas movie watching (odds bodkins, but methinks that “elf ” is no longer the go-to movie for TV execs this season – hallelujah! – and no disrespect meant to Will Farrell fans).
Well, if you have everything under control (or you need a break from it all), read on to discover a few useless bits of christmas trivia…
let’s start with a little commercial christmas bit, brought to you by a couple of brothersin-law.
back in 1939, montgomery Ward, the chicago based department store, would give out promotional colouring books to shoppers as an enticement to come in and shop. they used to buy the books for the giveaway, but then decided to produce their own, using denver mills, a creative guy from their art department.
they then asked robert may, a copywriter in their ad department, to provide a story to accompany the illustrations. he came up with rudolph, the rednosed reindeer, and a christmas superstar was born.
may had a brother-in-law by the name of Johnny marks who happened to be a songwriter who contributed many of the popular christmas pieces we still enjoy today: “rockin’ around the christmas tree”, “a holly Jolly christmas” and “i heard the bells on christmas day” (interestingly, mr. marks was Jewish). marks put the colouring book story to music and came up with two songs: “rudolph the red-Nosed reindeer” and “run run rudolph”. he also wrote the songs featured in the television christmas special featuring rudolph and the island of misfit toys.
by the way, in the original version of that classic, rudolph and his friends never help the misfit toys. test audiences did not like that cynical ending, so an additional scene was added at the end that sees rudolph lead Santa to the island where he can collect the toys – to the immense relief of misfits everywhere.
Of course, music is a big part of the season (and rightfully so).
“Santa claus lane”, as in the song “here comes Santa claus, right down Santa claus lane” is an actual place, though you probably won’t find any ice and snow on the road. Since the 1930s, hollywood boulevard (in hollywood, calif., of course) has been re-named Santa claus lane in honour of the Gene autry song.
and while you may hear that song 50 times a day during the season, it is not the most popular christmas carol.
that honour goes to bing crosby’s “White christmas”, which was first presented in the movie “holiday inn” with crosby and Fred astaire (my favorite christmas movie – excepting for the blackface routine – which has now been cut from the film). bing’s version of the song is the world’s best-selling single of all time – with sales in excess of 100 million copies. an additional 50 million copies by other artists helped make this the song the favorite it is!
the most recognized hymn is the austrian carol “Silent Night”, a piece that was hastily written by Pastor Joseph mohr. it seems their organ went “kaput!” the day of the christmas eve service, so the good pastor along with his friend Franz Gruber wrote the hymn and performed it that evening using his guitar. the rest is history.
What we eat is also a big part of the christmas season and “special foods” still make an appearance, although we seem to eat whatever we want whenever we want during the course of the year. Plum puddings were actually a soup made by boiling beef and mutton with dried prunes (no wonder i have never had an urge to see it on my table), wine and spices. a very intelligent cook later got rid of the prunes and mutton (smart move) and replaced them with raisins, eggs and breadcrumbs, making it more like a boiled cake and less like a pudding. Plums, mostly in the seventeenth century, could mean any dried fruit (like apricots or cherries, and sometimes, shockingly, even real plums!). Sugarplums were usually made from dried fruit dredged in sugar – they are the famous candies dreamt about by children in clement moore’s poem “twas the Night before christmas”, as well as the inspiration for the Sugarplum Fairy in tchaikovsky ’s “the Nutcracker”.
While we may not all be enjoying the plum pudding this season, you can visit a bakery in town any time in december and be treated to “la buche de noel”, a traditional French cake baked at christmas. Pastry chefs in Paris started the tradition in the 1870’s, and every selfrespecting patisserie still makes its own version for the holiday season. Shaped like the traditional yule log, the cake is made from a thinly rolled sponge cake filled with either jam or cream (my personal favorite), and decorated with icing applied to look like bark, marzipan holly leaves (or glittery replicas). they are sometimes adorned with a tiny wooden or plastic axe.
and with that, i invite you all to join us at the museum this evening between 5 and 7 p.m. to light-up our christmas tree. Santa will be here in person and is ready to hear your requests; carolers, music and hot chocolate complete the evening.
The song “White Christmas”, sung by Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds, first appeared in the 1942 film “Holiday Inn”. The song was written by Irving Berlin and would become the best-selling single of all time. Shown from left: Marjorie Reynolds, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire.