A Very Merry A&E Christmas ...

Team A&E—Tricia Summers and Lauren Raham—take on the yuletide season with the best of holiday-themed entertainment

Tricia Summers and Lauren Raham—Team A&E—get into the holiday spirit.
Tricia Summers and Lauren Raham—Team A&E—get into the holiday spirit.

Best Christmas Albums

1. Tchaikovsky - The Nutcracker
This is, hands down, the classic music pick for this time of year. At the beginning of December I play The Nutcracker to lift my spirits and get me excited for Christmas. At home, my family plays it every year while decorating the tree, and I suppose that playing it up here in Kingston, while struggling to finish end-of-term assignments, helps me get by in some way.

2. Boney M’s Christmas Album
Yes, I had a strange childhood, and yes, my parents are weird. But it just wasn’t Christmas in the Raham household without this little-known gem. You may have heard their hit “Rasputin” once or twice, but I knew every song on their Christmas album by heart (including their rhythmic interpretations) by the time I reached the tender age of six. To this day, if I hear Boney M’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy” or “Jingle Bells” I am reminded of waiting anxiously for my turn to open the advent calendar, and groping Christmas presents in order to figure out their contents. Boney M, your musical gift to the world was tragically overlooked.

3. Low - Christmas EP
This is a really calming album, which is perfect for the holidays. If you’ve ever listened to Low, you’ll know that the trio was all about minimalism, and originals like “Just like Christmas” and “One Special Gift” are beautiful examples of just that. After a busy day of present wrapping and turkey stuffing, this is the album you’ll want to listen to while winding down with a glass of egg nog by
the fire.

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Have you seen the Peanuts special, A Charlie Brown Christmas? You know, the one when Charlie Brown gets stuck with a pathetic Christmas tree and all of his friends make fun of him? Well, there was a lot of great Christmas music in that episode, too. The soundtrack features jazz interpretations of classic holiday songs, such as “What Child is This?” and “O Tannenbaum,” as well as songs sung by a children’s choir characteristic of the Peanuts style. My personal favourite, “Christmas Time is Here,” is an unquestionable classic. It’s a smooth jazz piece that features kids singing. It really doesn’t get any better.

5. Various Artists - Christmas Rap
This is a novelty album for the holidays. Forget William Hung’s joke of a holiday record (and recording career!) and pick up this one, instead. Chances are you’ll find it for cheap, as none of the tracks are actually memorable ... except maybe Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis,” which has a pretty good beat. The other tracks have not aged very well, and given the fact that the musicians haven’t either, (remember Spyder-D? Dane Dane?) you should expect to do a lot of hunting for this one.

6. Various Artists - A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector
This holiday album starts off with Darlene Love doing a rendition of “White Christmas,” and just keeps gets better. It’s a simple equation, really—Phil Spector’s wall of sound plus Christmas equals everyone’s happy. The album is full of soul, and whenever I listen to it I feel like I’m spending the holidays in the early ’60s. Listen to The Ronettes sing through “Sleigh Ride” and you’ll understand what I mean.

7. Handel’s Messiah
As far as I’m concerned this is more apt than any other selection on this list. Even if you only celebrate the holiday in a secular realm, and you aren’t really into the whole ‘Messiah’ story, this is a masterpiece. And Handel wrote it to be performed at this time of year, so press play, sit down and listen. If you’re not into it after the first few movements, wait until the Hallelujah Chorus—trust me, you’ll get it after that.

Upcoming Christmas Albums

1. Brian Wilson - What I Really Want for Christmas
Much like his album Smiles, Wilson fans have been waiting for this one. It’s Brian Wilson’s first Christmas record without the Beach Boys, who set a pretty good standard for the pop Christmas LP. Wilson makes a good attempt, though, covering favourites like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Auld Lang Syne.” He also wrote a few of his own for the record.

2. Diana Krall - Christmas Songs
This is just awful. Listen to this album if you’re over 30 and enjoy drinking more than your fair share of egg nog.

3. Various Artists - Merry Mixmas
The concept of this album doesn’t seem very practical. It’s a collection of classic Christmas tunes by the likes of Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, remixed for your pleasure. Something tells me that the people who listen to Mr. Martin’s version of “Baby, it’s Cold Outside” in the first place aren’t going to be interested in remixes. But, who knows.

--Lauren Raham

Downtrodden and overworked, you head home with a stupefied look on your face after your last exam or paper is over with. You trudge up the stairs to your old bedroom at your parents’ house and sleep for 16 hours before finally coming to. You’ve killed 32 trees and suffered three nervous breakdowns with all the essays you’ve just written; you almost had a seizure on your kitchen table after having your sixth double espresso while cramming for your last exam. Christmas Break is looking pretty damn good because it gives you licence to do a whole lot of nothing.

Home Alone (1990)
You probably broke the VHS tape from watching this so many times as a kid, but yet it never gets old, does it? Maybe because you keep finding new reasons to appreciate it. Like, when you watch Macaulay Culkin and his formerly-wholesome self admirably foiling the dimwitted robbers, before cringing after remembering what he looked like in Party Monster. Or when your best friend pulls a Marv and falls down the basement stairs. What a classic.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
It’s easy to hate on the old B&Ws (black and whites). It’s a Wonderful Life is just so damned bland, especially from a modern perspective, and it doesn’t help that it’s on 24 hours a day on any given cable channel come Dec. 1. But Miracle’s a pleasant surprise, full of solid performances, a variety of characters, plenty of double-entendres, cynicism and a young Natalie Wood. So what if it’s formulaic and predictable—drink some ’nog and
enjoy yourself.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Sorry, Jim Carrey. You can’t beat the voice of Boris Karloff.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Oh, Chevy Chase. In yet another instalment of the National Lampoon movies, Clark Griswold and his clan stumble through the yuletide season, replete with fiasco after fiasco. This movie makes the list because contains one of the funniest Christmas monologues ever, Griswold’s “we’re all in this
together” speech.

A Christmas Story (1983)
C-L-A-S-S-I-C. What kind of Canadian can’t empathize with licking frozen flagpoles or being paralyzed in bulky snowsuits?

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Gotta love a bad, cheesy horror movie. A psychopathic killer clad in a Santa costume murders a couple in front of their young son, sending the kid barreling down the path to trauma-induced insanity. Once grown up, he gets a job at a department store and snaps once he dons the traditional red Santa suit, going on a killing spree of his own. This movie is wildly sadistic and inappropriate for the season of joy and giving. Watch it anyway and laugh at its overwhelming ridiculousness.

Scrooged (1988)
Think A Christmas Carol, but add Bill Murray, booze, and rampant cynicism.

Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Music! Evil! Animation! Tim Burton takes on Christmas with the tale of Jack Skellington, bored ruler of Halloween Town, who decides to scam some Christmas joy and create “Sandy Claws.” Darkly delectable, this movie pokes fun at Christmas and blazes its
own trail.

Die Hard (1988)
Everyone seems to forget that this movie actually takes place at Christmastime. But a Christmas Party is the whole reason why John McClane (Bruce Willis) gets trapped in the building anyway. Yippi-kai-yay!

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)
Watch this one with the tots. Mr. Magoo never seems to lose his hilarity, even though the cartoon version of the classic story—with Magoo as Scrooge, is probably considered ageist by the politically correct—as the poor old confused Mr. Magoo bumbles through the movie and elicits a hearty chuckle.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Poor Charlie Brown. He always gets a raw deal, in this case trying to take pity on a scraggly Christmas tree and fight materialism, but failing to impress anyone with his charity. Even though you may want to punch Lucy for her obnoxiousness, Brown is oh-so-savvy as he waxes about the commercialization of Christmas, probably sending a good message to all the kiddies. Even though the kiddies are probably going to be swimming in a sea of toys after the movie ends ... but it’s worth
a shot.

Love Actually (2003)
This movie is sugary, contrived, uneven, admittedly pretty weak, but embarrassingly watchable. The parade of great Hollywood actors and a chance to watch Hugh Grant shake his delicious derriere makes the whole thing worthwhile. I challenge you to disagree.

So in the spirit of laziness ... er ... I mean the season, get ready to put on your flannel PJ’s and take up residency on the couch. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

--Tricia Summers

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