Since starting my master’s at Oxford this fall, I’ve been looking for a church. A new life in a new country meant I needed a Christian community to remind me who I am. I found one just in time for Christmas. Here’s what I learned on the way.
There are a lot of churches in Oxford. Honestly, you can’t walk down the block without tripping over a church. They tend to be Anglican. But after visiting various services, I started noticing two general kinds of atmosphere — two distinct styles of worship. Now, I’m a layman to my core. I have no business evaluating doctrines or denominations. This is just what I saw.
If your family is anything like mine, you have plenty of holiday traditions that you cherish. Many of ours revolve around Disney (go ahead and try to act like you’re not surprised). From Disney cartoon shorts, to theme park experiences, to decorations and recipes, we love making Disney a big part of our Christmas celebration.
Here are ten reasons why a Disney Christmas is the best kind of holiday. Enjoy!
10. Prep & Landing (2009)
After several years with very little new Christmas content (save for holiday episodes of Disney Channel and Disney Junior series), Disney released the computer animated TV movie Prep & Landing in 2009. This winning comedy tells the tale of the elves who work in Santa’s elite Prep & Landing division on Christmas Eve.
An elf named Wayne is bitter at being passed over for a promotion, so he decides to leave most of the work to his new trainee, Lanny. When a snowstorm makes landing at one boy’s house seem impossible, it’s up to Wayne and Lanny to make it happen one way or another.
Prep & Landing spawned two sequels. It’s a cute, funny movie that everyone in the family can enjoy.
This holiday season, I know you’ve been wondering: what can I give the Southern culture lover on my gift list? Well, worry no more, because I, your intrepid Southern culture expert, have decided to swoop in like a Christmas miracle and save the day!
Here’s a list of 34 awesome gift choices that cover just about every area of the culture below the Mason-Dixon line. The best part: nearly everything on this list is eligible for Amazon Prime, for all you procrastinators. Enjoy!
5. Explore The Literary South
One of the greatest traditions in the South is storytelling, and a classic Southern story makes a wonderful gift for the bookworm on your list. Here are just a few recommendations.
William Faulkner is one of the best known and most respected authors in the South or anywhere. I’ve always had a difficult time keeping my concentration reading his novels, but I love his short stories. I highly recommend The Collected Stories of William Faulkner (also available for Kindle) as a sort of greatest hits collection and The Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner for deeper cuts (get it here for Kindle).
Georgia’s own Flannery O’Connor also made a name for herself in literary circles, and her short stories are some of the best in American literature as a whole. Check out The Complete Stories (also on Kindle) to experience her true genius in all its glory, but I also recommend the slim volume A Prayer Journal (also on Kindle) for some of the most beautiful, lyrical Christian prayers I’ve ever read.
Of course, there are plenty of great Southern novels to choose from, but here are some of my favorites. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God delves into the lives of black people in rural Florida with a lyrical flair. In Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons, a precocious orphan tells her own story. James Dickey’s Deliverance is the same harrowing story as the movie, but with greater depth. And Family Linen by Lee Smith is my all-time favorite novel — a twisty, darkly comic family tale.
You can’t go wrong with any of these choices for literature lovers.
It’s fairly obvious that we Jews just don’t get Christmas. Don’t believe me? Check out BuzzFeed’s attempt to get Jews to decorate Christmas trees. (“Who’s Noel?” “Is that like, ‘grassy knoll’?”) Yet, every year we Jewish Americans wrestle as a people over whether or not to incorporate Christmas traditions into our own Hanukkah celebrations. It’s tacky. It’s trite. And it’s really, really lame. Here are five Hanukkah/Christmas hybrids that all Jews need to avoid this holiday season.
Well, it’s that time of the year: days getting shorter, nights getting colder, choirs singing and priests commemorating the virgin birth. I know what you’re thinking: it must be time for the rural Dionysia! Mmmm, chanting in ritualistic praise of the wine-god just gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling — like eggnog by the fire.
Okay for real though, obviously Christmas is the best holiday in the history of ever. But Christmas as it’s celebrated these days is a mash-up, a “greatest hits” of December festival practices from the ancient and modern world. A lot of our traditions go all the way back to ancient Greece. So to get in the spirit, here are five of my favorite yuletide rituals, along with their ancient Greek roots. They’ve been mathematically ranked and arranged in ascending order depending on how merry and/or bright they are. Happy ancient Greek Christmas, everyone! (And more importantly, happy real Christmas, too.)
Want to see something featured and then added to the collection?
Tweet your selections to @DaveSwindle or email DaveSwindlePJM <@> Gmail.Com or leave your thoughts in the comments below. Here are the previous recordings included so far in this new feature:
Johann Sebastian Bach
- Bach Harpsichord Concertos BWV 1052,1053,1044, Richard Egarr
- Glenn Gould’s Version of Bach: Goldberg Variations
- Flute Concertos
- Yo Yo Ma Performs Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello
- Collecting Bach Recordings By Instrument: Violin
- The Best Bach Violin Concerto Online?
- How About An Hour of Bach’s Harpsichord Concertos?
- Anybody Appreciate Bach’s Oboe Concertos?
- What Are Your Favorite Lute Recordings?
Ludwig van Beethoven
George Frideric Handel
- Where To Begin To Appreciate Haydn? Symphony No 94 G major
- Wake Up With Haydn’s Missa Sancti Nicolai San Nicola
- Achieved is the Glorious Work
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
A region as varied and storied as the South has plenty of wonderful holiday traditions. From the biggest of cities to the tiniest towns, Southerners — and Yankee tourists — have plenty of special ways to spend the Christmas season.
Honestly, I had a tough time picking ten destinations, but I think the ones I chose demonstrate the variety of Southern experiences. Enjoy!
10. Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC
Ok, so I took some heat for putting Asheville in my list of the 10 Most Overrated Destinations in the South, but I stand by my choice. However, one of Asheville’s most iconic locations makes the list of the ultimate holiday destinations.
The Biltmore Estate is grand and gorgeous year round, but, like so many other places, Christmas decorations add even more beauty. George Vanderbilt’s palatial home hosts a display of holiday cheer that’s hard to top.
During the day, Biltmore offers wine tastings, visits with Santa, and tips for exquisite décor. At night, the estate features candlelight tours and impressive lighting displays. It’s enough to consider fending off those Asheville hipsters!
The “Christmas single” phenomenon is unknown in the U.S., unless you’ve ever watched Love, Actually.
It’s sort of the “Black Friday” of the British music industry. Since so much music is sold (or, at least, used to be) during the holiday season, having the #1 song on the charts during that time gives one lucky record company a financial boost.
After Slade took the top spot in 1973 with their “Merry Xmas Everybody” — beating out “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard — “an emotional attachment to the Christmas countdown has developed, and for many [in the United Kingdom], it is part of the fabric of their childhood.”
So I doubt many American readers care that there’s a campaign to get Iron Maiden’s old chestnut “The Number of the Beast” to the top of the charts in time for Christmas, “for a laugh.”
What’s really funny (sort of) is that, during the early 1970s, such a campaign would have been denounced on the front page of every British tabloid, and remarked upon within American newspapers’ “entertainment” sections, at the very least.
Because culture-watchers would see it as yet another sign of the satanic takeover of the culture, and the world — the one I wrote about last week.
Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, the official beginning of the religious Christian season. This is a season rich in meaning and symbolism for Christians, much of which can be found in the Advent wreath.
Found in churches and many Christian homes, many focus on the candles, but the wreath itself is also an important symbol. Wreaths are a circle, with no beginning and end, just as we have been promised eternal life in Christ, an image that many wreaths also continue with the use of evergreens. Laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering. Pine, holly, and yew mean immortality. Cedar is for strength and healing. Even the decorate holly, with its sharp edges, reminds us of Christ, in the suffering of his crown of thorns. Some decorate an Advent wreath with pine cones, which symbolize resurrection.
Advent is about the light of the world coming to us. You may have noticed that the four Advent candles have different colors: three violet and one rose. Each week represents one thousand years, symbolizing the 4,000 years of waiting from the Garden of Eden until Christ was born. On the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Lent, we light a violet candle. In the Christian tradition, violet means penance, sacrifice, and prayer. On the third Sunday, the rose candle symbolizes joy. However, each candle has a meaning beyond that.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice the confusion laced within a holiday message. When it comes to Christmas, the confusion is on overload. Somewhere along the way a religious message got smacked with a load of pop culture overtones to create a holiday lush with semiotic excess, too much for the brain or heart to process. So, allow me from my seat on the sidelines to create the How To guide so you can enjoy the perfect pop culture Christmas.
12. Shop early and shop often for things you’ll never need that are on sale at bargain basement prices.
Christmas really begins on Black Friday, or 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, whichever you prefer. The holiday is about buying to your heart’s content and making sure everything you and your children have ever dreamed of is stacked up under that decorated tree. The bruises and broken limbs you get in pursuit of those awesome sale prices will be well worth it. Who needs teeth when they can have stuff?
Looking for a movie to watch this holiday that’s at least somewhat relevant to the season? Perfect. We’ve got you covered.
These films aren’t necessarily about Thanksgiving, although a couple of them are. Regardless, they each have some connection to the holiday and provide a welcome escape. Here are 10 films set around Thanksgiving that you can stream tonight:
#10. Tower Heist
Capitalizing on real-life headlines regarding Wall Street graft and investment Ponzi schemes, Tower Heist imagines how the staff of a high-rise luxury apartment complex would react to the news that their most high-profile tenant had squandered their retirement savings. The comedy stars Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, and Alan Alda.
When Alda’s Wall Street billionaire is arrested for scamming investors out of their money, Stiller’s building manager recruits Murphy’s petty thief to help the defrauded building staff steal their money back.
Thanksgiving Connection: The titular heist occurs during the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Streaming options: Available to rent/buy on Amazon and Vudu.
Lately my editor, David Swindle, has been encouraging me to develop a series describing my own out-of-the-box Jewish faith. It’s this mish-mosh of biblical proverbs, Torah adages, stories and songs tightly woven together by my American colonial heritage and intense Zionist pride. There is no one perfect word to describe my Jewishness beyond biblical in nature. Orthodox, Conservative, even Reform I am not. Reconstructionist or Renewal? Forget it. But I find commentary from all denominations (“streams” we call them in Judaism) interesting and acceptable in a “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” kind of way that gives me the liberty to define my Judaism in a way most of my compatriots are simply afraid to do. Which is probably why David finds my approach so fascinating. It’s rare to find a Jew who isn’t somehow fettered by the chains of guilt.
So I begin at the beginning, with Thanksgiving, the quintessential Jewish and American holiday. Traditionally Jews celebrate the idea roughly 1-2 months earlier during Sukkot, a festive fall harvest holiday in which we humble ourselves before the God who brought us out of bondage, not because we are perfect, but because He loves us and wanted to dwell with us. (Sukkahs, as in “tabernacles,” as in “the Lord tabernacles with us.”) When you understand the story of God and Israel as a passionate love story, the struggles are contextualized as are the prophecies, into tough tales with happy endings. When you understand the metaphor of God and Israel as a greater metaphor of God’s love for humanity (we’re just the physical reminders) you open your heart to the immense, overwhelming love of God. And there is nothing more you can do as a human being than reflect on that truth with awe-filled gratitude.
I love, love, love a good deal. I follow half a dozen deals blogs on Twitter (here’s my list, my secret weapon). And I pride myself on never, ever paying full price on anything. Black Friday is one of those days that usually isn’t worth getting out of bed for (or throwing on your skinny jeans after a big meal). There are a few exceptions, and I’m here to tell you what they are. Are you shopping for a conservative in your life and can’t decide what to get them? Here’s some gift-giving ideas:
1. For the academic
Do you have someone in your life who has been eyeing the Victor Davis Hanson series in the PJ Store? Or perhaps someone who is just a history buff? We have three different VDH series on sale this Cyber Monday on World War II, the Odyssey of Western Civilization and The Western Story; all three will be 30% off this Cyber Monday! The guide to WWII is a six-part lecture series and both the Odyssey of Western Civilization and The Western Story come with eight lectures and eight accompanying e-books. They’re sure to expand the mind without drastically shrinking your wallet.
2. For the news buff
Do you know someone who loves to spend an afternoon or weekends catching up on current events or the latest music news? While few smaller conservative publications are participating in Black Friday sales, it’s still worth taking out a subscription to magazines like Commentary, National Review, and The Weekly Standard. The website DiscountMags has other subscriptions for magazines like The Atlantic, Rolling Stone and Food & Wine, all at a drastic discount. Keep an eye on their site — their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are always spectacular.
3. For the fashionista and fashionmister
I first heard of Sword & Plough because of a Kickstarter campaign they were running to get the company off the ground. Successfully funded, they are now running a full shop and will be releasing new designs for Black Friday and will be offering 10-15% off for these designs (all the ones on their website are backordered and thus won’t be discounted) on Black Friday in addition to free domestic shipping over $100. Sword & Plough have several different components that make them a great company to order a new bag from:
- We empower veteran employment by working with companies and non-profit organizations that employ veterans as sewers and manufacturers, and we ask our partners to scale with us by hiring veterans to meet the growing demand for S&P products.
- If the fabric doesn’t have a cool story, we won’t use it. We recycle thousands of pounds of military surplus that would otherwise be burned or buried. Because our bags are made from repurposed military gear, they are also water, fire and UV resistant!
- Our goal is to emotionally and physically touch civilians in their everyday lives. We aim to remind them, in a beautiful way, of the challenges our country and veterans face, and the power that every person has to help.
Holiday-themed fiction has become sadly predictable: ‘Tis the Season for Santa, reindeer, and family reconciliation. Not that we don’t love tradition and feel-good endings; but it feels like it’s time for something a bit…different.
So for Liberty Island’s first annual Holiday Fiction Contest, we’re asking for you to surprise us. Pick your favorite genre–sci fi, fantasy, mystery, military, what have you–and, using the basic conventions of that genre, tell an interesting and compelling story with a Christmas or Chanukkah backdrop.
The best entries will be featured in Liberty Island’s end-of-the-year blockbuster release, and may be collected in a themed anthology in the future — so be sure to send us your best stuff. And something new: we’ll pick one overall best story and the winning author will receive a gift package of Liberty Island swag.
Entries are due Monday, December 8th. Length should be between 1,000 and 5,000 words. Email entries to to firstname.lastname@example.org; please put “Holiday Fiction Contest” in the subject line.
We look forward to reading a dozen stories about killer android reindeer!
They are veterans not victims. Every once in a while, Hollywood captures the nobility of the American veteran. Coming home may not always be easy, but those who have worn their country’s uniform have done much to nurture, shape, and enrich this nation. Here are 10 movies that tell their story.
1. The Searchers (1956)
This story of a complex and conflicted veteran “hero” fighting his personal demons and a savage frontier is widely regarded as one of the greatest American films ever made. It’s based on a novel by Alan Le May which draws from actual events that occurred in 1836. On film, the story is moved to after the Civil War. John Wayne plays one of the three million veterans who came home after the conflict. When his niece is abducted during an Indian raid, Wayne embarks on a violent 10-year search to find her. In the end, he rides off into the sunset, triumphing over both hatred and adversity.
Sally was right when she complained in the Peanuts Thanksgiving special that it was too soon to learn about another holiday because she wasn’t even through with her Halloween candy yet. And she couldn’t have had that much candy as she’d spent Halloween in a pumpkin patch with Linus, and her brother came home with a bag of rocks.
With Halloween, the US candy calendar begins. Now, I’m not a strict candy limits mom. When my eldest was three years old, we hit about half a dozen houses. This was in Eaton Square, an area of London that was just coming up to speed with American traditions for All Hallows Eve, so we aren’t talking about a ton of candy. I let him eat to his heart’s content. My mother did not approve, but as she cautioned me, Patrick got about half way through his bucket, then stopped and asked for water and if he could have the rest tomorrow. His tummy didn’t like all the candy, he told us. I beamed, of course, and let him watch The Great Pumpkin before bed. (He slept fine, by the way.)
From August 22, 1929. The beginning of the experiments that would become Fantasia a decade later.
On the street I live on, well over a thousand kids will appear on this spooky night (we hand out, oh, about $300 worth of candy in a couple of hours, no joke). The town literally blocks off my street for several hours, it’s such a big thing. Will I have fun scaring the crap out of small children, and handing out ready-to-eat diabetic comas in small packages? You bet!
Given the article title, I find it impossible to begin this without the following being the first selection.
1. Classics IV – “Spooky”
Friday the 13th may be the series that popularized the slasher movie genre, but Halloween is where it started. Before Jason Voorhees, audiences were terrified by Michael Myers, also known as The Shape, and the Boogeyman. Unlike his fellow members of the genre’s “Big 3,” Jason and Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers’ story is one that has been re-imagined, splintered, and rebooted probably more than any other besides Universal’s stable of classic movie monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein. What follows is a look at the various films in the Halloween franchise, grouped by what’s worth watching sober to when a drinking game is necessary.
Classic Duology: Halloween I and II
Halloween is considered a classic, and the pieces are all there for one: iconic villain, haunting score, and a terrifying scenario are all present. Michael Myers may not be as flashy as Jason or Freddy, but he can be more frightening in his simplicity. John Carpenter’s original finds horror in the mundane, showing Jamie Lee Curtis’s character Laurie and her friends being boringly normal as Michael lurks in the background, unseen as his prey goes about their lives in blissful ignorance.
The formula slashers continue to follow to this day in some regard is laid out here as Michael stalks his victims one by one as the obsessed and arguably, equally unhinged Dr. Loomis tries to enact the solution he felt should have been used all along to end Michael’s reign of terror– murder. The climax is one of the most tense and horrifying in the history of the genre, as one madman tries to save Laurie Strode from another.
If you’re still operating under the false notion that pop culture doesn’t have a real impact on everyday life, take a look at America’s oldest example, Sleepy Hollow, New York.
When Washington Irving penned The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1820 under the pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon, he probably had no idea that his short story would inspire the beloved town of his youth to turn itself into a living homage to his tale. Settled in the late 1600s, the village was originally an agricultural and manufacturing zone of Tarrytown, New York. Nicknamed “Sleeper’s Haven” by early Dutch settlers, Washington Irving picked up on the Anglicized version of the name, “Sleepy Hollow” when staying with family in the area as a boy. Eventually millionaires like John D. Rockefeller would build mansions around the industrial zone that would become known as North Tarrytown at the turn of the 20th century. But it was Irving’s story that proved eternal when, in 1996, the village voted to rename itself Sleepy Hollow.
Street signs are orange and black, as is one of the village’s fire trucks. The Headless Horseman is the school mascot who, dubbed the nation’s “scariest high school mascot”, runs through every football game at half-time. Police cars and fire trucks also bear the Headless Horseman logo with pride. Halloween is celebrated throughout October with haunted hayrides, street festivals, a parade encompassing both Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown’s main streets, several ghost tours and performances of the Washington Irving legend. The Great Jack O’Lantern blaze puts Christmas light spectaculars to shame and Horseman’s Hollow turns a 17th century Dutch mill into a gory homage to the headless Hessian.
The Old Dutch Church, Ichabod Crane’s presumed safe haven, stands guard over a vast “garden cemetery” designed to allow Victorian families to picnic with their dearly departed. Tours of the cemetery can be taken both day and night and feature stops at the graves of Washington Irving and those who inspired characters in his tale. A fair runs every weekend alongside the cemetery, providing tour groups with the opportunity to walk the grounds with alcohol in hand. The gas station on the other side of the infamous bridge hawks t-shirts and other assorted Headless Horseman souvenirs. And if you’re hungry, there’s always The Horseman Restaurant, a hole in the wall diner that promises you’ll “lose your head” over their milkshakes.
Halloween was always a point of contention in our house growing up. Naturally theatrical, I loved dressing up and relished in making my own costumes. And what kid turns down free candy? Sure, Jewish kids have Purim for these things and more, but when you’re in a mainly gentile neck of the woods, it’s a struggle not to be allowed to join in the party. As I grew into adulthood and took a deeper look at Halloween, however, I began to understand my parents’ objections quite clearly. There are definite reasons why Jews and Christians who base their faith in the Bible should re-think introducing and encouraging their child’s participation in this, the most pagan of American holidays.
Those with long memories will recall that Wes Craven’s Scream, which came out way back in 1996, was praised for its hip “self-awareness,” coming as it did in a particularly “meta” era of ’90s postmodernism, full of overrated cult fare like Pulp Fiction and Clerks. The film’s edginess consisted in banging on the fourth wall without quite breaking it. In one scene, for instance, a horror-movie fanatic and video-store clerk (remember: 1996) played by Jamie Kennedy tells his fellow teenagers about the “rules” of surviving a slasher film.
One of these “rules,” which is now common knowledge, is that in order to survive one mustn’t practice the carnal arts. Those who do it always get it. What the less eloquent might call “c*ckblocking” is an established horror-movie tradition. In the first Halloween film, Michael Myers ruins one couple’s tryst by stabbing the guy and then assaulting his teenage girlfriend—which might sound like a standard Friday evening at Roman Polanski’s house, but for an audience of 1970s suburban teens it was genuinely frightening. Come to think of it, every horror movie has a boyfriend character, football letter jacket and all, who gets his head caved in while fetching a few beers from the fridge. Each series has its own tropes. The Friday the 13th movies rely on the obligatory sex-in-the-woods scene: two camp counselors set up a tent, and before long Jason shows up with his machete for an especially kinky threesome.
Editor’s Note: This is the second pre-Halloween list this year. The first was “The 10 Worst Horror Films on Netflix: Drinking Game Edition.” What would you like to see next in this series before Halloween next week?
As it is with art or humor, horror is subjective. What might frighten one person might do nothing for another. And especially today, when there are so many things in our modern world that are scary, fright has been parsed virtually to its constituent components.
What scares modern audiences is more likely to be found in threats that grow directly from real life. Thus, films of past decades, whose themes may have just rolled off the backs of viewers like water off a duck, now resonate with renewed discomfort.
A new uncertainty has gripped modern society as it struggles to meet a rising restlessness. New monsters represent the looming chaos that threatens to overturn our heretofore predictable and comfortable lives. We can sit before our theater-sized TV screens in our cozy McMansions snug in our gated communities and pretend the rising chaos of the outside world won’t effect us, but in the back of our minds we know that isn’t true. That when our leaders take their hands off the tiller, or drop the reins, control is lost and confusion ensues followed by a metaphoric zombie apocalypse. Thus, perhaps, watching our monsters where they remain safely imprisoned behind the television or movie screen, we can pretend all is fantasy and that really, there’s nothing to worry about…until the schools close due to an Ebola scare, or there’s a run at the supermarket when the power fails, or a riot breaks out at a pumpkin festival, or a bomb explodes at a marathon event…
A relative latecomer to the monster sweepstakes, the creature from the film Alien (1979) definitely deserves a place of honor among the best of all time. In a single move, the alien creature (not to be confused with Universal’s Gill Man) brought the haunted house genre into the 21st century and created a horrific being perfectly suited to an age where technology and science was reaching its apogee, threatening to get out of control on any number of fronts!