Maybe I'm just getting old, but I tend to regard any new holiday songs, movies or TV shows with extreme suspicion.
It may be a knee-jerk reaction to the preponderance of unremarkable Christmas pop songs that start bellowing over radio or department store speakers as soon as that last fun-size Snickers bar makes its long descent into a trick or treat bag. It used to be a special thrill to hear the familiar chords of a Christmas carol in a public setting, because it meant that the holidays were imminent, but this year, my first radio encounter with "Jingle Bell Rock" happened while driving home from work on Halloween evening.
Regardless of timing, the sheer volume of seasonal music can be overwhelming too, and the release of a holiday album seems to be a rite of passage required of all artists. One of the latest entries in the parade of holiday CDs actually comes from the wildly popular A&E reality show "Duck Dynasty." The album, "Duck the Halls—A Robertson Family Christmas," features tunes entitled "Camouflage and Christmas Lights," and "Hairy Christmas," in addition to more traditional offerings such as "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger."
I admit that when it comes to my preferences in Christmas music, the dignity and elegance of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and Nat King Cole's "A Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" generally trump any current pop songs. But who can resist the guilty pleasure of checking out a song called "Ragin' Cajun Redneck Christmas?"
When it comes to screens both big and small, I tend to gravitate towards my old favorites as well. The universally beloved trio of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" have heralded the season since the '60s, and I see no reason to improve upon perfection.
Even oft-overlooked Thanksgiving comes on strong in the category of TV and movie representation: The John Candy/Steve Martin vehicle (pun intended) "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" makes the frustrations of holiday travel entertaining, and one of the most uproarious sequences in television sitcom history was the notorious 1978 "turkey drop" episode of "WKRP in Cincinnati," in which the radio station manager arranged to have live turkeys dropped out of a helicopter as a promotional stunt ("As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!!").
For edgier fare (if it's possible to be edgier than a mass turkey slaughter), "Home for the Holidays" and "Pieces of April" feature dysfunctional family relationships, good vs. bad sibling dynamics, and the fragile nature of family reunions, with the sacred Thanksgiving dinner as the centerpiece. Anyone who has ever been part of a family can relate to something in one of these movies… and at the very least, it will make your family seem normal in comparison.
Now and then, a relatively recent film captures the imagination of viewers and has the staying power to be deemed a "new classic." The 2003 Will Ferrell charmer "Elf" is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and I'll be the first to admit that it offers the perfect mixture of outrageous physical comedy, a heartwarming redemption arc, and catchy, quotable dialogue. (In other words, "Elf" is the new "Christmas Vacation.")
Many theatergoers can't get into the holiday spirit until they've made their yearly trek to a favorite play, concert or musical. The annual production of "A Christmas Carol" is a highly anticipated tradition at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago as well as at local community stages, and many Northwest Indiana residents return every year to "A Fabulous 50's Christmas" at the Towle Theater in Hammond, or the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra's Holiday Pops concert.
Theater producers are now marrying nostalgia and novelty by bringing classic holiday shows to the stage in musical form. This season, a new production, "Elf the Musical," will be playing at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre; "A Christmas Carol the Musical" will be playing at Theatre at the Center in Munster; and even "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" goes live at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse.
Holiday music, TV shows, movies and stage productions are as big a part of the holidays as shopping, parties, and fudge headaches, and the annual flood of new releases is a trend that appears to be here to stay. So whether you prefer novelty classics such as "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" instead of "O, Holy Night"—or you would rather go see the Rockettes than "The Nutcracker" ballet—it doesn't matter.
What’s important is to try and embrace something new every once in a while. Every tradition starts somewhere…why not start one today?