Every family has a kid who won’t eat. And in our favourite Christmas movie, A Christmas Story, that kid was Mother Parker’s son Randy, who “had not eaten voluntarily in over three years”.
What was a mother in 1940s Indiana to do? Well, Mother Parker had a creative way to make Randy eat:
Randy didn’t know what he was missing, with recipes like this from A Christmas Story Treasury by Tyler Schwartz, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of America’s favourite Christmas movie, and recounts it’s humble Canadian beginnings.
In a large skillet melt the butter, add the sausage and cook until browned, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer the cooked sausage with a slotted spoon into a large bowl. Cook the celery and onion in the same pan until tender. Add the cooked celery and onion to the sausage; add the poultry seasoning, dried cranberries or cherries, cornbread cubes, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Stir mixture until well combined and evenly moistened. Transfer the stuffing to a greased 9-inch baking dish. Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 25-30 minutes.
Growing up, I loved being with my grandparents. They were wonderful people who know how to have fun. However, I could never understand their taste in music. Country, Western, and Bluegrass – that is all they ever listened to. Stompin’ Tom Connors, Humphrey and the Dumptrucks, and The Yodeling Cowboy Wilf Carter were some of their favourites.
It wasn’t until years later, and after they were gone, that I began to appreciate and then love these genres. Then began my search for the Holy Grail of Christmas albums in my family: “Christmas in Canada” by Wilf Carter.
“It’s Christmas time in Canada / Be merry while we can / It’s Christmas time in Canada / God bless our native land”
This album, which was released in 1965, seems to be a rare one. Most record store clerks have barely heard of Wilf Carter, let alone his Canadian Christmas album.
This past October, after years of flipping through vinyl at every thrift store, yard sale and record swap I’ve come across, I decided to go into a consignment store that is one block away from my house. I have walked by it almost every day for the past three years but had never gone inside.
The store had a mess of records piled all over the floor, but they were not organized in any fashion. After a few minutes, I asked if there was a country section. He pointed to a cardboard box under a bunch of old dishes. “Christmas in Canada” was the sixth record I flipped to, and I felt like Ralphie, when he finally got his official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock.
Our favourite Christmas decoration of all time is the trusty leg lamp from A Christmas Story! It goes up in our home on November 1st and stays up til New Years Day. Cars slow down and people even get out to take pictures next to the “electric sex” glowing in our front window.
Last Halloween, I wondered if there might be a way to extend the leg lamp love into the haunting season. I invented the dismembered leg lamp! It made it’s debut at our annual Haunted House!
Here’s how you can make your own Halloween Leg Lamp!
A variety of leg lamps are available for purchase from websites such as RetroFestive.ca. We chose to use the biggest one: the 50″ Major Award!
Carefully cut or rip strategically placed holes in the stocking and the lamp shade. We started with small, conservative holes, but then had more fun with it and made the holes bigger so they can be easily seen from the road.
Grab a can of red spray paint and go to town! We used Fusion by Krylon, it’s the kind made for use on plastic. Spray it on very heavy, so it drips like real blood. Let dry overnight.
We also soaked the lamp shade with strong tea to give it a more aged, weathered look.
Replace the top bulb with a red lightbulb (or green) to give it an eerie glow.
We used a flash in this photo, so you can see the details better.
And there you have it! Your very own Halloween Leg Lamp! Extra points if you build a FRA-GEE-LAY crate to display it on, like we did!
OR, if you’re really adventurous, you can create a REAL dismembered leg lamp like Leo Bonten did. He’s a 53-year-old from the Netherlands who had his leg amputated after a bad infection. When doctors told him the leg had to go, he fought for the right to keep it. But, what to do with it? He decided to make his very own, genuine leg lamp!
Bonten hired a lighting designer to create the one-of-a-kind lamp. The designer fixed the amputated leg in a large vase full of formaldehyde and rigged up a unique bulb and shade. He even later tried to sell it on eBay for $125,000, but eBay removed the listing since it does not allow the sale of body parts. Now he’s trying to sell in privately.
Of course, if you really want your own Halloween leg lamp, you could always choose an easier route. RetroFestive.ca sells this awesome Wizard of Oz Wicked Witch Leg Lamp.
Growing up in the eighties, I was completely enamoured with the Griswolds. I remember my parents and brothers guffawing through repeated viewings of the original National Lampoons Vacation on VHS (or was it Betamax?)
Then there was the time mom took us to see the sequel European Vacation and ten-year-old me was mortified to be sitting next to my mother while a busty German girl bared it all to Rusty. Even though the second installment of the franchise hasn’t held up as well as the others have, we loved European Vacation in its time. I can still sing the Pig in a Poke theme song, if that counts for anything!
So it was like icing on the proverbial fruitcake when National Lampoons Christmas Vacation came bouncing into our lives, back in 1989. Now, twenty-five years later, it’s regarded as one of the best Christmas movies of all time… and I can truly say I’ve been a fan since the beginning! It was movie fandom that prompted me to source and sell Clark Griswold-style eggnog moose mugs online, which ultimately led to the creation of our pop culture Christmas website RetroFestive.ca.
But back on Boxing Day 1989, no one could have forseen all of that. My family was simply looking for a light holiday diversion when we trekked out to the local cinema, complete with crazy aunts and uncles in tow. What we discovered in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation was a pop culture treasure that would continue to make us laugh every Christmas for the next 25 years.
I was in grade nine that year, and I remember making a holiday mix tape with the Christmas Vacation theme song as its lead track. I taped the song off the radio (as we did back then) so whenever I hear it today, I can still hear Casey Kasem doing the lead in. I didn’t realize then that the Christmas Vacation theme song is sung by Mavis Staples of the storied Staple Singers. Her powerhouse vocals are also featured in the concert documentary The Last Waltz, in which she sings The Weight, backed by The Band.
But back to The Griswolds. What is it that makes National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and the Griswold family so endearing, even after 25 years? It must have something to do with the zany cast of characters that reminds us of our own families. We all know a Clark Griswold, someone who’ll stop at nothing to make Christmas perfect for their family. And we all have that one relative who has shades of Cousin Eddie. “Save the neck for me Clark!” We can relate to Aunt Bethany wrapping up her cat just like we can relate to Audrey’s disdain for sharing a bed with her brother. “Do you sleep with your brother? Do you know how sick and twisted that is?”
Christmas Vacation is a perfect modern day Christmas movie because it doesn’t force sentimentality, it earns it. It’s packed with edgy humour, silly sight gags and hilarious one liners. “Grace? She passed away 30 years ago!” It traipses out every holiday trope, but lampoons them better than any movie has before or since.
In the end, Christmas Vacation is about family. Beyond the mayhem, beyond the 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights, Clark Griswold knew that Family is what it’s all about. I’m thankful I got to see Christmas Vacation in theatres with my family 25 years ago and I look forward to watching it with them again this year as we relive all the memories of the crazy holidays we’ve spent together.
Here’s wishing you the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby danced with Danny f***ing Kaye!
Remember the dream sequence in A Christmas Story when Ralphie has visions of saving his family from Black Bart? It’s a nod to the kind of 1940′s-era characters that would have pervaded young Ralphie’s imagination.
But in reality, Black Bart wasn’t just some fictional desperado. In actual fact, the character originated in an 1870s dime novel that was loosely based on a true story. The writer called his main character Bartholomew Graham who took the name of “Black Bart” because he wore black clothes, had black long curly hair and a dense black beard. And Black Bart had real-life inspiration.
Charles Bowles was born in England around 1830 and immigrated to New York a few years later with his family. Shortly after entering adulthood, young Charles Bowles had his name changed to Charles Boles and, in 1849, he set off for California with a cousin to find gold. Like countless others, they failed to strike it rich and returned home a few years later. But, undaunted, Charley Boles set out to find gold again with his cousin and his brother. Once again they failed, and both his brother cousin both perished after falling ill.
Eventually, Charley returned again, fell in love, and was married. Later, he spent some time in the Union Army and then went west to Montana where he set up a mining site that was dependent on water. His claim attracted the attention of some men from Wells Fargo who wanted to buy his claim. When Boles refused, they cut off the supply of water and Charley was forced to abandon the mine. In a letter to his wife he wrote, “I am going to take steps.” She wasn’t quite sure what that meant.
But it wasn’t long until a series of daring robberies began, in which Wells Fargo stage coaches were hijacked and robbed of their money and valuables. The robberies began in 1875 and each time a poem was left behind, hinting that the perpetrator would strike again. They were signed “Black Bart”.
Throughout the late 1870s and early 1880s, Bart robbed Wells Fargo stage coaches many times. He wore a flour sack on his head and never fired a shot, though on a few occasions, shots were fired at him. There was never any mayhem or extreme violence.