The Greatest Gift (Philip Van Doren Stern, Dec 25, 2008, Tor.com)

When he found himself unable to find a publisher for his story, author Philip Van Doren Stern printed up copies of the “The Greatest Gift” and gave them out as Christmas cards in 1943. Eventually, the story came to the attention of director Frank Capra, who explained later, “It was the story I had been looking for all my life! A good man, ambitious. But so busy helping others, life seems to pass him by…Through the eyes of a guardian angel he sees the world as it would have been had he not been born. Wow! What an idea.” Capra went on to turn Stern’s story into the cherished holiday classic It’s A Wonderful Life. Released in 1946 and starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Gloria Grahame, the film received several Academy Award nominations and has gone on to become one of the most iconic films in movie history, as well as a beloved feature of every holiday season. Here, presented for your enjoyment, is the original Philip Van Doren Stern story. Happy holidays, all.


Santa Claus and Science: On imagination, faith, and the natural fancy of children (G. K. Chesterton, December 20, 1935, Commonweal)

Fourth, what do our great modern educationists, our great modern psychologists, our great makers of a new world, mean to do about the breach between the imagination and the reason, if only in the passage from the infant to the man? Is the child to live in a world that is entirely fanciful and then find suddenly that it is entirely false? Or is the child to be forbidden all forms of fancy; or in other words, forbidden to be a child? Or is he, as we say, to have some harmless borderland of fancy in childhood, which is still a part of the land in which he will live; in terra viventium, in the land of living men? Cannot the child pass from a child’s natural fancy to a man’s normal faith in Holy Nicholas of the Children, without enduring that bitter break and abrupt disappointment which now marks the passage of a child from a land of make-believe to a world of no belief?


The Spiritual Architecture of Handel’s “Messiah” (Paul Krause, 12/24/23, Voegelin View)

Classical music, by contrast, especially the Baroque style to which Handel belonged, is different. On this note, Gregory Athnos, the great music professor and conductor, offers readers an introductory overview of Handel’s greatest triumph.

Unlike the pop music that Scruton derides as distraction and not having much of a purpose beyond that, Athnos writes, “At the center of the [Baroque] doctrine was the belief that composer could create a piece of music capable of producing a particular and specific involuntary emption/spiritual response in their audience.” The transcendental feeling and experience we have listening to classical music is not accidental. It is intentional. What undergirded the Baroque spirit was an understanding that the beauty, power, and passion of music expressed and communicated deeply interior and spiritual truths to its audience. And this is exactly what Handel set out to achieve with the help of Charles Jennens in composing “Messiah.”


With ‘White Christmas,’ Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby helped make Christmas a holiday that all Americans could celebrate (Ray Rast, 12/19/23, The Conversation)

Berlin’s inspiration for the song came in 1937, when he spent Christmas in Beverly Hills. He was near the film studios where he worked but far from his wife, Ellin – a devout Catholic – and the New York City home in Manhattan where they had always celebrated the holiday with their three daughters.

Being apart from Ellin that Christmas was particularly difficult: Their infant son had died on Dec. 26, 1928. Irving knew his wife would have to make the annual visit to their son’s grave by herself.

By 1940, Berlin had come up with his lyrics. In his Manhattan office, he sat at his piano and asked his arranger to take down the notes.

“Not only is it the best song I ever wrote,” he promised, “it’s the best song anybody ever wrote.”

Berlin had connected his lonesome Christmas to the broader turmoil of the time, including the outbreak of World War II and fraught debates about America’s role in the world.

This new song reflected his response: a dream of better times and places. It evoked a small town of yesteryear in which horse-drawn sleighs crossed freshly fallen snow. It also imagined a future in which dark days would be “merry and bright” once again.

This was a new kind of Christmas carol. It did not mention the birth of Jesus, angels or wise men – and it was a song that all Americans, including Jewish immigrants, could embrace.

Berlin soon took “White Christmas” back to Hollywood. He wanted it to appear in his newest musical, one that would tell the story of a retired singer whose hotel offered rooms and entertainment, but only on American holidays. He titled the film “Holiday Inn” and pitched it to Paramount Pictures, with Crosby as the lead.


An Introduction to Vince Guaraldi, the Jazz Composer Who Created the Best Christmas Album Ever, A Charlie Brown Christmas (Open Culture, December 18th, 2023)

When A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired 58 years ago, few had any confidence that it would be a hit. Its story and animation, bare-bones even by the standards of mid-nineteen-sixties television, made a positive impression on neither CBS’ executives nor on many of the special’s own creators. They didn’t expect that this very simplicity would turn it into a perennial holiday favorite — nor, presumably, that its soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio would become one of the most beloved Christmas albums in existence. Now that we’re well into the season when the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas is heard every day in homes, cafés, and shopping malls all around the world, why not get an introduction to Guaraldi, the man and his music, from pop culture video essayist Matt Draper?


The Origin Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: How a 1939 Marketing Gimmick Launched a Beloved Christmas Character (Open Culture, 12/13/23)

The magic ingredient that transformed a marketing scheme into an evergreen if not universally beloved Christmas tradition is a song …with an unexpected side order of corporate generosity.

May’s wife died of cancer when he was working on Rudolph, leaving him a single parent with a pile of medical bills. After Montgomery Ward repeated the Rudolph promotion in 1946, distributing an additional 3,600,000 copies, its Board of Directors voted to ease his burden by granting him the copyright to his creation.

Once he held the reins to the “most famous reindeer of all”, May enlisted his songwriter brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, to adapt Rudolph’s story.

The simple lyrics, made famous by singing cowboy Gene Autry’s 1949 hit recording, provided May with a revenue stream and Rankin/Bass with a skeletal outline for its 1964 stop-animation special.