Christmas list ’21

Two years ago I posted my first “Christmas list,” 50 things one must see, do, eat, or experience between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last year I added 18 more, noting that even in a pandemic I had completed not only these 18 but 47 out of the original 50. This year I’ve added a dozen to the total, cutting a couple from the first list as well. (The Rite Aid in Sterling is now a Walgreens and just doesn’t do Christmas the same anymore, and Broad Street in Falls Church is just too far for something that has fallen off in recent years.)

That still leaves 78 things to do between today and December 25th. And here they are.

Things to do between Thanksgiving and Christmas

First two things to do:

  1. Listen to Frank Sinatra’s A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra. Recorded in 1957, it set the bar high for holiday albums. Preferably listened to on long-playing record, where one can easily note the change in mood from contemporary (side one) to traditional (side two), I like to listen to this album in its entirety late on Thanksgiving evening. (Alternate listening time: car ride home from Grandma’s the following day.)
  2. Put up Christmas lights in the den. Nothing looks better than the glow of your television backlit by multi-colored bulbs.

Speaking of your TV… watch these Christmas specials.

  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
  2. It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992)
  3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
  4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
  5. Frosty the Snowman (1969)
  6. Frosty Returns (1992)
  7. A Garfield Christmas (1987)
  8. “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” (first full episode of TheSimpsons; original airdate: December 17, 1989)
  9. “The Strike” (the “Festivus” episode of Seinfeld; original airdate: December 18, 1997)
  10. “Classy Christmas” episode of The Office (original airdate: December 9, 2010)
  11. “The Night of the Meek” episode of The Twilight Zone (original airdate: December 23, 1960)
  12. “Road to the North Pole” episode of Family Guy, original airdate: December 12, 2010
  13. “Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo” episode of South Park (original airdate: December 17, 1997)

16-19. Four episodes of The Wonder Years, Christmas-themed episodes from Seasons 2 and Seasons 4-6 (1988 and 1990-92)

  1. The BBC broadcast of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. (One of those rare circumstances in which the movie is better than the book.) Double bonus if you watch the American version with an intro from that famous American, David Bowie!
  2. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983). Dickens got nothin’ on this one.

Sometimes Christmas cannot be contained in 30 minutes or less. Here are the full-length movies one must watch.

  1. Home Alone (1990)
  2. A Christmas Story (1983)
  3. Elf (2003)
  4. Christmas Vacation (1989)
  5. Holiday Inn (1942)
  6. White Christmas (1954)
  7. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  8. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999). Three short films featuring a cartoon mouse. And the first one on the list I’ll actually watch with my son.
  9. Bad Santa (2003). My favorite Christmas movie. And this one I definitely won’t watch with my son. Well, not yet anyway.

Certain things you’ll want to eat or drink…

  1. Coca-Cola (the beverage of Christmas)
  2. an old-school regular peppermint candy cane
  3. those white nougat candies with the tree image in the center
  4. those cheap shortbread cookies that are dyed pink or green and are surprisingly delicious, not to be confused with the ones that come in the blue tins
  5. those cookies that come in the blue tins
  6. a chocolate orange (why do they not sell these all year?!)
  7. chocolate bar wrapped to look like a hundred-dollar bill (same question as above)
  8. Martinelli’s sparkling cider
  9. cinnamon rolls for breakfast (Christmas Eve or Christmas Day)
  10. crescent rolls for dinner (same)
  11. S’mores. Homemade. Preferably prepared outside, but inside if you must.
  12. one of those Reese’s peanut butter “trees.”
  13. Stovetop popcorn. Strung up, eaten, or both.
  14. Hot chocolate
  15. Chips and dip. My only childhood memory of my father’s parents house is eating potato chips and sour cream and onion dip on Christmas Eve from a garish ’70s-era green chip-and-dip bowl set. In your recreation any bowl will do.
  16. Peppermint stick ice cream
  17. egg nog
  18. Grown-up egg nog

Things to hear…

Other than Sinatra’s album (see #1) there are four that must be listened to in their entirety.

  1. Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas(1965)
  2. Tony Bennett’s A Swingin’ Christmas. Recorded with the Count Basie Big Band in 2008, proof that at 82, the man could still swing.
  3. Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas. Recorded in 1960, it took nearly a half century for another Christmas album to swing as hard.
  4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, full album that accompanied the movie including instrumental bonus tracks.
  5. My own Christmas playlists on Spotify, now totaling nearly six hours of holiday music.

Other things to see, hear, taste, read, do, or experience.

  1. Check out the red lights lining Georgetown Parkway at Krop’s Crops in Great Falls.
  2. Get tree from there too. For years I’d only dreamed it.
  3. Red stripes on my front porch pillars, like eight-foot-tall candy canes. I get to do it because I was the one in my neighborhood who thought of it first.
  4. Take a journey out to the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna (Virginia, not Austria) and walk through the “Winter Walk of Lights.” Worth the walk.
  5. Drive through the Bull Run Festival of Lights (Centreville, Va.), amazingly even better than the walk-through at Meadowlark, seen from the comfort of your car.
  6. See a performance of The Nutcracker, or at least listen to the “soundtrack” in its entirety.
  7. Enjoy an evening at home watching that yule log image on your television.
  8. Read Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.”
  9. Read Truman Capote’s “One Christmas.”
  10. Find a Christmas party at someone’s house (preferably way nicer than your own house) and go there. Bonus points if you’re playing the piano and getting paid to be there.
  11. Have Jack Daniel’s on Sinatra’s birthday (December 12). This really has nothing to do with Christmas but it does fall in the season. You should have Jack Daniel’s from time to time anyway just to be reminded of what a real drink tastes like, before the world was overrun by girly cocktails and macchiatos with skim milk.
  12. Donate toys to charity.
  13. Deposit money in one of those Salvation Army red kettles.

Places to go…

67. The mall. Every community has a place simply referred to as “the mall.” Go there and experience the true meaning of Christmas.

68. A giant decorated tree in a shopping plaza (again, everyone has one… or in Loudoun County we have about a dozen).

69. Big Lots… trust me, weird off-brand Christmas stuff.

70. Dunkin’ Donuts… best Christmas displays of your standard commercial food operations.

71-72. Visit two adjacent shopping centers in Great Falls, Virginia. I used to count them as one item because they’re across the street from other, but in retrospect that’s an insult to each. At the intersection of Georgetown Parkway and Walker Road you will find the world’s classiest Safeway (I know, it sounds like an oxy moron, just trust me), and then across Walker Road you have the Village Centre shopping mall. (Classy enough to warrant the British spelling of centre.) Drink in the holiday awesomeness of both shopping plazas.

73. Read Mercer Mayer’s Merry Christmas Mom and Dad.

74. Watch one of your old home movies filmed at Christmastime. Double bonus points if it’s on VHS.

  1. Make a new home movie. Triple a million bonus points if you’re recording it on VHS. Minus a million points if you’re recording on your phone.

And finally, everyone has his or her own unique Christmas toys or games that have special meaning. Make these your last three. For me I have two from my childhood and one from adulthood.

76. The mouse Advent calendar. Back before Advent calendars were ubiquitous (and could set you back 20, 50, or 100 bucks depending how adult you wanted them to be), I had a simple cloth calendar that hung on my bedroom door. There were 24 pockets, and each day a little toy mouse moved from pouch to pouch, producing a toy, money, or treat each day. I’ve now given Franklin the calendar and he’s brought the tradition into the 21st century. I’m also on the third generation of cats who like to steal that little mouse.

  1. The dancing Coca-Cola bear. Purchased in about 1993, this item always makes me smile. It’s a stuffed bear, about a foot tall, holding an upright bass and wearing sunglasses. It sits on a pedestal adorned with the Coca-Cola label, and dances to a medley of “Jingle Bells” and “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”
  2. Also from the world of Coke memorabilia… a Holiday 2005 glass bottle which sits on my bookshelf 12 months a year. The beverage was consumed more than a dozen years ago but the bottle looks like it just came off the factory line. It was the last thing my father ever gave me. (Well, last physical thing.)
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About moc

My name is Mike O'Connell. I am 40 years old and live in Northern Virginia. I am a teacher, a musician, and an enthusiast of all things American.


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