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Christmas Essentials

December 25, 2009 - John Mehno

We work too hard and wait too long for Christmas to have it all end with one day. That's why I'm a believer in the full 12-day celebration. To that end, here are some things that you should consider making part of your Christmas:

Five classic sitcom episodes:

1. "The Andy Griffith Show" -- It's from the show's first season, but it holds up remarkably well. The town grinch really has a heart of gold, but he doesn't want anyone to know. Andy is the first to catch on, but eventually even Barney sees the light.

2. "Happy Days" -- Fonzie has big plans for a holiday with his relatives in Waukesha. Or does he? Wise Howard Cunningham sees through the bluster, realizes The Fonz is all alone and finds a way to make him part of the Cunningham's holiday.

3. "Mary Tyler Moore Show" -- Stuck on newsroom duty on Christmas Eve, Mary winds up spending time with her friends and co-workers after all. You can't help but feel good for Mary.

4. "30 Rock" -- This year's holiday-themed special was an instant classic for tying together a number of storylines.

5. "Everybody Loves Raymond" -- This series did a number of Christmas-themed episodes, but the best is the one about the engraved toaster, so "retro chic."

Honorable mention to "The Bob Newhart Show" (show where the tenants of  Bob's building get stranded in a blizzard) and "Newhart," where there's no room at the inn for an expectant couple.


1. "England's Carol," The Modern Jazz Quartet -- There are different versions of this, but the one you want was recorded with a German symphony orchestra. Sounds like it would be stuffy, but it's not. It's the MJQ's innovative take on "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and it runs more than six minutes. The best 99 cents you'll ever spend on iTunes.

2. "A Christmas Gift For You," Various Artists -- This is the Phil Spector Christmas album, back out on CD. It's the ultimate merger of pop music and holiday schmaltz, including two classics from Darlene Love: "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and "Marshmallow World." No collection is complete without this.

3. "The Christmas Song," Nat King Cole -- Mel Torme nailed the lyrics and Cole did the perfect version. Instant Christmas spirit from the first notes.

4. "Jingle Bell Rock," Bobby Helms -- If you want it light and frothy, this the ultimate. Impeccably clean production sells the bells and Helms' lilting vocal. It's a party in just over two minutes.

5. "The Sound of Christmas," Ramsey Lewis Trio -- Lewis did two holiday albums, and this -- the first -- is also the best. Half is just the trio, the other half includes strings and other embellishments. Fabulous arrangements of familiar tunes make this a must-have, and the title song is a classic.


You know the tried-and-true. I would recommend two lesser-known movies: "The Lemon Drop Kid" introduced the song "Silver Bells" and has Bob Hope at his wisecracking best as a Damon Runyon character. "Susan Slept Here" is another one worth seeking, with a very young Debbie Reynolds playing a teenager who winds up in an odd situation. Don't be fooled by the title, it's '50s tame.

TV Specials:

"Charlie Brown" is the gold standard, but  "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" is also worth watching, thanks to original songs that freshen up the story.

There you go, and ho ho ho.

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