"White Christmas" was released in 1954 in Technicolor. (Photo courtesy of the Normal Theater)
By Dawn Riordan
NORMAL - Whenever people think about a traditional holiday season, many of them go back to the mid-20th Century.
In the mid-1940s through the early 1960s -- when toys were still shiny metal objects -- Santa looked like that guy in the seasonal Coke ads who sits in a department store right up until the very day he flew around the world placing gifts under the flocked pink Christmas tree (Don’t forget that BB gun!).
The holidays were all about getting together with family and friends that you haven’t seen since last Christmas (some with good reason). The house was decked to the ceiling in festive, Woolworth-inspired decorations and the smell of Aunt Goldie’s shrimp dip was reigning over a festooned buffet of cheese trays, tricked-out celery sticks, weird pickles and stuffed olives that are (like some relatives) also unseen during the rest of the year.
Oh, and you can't forget the fireplace aglow with shimmering embers. If there was no actual fireplace, you can rest assured that someone would tune the TV to that Chicago station that showed the "yule log" video for 24 hours. If someone burned the ham, the TV yule log turned into smell-o-vision – and a good time was had by all.
I was raised with the traditional American holiday rites. Fundamental to the complete joy of the holiday season was the annual viewing of a mid-20th century holiday classic. One of my absolute favorites was "White Christmas." It had snow, red gowns and Bing Crosby.
It also had Danny Kaye, whose child-like humor connected with me and gave me ways of dealing with my brother (also named Danny), who caused most of my holiday stress. Polar opposites, they were. My brother was awful; Danny Kaye was adorable. He danced, sang, got silly over kissing a girl and seemed to be just a big bundle of fun.
Bing was more grounded and had a cynical sense of the season. But, he could take the stress away by singing the title song. Actually I have to confess here, Bing Crosby’s singing can put me to sleep. It’s so mellow and smooth, like warm milk or a cup of herbal tea. A couple of well-crooned notes and it's major Zzzzz’s for me if I’m the least bit tired. But, Danny Kaye always jolted me back to consciousness with his crazy antics.
The movie is a picture-postcard of the traditional American holiday – bright colors (Technicolor to be exact), snow on Christmas Eve, the fireplace, a tray of holiday sandwiches and of course, the man in a cardigan singing holiday songs. Everybody is dressed to the holiday nines – suits, ties, vests, comfy sweaters. Bing puffs a pipe, just like my Uncle Max. Aunt Dorothy used to smoke a pipe, too and on occasion, she could reach Bing’s low notes.
The ladies in the movie – Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen - remind me of my Aunt Beverly all decked out in a mid-20th Century wardrobe from circle skirts to capris. And those glorious ball gowns! Red with fur trim, they were perfect for a finale that encourages everyone to join in, sing and be merry.
If you’re not in a holiday mood after watching this movie, you need another eggnog!
Here in Central Illinois, we screen “White Christmas" at the Normal Theater in Uptown Normal each holiday season. It’s on the big screen, shown in a restored, mid-20th Century nostalgic movie theater. If I would have had this luxury for my youthful holiday viewings of this wonderful movie, I would have been in holiday Heaven.
But we have it now, and it is truly a wondrous event each year. It's also a tradition for many Central Illinois families.
This week, we’re showing it four times – Thursday through Sunday at 7 p.m. each evening.
Get out the cardigans and red dresses and come on over for a nice dose of Bing and Danny and all the trappings. And if you start to sing along at the end, make it mellow and smooth, but with a touch of Danny Kaye-joy!
Dawn Riordan is manager of the Normal Theater.