Weekend Reads (12/25): Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Spider-Man, Mariah Carey
Recommended weekend reading material for December 25, 2021.
Merry Christmas to everyone reading this! Of course, I hope you spend today with friends and loved ones, safe and sound and full of Christmas cheer. But if you need some time to let all of that eggnog settle, or need a little break from the holiday festivities, then enjoy this Christmas-themed version of “Weekend Reads.”
A Charlie Brown Christmas is, without a doubt, one of the greatest Christmas specials of all time, filled with poignant ruminations on the holiday and Vince Guaraldi’s iconic jazz soundtrack. But it was a challenge to produce and animate.
We’re all so close to A Charlie Brown Christmas, though, that it’s easy to miss its qualities as a work of animation. It didn’t appear out of thin air, fully formed — the magic was crafted by human hands. Seeing Charles Schulz’s characters in motion may feel natural now, but figuring out how to animate them was a challenge that the team almost didn’t overcome.
“When we saw the finished show,” recalled director Bill Melendez, “we thought we had killed it.”
Now here’s a Scrooge-y opinion: Most of those classic Christmas specials that you love so much are, in fact, pretty awful. Consider Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:
[It’s] supposed to be a Christmas story about differences and acceptance and redemption and family being what you make it and yada yada yada. No matter how much tinsel you throw over it, however, it’s still just a story about a snooty little town that accepts a freak only when he proves he can do something useful.
Worse, it sends the message that Christmas really is all about Santa and toys. Santa looks at Christmas as a job; he’s a crabby airline pilot who has to cancel his flight due to weather. If that means no Christmas, well, that’s how it has to be, kids.
Tom Holland argues that it’s time to stop asserting that Christmas was “stolen” from pagan traditions.
Why, then, did Christians in the West come to celebrate Christmas on 25 December? The answer seems to lie, not in paganism, but — as one might expect — in the great seedbed of Jewish tradition. Rabbis and Church Fathers in the early centuries of the Christian century shared a conviction that the great events of creation and salvation were framed by an essential symmetry. Jewish scholars, tracing this symmetry, could argue that both the creation of the world and the birth of Abraham and his immediate heirs had occurred on the same day of the year that Israel was destined to obtain redemption.
Also, Luke T. Harrington points out that claims of Christmas being a pagan holiday have a surprising origin: anti-Catholic Protestants.
I swear, I’m not trying to inject even more drama into a holiday that can already be rife with it. At the same time, I can’t not share Geoffrey Reiter’s article on a perennial Christmas controversy: where was Christ really born? And why does His birthplace even matter?
[T]he ease with which I’ve seen so many readers reject the traditional nativity story, with little to no debate, gives me pause. And it should give any biblically faithful Christian pause. Superficially, it sounds like many other theses coming out of biblical circles in which twentieth — or twenty-first — century scholars claim to have discovered a truth about the Scriptures that has been lost for thousands of years. As a Protestant, I do not hold tradition infallible or even authoritative in the way some other Christian brethren might. So I would not rule out such an interpretation, especially since it doesn’t imperil any core doctrines of the faith. On the other hand, such a challenge to the prevailing understanding of a beloved passage must, I believe, require a very high burden of proof before it can be accepted. And to me, this perspective doesn’t meet that threshold.
Speaking of Christmas traditions, it’s customary in Japan to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken — yes, that Kentucky Fried Chicken — for Christmas dinner.
KFC’s presence in Japan goes back to 1970, when its first store opened for the Osaka World Expo. Its manager Takeshi Okawara was the one to think of promoting the chain’s “party barrels” of chicken as a festive substitute for an American-style turkey dinner. The inspiration, according to the Cheddar Examines video at the top of the post, was being asked by a local school to deliver chicken to its Christmas party dressed as Santa Claus. (His willingness to do so no doubt played a part in his later becoming Japanese KFC’s chief executive.)
It’s a Christmas miracle… for movie theaters, anyway. Spider-Man: No Way Home earned $260 million in its opening weekend, giving it the third-biggest domestic opening of all time. And this despite concerns over the spread of Omicron.
Overseas — where the new variant is even more of a concern in certain markets, and particularly in Europe — the movie also made history, grossing $340.8 million — likewise an uptick over Sunday’s estimate of $334.2 million — for a revised global total of $600.8 million (without China). That’s the No. 3 global opening ever, not adjusted for inflation.
However, Spider-Man’s success could negatively affect other movies, like Guillermo Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, as theaters rework their schedules to show more and more screenings of the ultra-lucrative Spider-Man. This is sure to reawaken debate over whether or not superhero blockbusters are drowning out other, smaller, less commercial films.
Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” became the first song to reach the #1 spot on Billboard’s chart in three different years.
The song was first released on Carey’s album Merry Christmas in 1994 and, as streaming has grown and holiday music has become more prominent on streaming services’ seasonal playlists, it hit the Hot 100’s top 10 for the first time in December 2017, before ascending to No. 1 in both December 2019 (for three weeks) and December 2020 (two).
To date, Carey’s song has been streamed 1.4 billion times and played on the radio over 4 billion times.
From the Blog
This isn’t Christmas-related, but my wife and I are currently making our way through the sixth and final season of The Expanse (and cursing whichever execs thought it proper that TV’s best sci-fi series only get six episodes to wrap everything up). And when I say that The Expanse is TV’s best sci-fi series, I really do mean it.
For all of the grittiness, violence, and cynicism of characters like Josephus Miller — The Expanse, by the way, is definitely not something to watch with young kids — I find it to be a deeply moral and even optimistic series. It celebrates sacrifice, diversity, community, heroism, and exploration while condemning corporate greed, political corruption and cowardice, opportunism, and prejudice.
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