Thursday, November 5, 2020

Review: 'Holly Jolly: Celebrating Christmas Past in Pop Culture'

John Waters once said, “If you don’t have yourself a merry little Christmas, you might as well kill yourself.” While I wouldn’t go quite that far, I do agree that there’s something pointlessly self-spiting about refusing the tinsely, tacky joys of Christmas. After all, are you really living if you deny yourself the pleasure of yucking it up when Ralphie nearly shoots his eye out with a Red Ryder BB gun? Are you really living if you don’t get a lump in your throat when Darlene Love wails “They’re singing ‘Deck the Halls,’ but it’s not like Christmas at all” or the Monkees harmonize like angels on “Riu Chiu”? Are you really living if you don’t ensconce yourself in pine and fairy lights every December?

I’ve been a stalwart atheist since my teens, and Christmas is the one vestige of a Catholic upbringing I still enjoy. Actually, I agree with seasonal-icon Charles Schulz, who once said, “I doubt very much that Christmas was ever a religious holiday in the first place.” The holiday was always more about the cartoon specials and very special episodes, pop songs and Scrooge movies, Coke and toy ads anyone can dig than magical mangers.

Self-described “secular-humanist-devout-lapsed-Catholic-with-agnostic-leanings” Mark Voger reminds us of the holiday’s secular, pop cultural significance throughout his merry new book Holly Jolly: Celebrating Christmas Past in Pop Culture. Like Voger’s other fab tomes such as Monster Mash and Groovy, Holly Jolly is a visual and informational candy shop. Voger is a master of evoking nostalgic joy, and in his latest, he does so by dancing with the toys, films, songs, images, stories, TV shows, comics, and ads that will instantly bring up memories of twentieth-century Christmases. Rankin and Bass, Batman and Robin, Abbott and Costello, Chewbacca and Lumpy, Scrooge and Marley, Boris and the Grinch, and Bowie and Bing. They’re all here for a full plunge into the retro-holiday spirit. There’s a comic adaptation of the Bowie segment of Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas special. There are excerpts from interviews Voger conducted with Darlene Love and a fairly bitter Antony Peters, who designed the characters in Rankin and Bass’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer without getting adequately compensated (don’t worry…such bitterness is rare in this book). There are Christmas memories from a very-Voger roster of celebs that include Roger Daltrey, Carol Burnett, Tommy James, Lydia Cornell of Too Close for Comfort, Stan Lee, James Brown, Bela Lugosi Jr., and Jonathan Harris (who tells a hilarious story about Lost in Space’s cynical creator Irwin Allen). There’s humor, heart, and Voger’s own personal stories and snapshots that probably aren’t too different from yours if you grew up celebrating Christmas in the fifties, sixties, seventies, or eighties.

If you can no longer bring yourself to celebrate Christmas, I do not recommend killing yourself, but I do think Holly Jolly might help you to un-Scroogeify yourself toot sweet.
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