Thursday, February 22, 2018

Hamilton Blew Us All Away

On Valentine’s Day, Feb 14th, 2018, I was amongst a few thousand people to see the much acclaimed Hamilton: An American Musical. The hit Broadway musical created by Lin-Manuel Miranda has been on tour recently and is currently here in Arizona, dubbed as the Angelica Tour, as each tour location is dubbed with a different character name. The tour official opened in Tempe at Arizona State University’s Gammage Theater on January 30th and will run through February 25.

All days are close to being sold out and any remaining seats will cost you a pretty penny, anywhere from $200-$500 per ticket. This is not surprising when you consider how difficult it is to see this show on Broadway in New York City, how much of a phenomenon the show has become since debuting in 2015, and how much the rest of the country has been waiting for a chance to have the show come anywhere near them.

Now, as with any story, it is best to start at the beginning. So before I get into the incredible show I experienced, let’s dive into my history with Hamilton.

I didn’t become acquainted with the show until late in 2016, when I was introduced to the cast recording by a friend over a year after it’s release. I have always been a fan of musicals(well, most musicals), of hip hop music, and history. So when this album, that combined all three, was recommended I searched for it on Amazon Prime Music and began to listen to it. And that was it...I was immediately hooked. It was unlike any other musical I had ever heard and it was the coolest way possible to learn about one of America’s founding fathers; Alexander Hamilton.

From that point on, I dove into songs about Hamilton, George Washington, Aaron Burr, the American Revolution, and so much more. I found myself affected and moved by these songs in a way I hadn’t been since I first heard Phantom of the Opera, which had been my favorite musical up until this point. I can’t recall any other piece of art that I have fallen in love with as quickly, as I did with Hamilton. To quote Angelica Schuyler from Act One’s “The Schuyler Sisters” (which I have quoted on more than one occasion) “ men say that I’m intense or I’m insane…,” because I am unabashedly obsessed with this show. And I am not the only one, I know many who feel the exact same.

For me, my love of Hamilton did not just stop at the cast recording. I began following news about the show and it’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and even started listening to a podcast. Shout out to Gillian Pensavalle from The Hamilcast! Gillian started out as a fan who created the podcast in 2016, about this thing she loved and hadn’t even seen. Since then, she has had members of the cast on including Miranda and, of course, seen the show in her native New York City. So, please do go and check out Gillian’s awesome podcast!

I can completely relate to Gillian, in the earlier days of her podcast, since I was in a similar position. I loved Hamilton and yet had not seen it yet. I was limited by my location to photos and related videos online. The closest exposure to actual parts of the stage show was through the PBS special. Until now that is, now I can be counted amongst the members of the “I Saw Hamilton” club.

So how did it come to this for me? I have my friend Jaimee to thank. She was one of the lucky folks to get a season ticket to ASU Gammage, which guaranteed her two tickets to Hamilton but also the opportunity at first dibs to buy four additional tickets. The season tickets sold out in record time, within minutes of going on sale, months away from general admission going on sale. It was then a waiting game for season ticket holders, to find out when they would get the chance to purchase the additional tickets.

I remember the excitement when I received a notification for a group message through Facebook sent by Jaimee in October of last year. She wanted to know who of our little group was interested in her four additional tickets. I immediately jumped at the opportunity, as did three others, and Jaimee worked magic to get two pairs of tickets for two different dates but with seats together each night.

We were paired off and told how much we owed Jaimee, who was awesome enough to upfront the cost for the tickets until we sent her the money. That was it. The only thing left was to wait yet again for our tickets and for the show to arrive in three months. And arrive it did, with some added flourish from our Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) who marked the opening night of Hamilton: An American Musical with references to the show on our freeway signs. This isn’t a new thing with our freeway signs either. ADOT will link messages of safe driving to superhero movies, sporting events, and holidays. Now, when it came to the tickets, my friend Jaimee went to the show the week before and picked up our tickets (my friend Laurel and I), and dropped them off with a mutual friend where I picked them up.

This brings us of course to the 14th, the big day, and what a day it was. I took a half day from work to allow myself plenty of time to make my way home to prepare for attending the show that evening, and had time to add in a quick appointment. The appointment took only an hour, after grabbing some lunch beforehand, and at three in the afternoon it was time to head home. The plan was to be at Gammage at around six o’clock by way of a Lyft from my friend Laurel’s house. All I had to do was get home, get ready, and go to Laurel’s. I had plenty of time, or so I thought.

You would think that three hours was enough time to get home and then back across town. And it would have been, had it not been for the weather. Yes, the weather. It was raining that day and when it rains in Phoenix, all hell breaks loose. There were accidents and road blocks, horrible traffic, on all the freeways and roads. It took two hours, TWO HOURS, for me to get home. In a panic, I threw together my things and rushed back out into the chaos. An hour and forty-five minutes later I arrived at Laurel’s house. She had already ordered the Lyft that would take us to the theater as I ran into her house and proceeded to put on my costume.

There wasn’t much to the costume, not to mine at least. I ordered it off Amazon, and Laurel helped tailor it to fit me, as it was a Men’s medium. She shortened the sleeves and sewed the coat to the vest so that it fit tighter overall. I was thankful to have her help, as sewing is not a skill I possess, at least not very well. Now, Laurel’s costume on the other hand, required a lot more work. She made the entire costume by hand, from the long satin coat and white frilly-sleeved blouse, to the velvet vest and pants. She did an amazing job.

As for how we came up with the idea for our costumes, it was quite easy really. In our group chat, I jokingly suggested that we all go in costume. After most of the group politely declined, Laurel chimed in and said she would definitely be up for going in costume. She went on to say her favorite character was Thomas Jefferson and she would be going for one of his costumes. So that made it an easy decision for me, as I was already thinking about trying to dress as Hamilton and it would be a fun idea for the two of us to go as Jefferson and Hamilton. The two characters and real life historical figures are well known for being at odds with each other. But enough about that, let’s get back to the main event.

At a quarter after seven, we arrived at Gammage. We hopped out of the Lyft on the main street, there was no getting in through the backup, and rushed through the parking lot towards the building. We went through security, and then had our tickets scanned at the inner entrance, all the while receiving compliments for our costumes as we hurried to our seats.

We were in the balcony, so it wasn’t a short trek. We went around to the other side of the building, up a ramp, up a set of stairs, around a corner and up another set of stairs. Then, we shuffled our way along the second row, to the middle, past everyone already in their seats. Again, we heard comments about our costumes as we went by and the couple beside us offered to take our picture once we had gotten to our seats.

It wasn’t until we were finally settled into our seats, that I could finally relax completely and let go of any remaining stress. From there on out, everything was amazing and not only what I had expected but better than expected. The cast was fantastic and so talented. It was really something else to sit there and watch these actors perform all of these songs that I had become so familiar with. But despite knowing the cast recording so well, it was a whole new experience to hear these same lyrics and music but with different takes. I was experiencing the musical I had come to love, in a whole new way, and loving it even more.

At intermission, we ventured out into the crowds, receiving more compliments as we moved about. I ventured downstairs and stood in line for one of the Hamilton-themed drinks, settling on the Martini De Lafayette, and Laurel ordered a glass of the Federalist wine served at the bar upstairs. We came back to our seats with our drinks in hand to enjoy the second half of the show. The show continued and we had finished our drinks by the time we got to the most emotional part of the musical.

I had been warned by friends who had already seen the show, that I should be prepared to cry. I’m not one to cry easily, so I wondered if I would, or if I would just get close to the verge of tears. But happen it did. Two times, actually, once out of reaction to the sadness displayed on stage and again at the very end as I was overwhelmed by the brilliance of everything that I had just seen.

Now, I am not going to go into detail about any of the songs or the performances(as those are unique to each show), as I do not want to influence anyone’s experience with my own opinions. I would rather let those that are still going to go see it, experience everything fresh and for themselves. But I will say this, there was more humor in it than I expected and I loved it. And as I mentioned before, watching and listening to different actors than on the cast recording did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the show. In fact, I now have an even greater appreciation for the songs that I know so well. I also have a visual representation to go along with those songs, a better understanding of what is going on in every scene. It was a great experience to listen to the entire cast recording again the next day and let my mind drift back to the performances.

So let me finish things off then, with some information about the particular show that I saw. In our playbill, when we received a copy entering the theater, there was a white piece of paper detailing the changes of actors for that night’s performance. Most of the roles were the same, the official cast for this tour, but a few characters had been switched out with other actors, swings or members of the ensemble. The cast for the 14th was as follows:

  • Alexander Hamilton played by Austin Scott
  • Eliza Hamilton played by Julia K. Harriman
  • Aaron Burr played by Nicholas Christopher
  • Angelica Schuyler played by Sabrina Sloan
  • George Washington played by Isaiah Johnson
  • Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson played by Chris Lee
  • Hercules Mulligan/James Madison played by Desmond Newson*
  • John Laurens/Philip Hamilton played by RubĂ©n J. Carbajal
  • Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds played by Amber Iman
  • King George played by Peter Matthew Smith
  • Philip Schuyler/James Reynolds/Doctor played by Keenan D. Washington*
  • Samuel Seabury played by Desmond Nunn*
  • Charles Lee played by Daniel Ching
  • George Eacker played by Alex Larson*
*denotes a change from the original playbill

The only thing left for me to discuss now is what happened after the show ended. We were all crying, at least I was, as the cast took their bows on the stage. The entire audience rose to their feet to give a standing ovation, until the actors left the stage. Everyone then filed out of the room. My friend and I stopped at the merchandise booth and bought some things to remember the night, she a mug and I a mug and a shot glass. Then, we took our photo in front of the big sign for the musical hanging on the outer wall by the main entrance. The rain had started up again, but it was only a drizzle, as we waited our turn and then a nice young lady took our photo for us.

We called for our Lyft home (pun intended), and stood waiting around the corner where the line of cars was slowly filing through. As we stood waiting, we noticed a line of people standing along a railing and a security guard. I guessed it was the stage door and the actors would be coming out to make their way home. Sure enough, no sooner had we turned around to see where the Lyft was on the map, Laurel tapped my shoulder and gestured back towards the line of people where Nicholas Christopher(who played Aaron Burr) was standing and signing autographs. We walked back over and as soon as we did he noticed our costumes. He was impressed and said something along the lines of, “Man! You both went all out, you look great. Did you make those?” We proceeded to explain that Laurel had made hers and she helped to fit mine. We asked for a photo with him and he asked the same, taking a selfie with us.

We headed back over to the line of cars and, once again, checked on the status of our Lyft driver. When we had confirmed that she was still enroute, we turned back around and noticed that yet another actor had appeared outside. None other than Austin Scott, Alexander Hamilton himself. He too was complimentary of our costumes and was nice enough to take a photo with us. Then, it was back to the line of cars, while we fangirled a bit over meeting not one but two actors and having our pictures with them.

Our Lyft driver showed up as the rain began to pick up, just in time considering the silk and velvet that Laurel’s costume was made of. And that was the night. We were deposited back at Laurel’s house and I changed out of my costume, hopped back into my car for the drive home and arrived just after midnight. I’m not going to lie, I was tired the next morning, but it was definitely worth it. Hamilton had been worth it all, even the stress leading up to it.

There are still tickets left for the remaining shows, but I doubt I will be able to see it again while it’s still here. However, I am entering the lotteries as often as I can anyway, just for the chance of again being a lucky chosen one. I know, I’m already a lucky one and I definitely appreciate that fact. A lot of people will not get the chance to even see it once and here I am attempting to see it a second time. But the show is really that good. I hope that many more people still get the opportunity to see it for the first time and appreciate this great work of art, history and music.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

How I Helped A Hot Air Balloon Pilot at the Arizona Balloon Classic

Start and end locations (zoomed in and out).
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the 7th Annual Arizona Balloon Classic as part of a balloon crew. I woke up early on Saturday morning, January 27th, drove 15 minutes from my home in southwest Phoenix to Goodyear, Arizona, where this year’s balloon classic was being held at Goodyear Ballpark.

I arrived at just before 6:30am and checked in at the volunteer tent, where I received a volunteer t-shirt and was pointed in the direction of the tent where all the balloon pilots were gathered. The sun wasn’t up yet and it was a cool 43 degrees, as people ate donuts and drank their hot coffee. I arrived with several other volunteers who had signed up to be part of the balloon crew, which basically meant you would be assisting out-of-state balloon pilots who didn’t have crews with them to set up their balloons for flight.

Peggy's Balloon.
Now, I have never been in a hot air balloon, I’ve also never been near so many and been so hands on with the flight and landing of one. We have a lot of hot air balloons that take flight on Arizona mornings often throughout the year, you can spot them in the distance while driving along the freeway. The local environment is very conducive to hot air balloons, lots of wide open desert and fields where you can take off and land, without needing to worry about tall objects getting in the way.

I’ve always thought it would be fun to ride in a hot air balloon, but have never had the opportunity. It’s not actually cheap to ride in one and can cost you a couple hundred dollars, depending on whether the balloon pilot charges per ride or an hourly rate. Although, now that I’ve had the experience of working with a hot air balloon, I think riding in one is definitely something I want to check off the list. Especially since I found out that most balloon pilots will offer free rides in their balloons if you crew for them enough times. For some it’s ten times and others five (like Peggy, the pilot that I crewed for), that’s a pretty good deal.

So back to the actual task of being part of a balloon crew. I’ve never attended the Arizona Balloon Classic and this was the first time I have volunteered for an event like this as well, so I really didn’t know what to expect. The website had given a generic description of what the balloon crew volunteer could expect, but I wasn’t sure how hands on it would actually be. The decision to volunteer was also a last minute one. I had seen a post on Facebook, shared by a friend, about the balloon festival and the need for volunteers, this was probably sometime around the middle of week and I signed up on Friday. I received a confirmation email and that was it, I was signed up.

The StarLite Balloon Flights trailer.
So there we were, a small group of a volunteers, with the instruction to wander over to the pilots and see if anyone needed help. While part of the group helped themselves to coffee and donuts, myself and four others were approached by a woman who told us she needed four volunteers and asked if anyone had claimed us for their crew yet. We shook our heads and offered to be her four volunteers and that was it, we had found a balloon pilot to work for. Introductions were made and we were guided to the trailer belonging to Peggy of StarLite Balloon Flights.

There was a pilot briefing just before sunrise, where they were given the weather conditions and their task, a Hare and Hound competition where the lead Hare balloon would fly off first and set down a target during the flight and the rest of the balloons would then have to chase after and hit the target with bean bags. The winner, the pilot that hits the target, would receive a cash prize of $1,000. A local radio station had also given away free rides on the balloons, for passengers to ride along during the event. Our pilot Peggy had two passengers from Mesa, Arizona that would be joining her on the flight.

The briefing ended and as the first rays of sun began to peak above the horizon, we set about emptying the contents of the trailer. The basket was pulled out, along with the balloon in it’s cloth bag, and the burners. We were first instructed on how to attach the burners to their stand and place the stand on top of the basket, then wrap the legs with leather sleeves that zipped up and protected them and also held the fuel lines in place leading from tanks up to the burners.

Next, we pulled the balloon out of its bag, by slowly pulling the bag along and emptying the balloon as we went. Once the straps holding the balloon together were removed, the balloon was spread out a bit. Myself and another volunteer were then asked to hold the opening of the balloon, up and apart, so that regular air could be blown into it by a large fan. I never realized that this was the way the balloons were inflated, not by hot air to begin with at all. We watched the balloon fill with air and had to adjust our grip to allow the balloon to receive a continuous flow of air and grow ever larger. Finally, the basket was tipped on its side and the balloon was hooked up to the basket. We let go of the opening and were asked to step to the side of the burners and grip the strings to the balloon to keep them out of the way as the flame was turned on, while the fan continue to blow into the balloon.

Two crew members hold a balloon open.
You could feel the heat of the burners as they heated the air inside the balloon, which then slowly began to rise up. The basket was lifted back up and a friend of Peggy’s named Terry, who had actually been her instructor many years ago, held onto an anchor line to steady the balloon as it straightened out. The fan was turned off and a couple of us gathered everything up. We were then tasked to hold onto the basket to weigh it down until it was time to take flight. The passengers climbed in, the hare balloon took off, and then it was time to let go and watch Peggy’s balloon float up into the open sky and drift across the streets towards the open desert and farmland.

After we had taken pictures of the balloon we had helped launch, and of many other balloons while watching them inflate and take off, we set about packing up everything that remained back into the trailer. It was then time to chase after the balloon ourselves. Yes, you read that correctly, we had to follow the balloon. Hot air balloons cannot navigate, they can’t choose which way they go and they can’t go back to where they took off from. They are at the mercy of the wind. So it was now our task to follow the roads out to where the balloons were headed, where they would fly long enough to find and try to hit the target before finding an open field or patch of desert near a road to land on.

Myself and two other volunteers climbed into the truck with Peggy’s husband, Gary, and headed off. I sat up front and assisted with navigating, using the maps app on my phone to find the best roads to use while we kept sight of the balloons in the distance. Gary kept in contact with Peggy over the phone and after pulling off Country Road 85 and onto a small yet busy road called S. Jackrabbit Trail, we pulled off onto a side road, and parked off to the side between two fields and waited. We had pulled ahead of the balloon and sat watching it come our way, as two other balloons landed in the field to our left. They quickly realized the field was too thick with some type of weed-like vegetation, so they “walked” the balloon out of the field (the pilot lifted off just enough to hover a few inches off the ground so the crew could push it along) and across the side road where we and a few other crews were parked with their trailers. On our right was a grassy flat field that was far better to set down and deflate the balloons.

At first, we thought that Peggy would be able to navigate the balloon to the same field, but just as she neared the road, wind kicked up close to the ground and caused her to have to land on the opposite side of the main road from us, in the desert. We drove across, walked down a sandy dirt road (which was riddled with coyote tracks), and then proceeded to “walk” the balloon up the dirt road. A couple people kindly assisted to stop traffic for us on S. Jackrabbit Trail, so we could push the balloon across both lanes into the side road and down onto the field. It was actually surprisingly easy to relocate the balloon.

We then set about pulling everything out of the trailer again, tipping over the basket, detaching the balloon, removing the burners and stand, wrapping up the balloon as it deflated, and packing everything up. The hardest part was trying to pull the balloon together and walking backwards, while someone else put the straps back on, there was a lot of resistance from the air still in the balloon that made it heavy. Peggy’s friend took over the hard part, having a lot more experience with this part of the process (and a bit more muscle) while myself and the other volunteers held up the already wrapped balloon, to make it easier to strap and move along to the very end. Finally, the balloon was stuffed back into its bag which we all sat on to let more air out of it. It was then wrapped up and loaded into the trailer. Next, the trailer was backed up to the basket which we had tilted up on one end, and once it was just right the basket was lowered and pushed into the trailer as well.

Everyone climbed into two vehicles, Terry and the passengers in his car, and us volunteers in the back of the truck with Gary and Peggy. We all drove back to the Goodyear Ballpark, where Peggy set up a small feast of meats, cheeses and fruit to eat while we all shared a champagne toast for those old enough to drink and orange juice for the highschool aged volunteers. Peggy explained that it was a ballooning tradition to always share a glass of champagne to toast after a successful flight.

She then proceeded to tell us the story of man’s first flight, which was not the Kittyhawk flown by Wilbur and Orville Wright, but a hot air balloon created by the Montgolfier brothers in Paris, France in 1783(piloted by Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent d’Arlandes). This was the first documented untethered flight by man. At this time, the balloons were fueled by bonfires, which would often catch fire to the fields upon which they landed, angering the local farmers. To appease the farmers and keep them from trying to kill the pilots and destroy their balloons, pilots would carry bottles of the King’s champagne which they would then give to the farmers. A bottle of the king’s champagne was worth a lot, often more than the land the farmer’s owned, and so it became a tradition to share a bottle of champagne with land owner’s whenever a balloon was forced to land on private property. This also eventually included the toast and the ballooner’s prayer, which is a poem that is recited as part of the after flight ceremony:

May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God
joins you in laughter and sets you gently
back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

And that brings us to the end of the adventure. The passengers left, on their way to a birthday party, the two high schoolers went to meet up with their mother, and I was left to chat with Peggy, Gary, and Terry until I too left at about 10:30am. Everything had been accomplished in just about four hours, from set up and lift off to landing and packing up, plus the after flight ceremony.

In chatting with Peggy and Terry, I found out that they had both met in Germany, where Terry had been in the US Air Force stationed in Bitburg, near the German border to Luxembourg. Peggy had been living in Germany at the time, and saw an ad in the paper from Terry about teaching Hot Air Balloon pilots. The rest, as they say, is history. I mentioned that I had been born in Germany and Terry correctly guessed I was an Army brat based off the location. He then asked me if I could speak German, in German, and I responded that I could, also in German.

It was then time for Terry to leave and I headed off shortly after. But not before Peggy thanked me for all my help, shared the information that I was now very valuable as a volunteer as I was trained balloon crew, and mentioned that she gave crew members a free ride after the fifth time that they crewed for her while some other pilots did ten. She gave me a hug and I thanked her for the great experience and wished her and Gary a good day.

I’m not going to lie, I woke up quite sore on Sunday morning, especially the muscles in my arms. But I don’t regret any of the heavy lifting, it just means that I need to start working out again, and with weights. Despite the hard work, it was a lot of fun and a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the operation of a hot air balloon. I would definitely be game to volunteer for a balloon crew again in the future. I am also even more interested to eventually ride in one as well. But, only time will tell. I’ll have to keep a look out for future balloon festivals.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

25 Movies to Watch for Christmas

As the Christmas weekend is upon us, I like to spend time rewatching Christmas movies: the old classics and family favorites. In more recent years, I have also added Hallmark Christmas movies to the rotation. But even those can’t hold a candle to many of the movies on this list, at least for me. So, what is this list you may ask? A list of 25 movies that you should spend time watching over Christmas, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re not, that’s cool too, whatever floats your boats.

While I may love some of these movies more than others, just like other people, I tried to be fair with my descriptions. They are all worth watching as each one represents an element of Christmas and the holiday season, each in their own way..

Without further ado, 25 movies to watch for Christmas!

1. White Christmas (1954)
Vermont at Christmas, a charming inn, and songs sung by Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen. What more needs to be said? It’s a classic and quite possibly my number one favorite Christmas movie (and number one favorite Christmas song, especially as sung by Bing Crosby). I’ve loved Bing Crosby christmas songs long before I first saw this movie, but once I had seen it, it quickly became a must watch every year. And since moving to Arizona, I can certainly relate to… “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know…”

2. Muppets’ Christmas Carol (1992)

“It’s in the singing of a street corner choir, it’s going home and getting warm by the fire. It’s true, wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.” Michael Caine (as Scrooge) and a host of everyone’s favorite muppets retell the Charles Dickens classic tale of A Christmas Carol. This was my favorite Christmas movie until White Christmas. But if I’m truly honest, both movies are tied for first. I have every song in the movie memorized by heart. And this is my favorite Jim Henson Production that wasn’t directed by Jim Henson, but by his son Brian, as Jim passed away during pre-production of this movie. My favorite Jim Henson movie is of course Labyrinth, followed closely by The Dark Crystal, but I digress as neither of those are Christmas movies.

3. The Holiday (2006)

The honor of one of the best romantic Christmas movies goes to The Holiday. In what other movie can you find romance amidst the Santa Ana winds or the snow flocked fields of Surrey? This movie stars Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, and Eli Wallach, as two budding romantic couples and one adorable old man. And speaking of the adorable old man, he offers up one of my favorite lines in the movie, “Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you’re behaving like the best friend.” I can certainly appreciate when your life can be put into such simple terms, and ever since I first heard it, I have strived to be the leading lady of my own life. I also strive to watch this movie every year, and spoiler alert: I already have.

4. Last Holiday (2006)

In the same year as The Holiday, another romantic comedy Christmas movie premiered, starring Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton, Alicia Witt, and Gerard Depardieu. This movie is about taking life altering news and not letting it keep you from going on a trip that allows you to live life to the fullest. This movie quickly became one of my favorite movies to watch for Christmas (and one of my mom’s favorites as well). It has such a great blend of humor, love, discovery, sadness and surprise.

5. Elf (2003)
What do you get when you combine Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner and Mary Steenburgen? You get a really fun Christmas movie about a human who grew up at the North Pole as an elf and goes on an adventure to find his real family. A great time for the whole family, and don’t forget, “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.”

6. This Christmas (2007)

10 years before the world knew Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor and Luther in the acclaimed BBC show of the same name, he was Quentin Whitfield in This Christmas. This movie is all about a family trying to come together for Christmas despite a variety of obstacles. You really get the feeling of how important the support of a loving family can be.

7. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

No Christmas movie list would be complete without the classic animated Christmas tales from Rankin and Bass. These are the movies that filled my childhood with happiness and joy. Starting with everyone’s favorite red-nosed reindeer, Rudolph! Before Rudy was leading Santa’s sleigh on the screen, he had a successful song based off an equally successful poem from the 1930s. Rudolph has taught generations of children that it's ok to be different and that everyone has a special way that they can be important.

8. Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970)

Just like Rudolph, this cartoon was based off the song of the same name, also from the 1930s. In this timeless tale, children can learn all about the origin story of the big-man-in-red himself, Santa Claus. Certain aspects of the story are taken from the tales and legends of Saint Nicholas aka Sinterklaas aka Nikolaus aka Santa Claus, as he was known across Europe and later in America. So, if you need to brush up on your Santa facts, this is the movie for you.

9. The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974)

Out of the Rankin and Bass classics, this one has to be my favorite. It introduced some of my favorite characters: Heat Miser and Snow Miser. Each of whom have great theme songs. Plus, I have always considered this movie to have a unique take on a Santa Claus involved Christmas story. What happens when Santa decides to take the year off?

10. Frosty the Snowman (1969)

What do you get when you combine a magical top hat with a snowman? A talking jolly snowman named Frosty. He takes a group of kids on an exciting parade through their town and teaches them that even though their snowy fun will melt away eventually, they only need wait until next year to have wintery fun again. This is the perfect follow up to a fun-filled day building snowmen. Warm yours hands around a warm cup of cocoa or cider and wish Frosty a “Happy Birthday!”

11. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Based on a marvelous Dr. Seuss tale, this movie should put you in the Christmas spirit without fail. And with the voice of the Grinch and the narration by Boris Karloff, I dare anyone to find a reason to scoff. But we must not forget, this movie also spawned a hit song by Thurl Ravenscroft to complete the set. Whether you are a Grinch or a Cindy Lou Who, this movie is bound to have something for you!

12. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

I know, I already have a version of The Christmas Carol on here (there may also be another one further down on the list), but I am of the mindset that you can’t have enough versions of a great classic story. Also, this is Disney’s Mickey Mouse that we’re talking about here, not to mention a bunch of his Disney pals. Including, everyone’s favorite miserly duck, Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge. Could you have a more fitting casting than that? I am also aware, that Scrooge is named after that very same Dickens’ character, I just thought “the casting” line was funny. Anyway, this was an important animation for Mickey. At the time, this had been the first original theatrical release of a Mickey Mouse movie in over 30 years. It was also the last animated film to have Clarence Nash, who voiced Donald Duck, the only remaining original voice actor having outlived Walt Disney and Pinto Colvig (Goofy). I heartily nominate this Academy award nominee to be added to your Christmas watch list. Go on and know it better man!

13. Snow Queen (1957)

“Here comes the Snow Queen, her majesty in white…” and here comes a Han Christian Andersen classic for you, in a visual format. This 1957 classic is one that was introduced to me by my mother, who grew up watching it as a child. You may have seen a more recent (albeit loose) adaptation that hit theaters in 2013, a little film by the name of Frozen. For those that may not know, Hans Christian Andersen was also the same author of The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor’s New Suit, and many more stories. Stories many of which Disney has adapted into films, and similar to the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Disney made them much more kid friendly. The Snow Queen is a tale of a girl who loses her childhood sweetheart to a cold but beautiful queen of the ice and snow. You follow the girl on an adventure across Northern Europe, from Denmark to the far northern reaches of Scandinavia, as she avoids a witch’s grasp, bandits, a prince’s dungeon and the icy powers of the Snow Queen herself. It is definitely not your conventional animated Christmas movie and I think that’s what I’ve always loved about it. So if you’re up for something unique, check this one out.

14. Love Actually (2003)

People either love this movie, or hate this movie, and always for different reasons I’ve found. I’m in the love it camp. It’s amazing cast and unconventional plot points had me sold from the first time I saw it. Andrew Lincoln, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, and the late Alan Rickman. It has romance, humor, sadness, family, London, and a great rendition of All I Want for Christmas. That is all I will say, and I will let you all make up your own minds.

15. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Before I get fists shaken at me for not going with the 1947 version, let me just say this. I love the original and I enjoy watching it. I would include it as well if I could, but then I would have 26 movies and America doesn’t believe in a second Christmas day as the Europeans do (or Boxing Day for my Canadian friends). So I chose the remake because it was the first version that I saw as a child and because I was a big fan of Richard Attenborough from Jurassic Park and Mara Wilson from Mrs. Doubtfire. The remake is also a bit easier to get a hold of to watch than the original, especially if you feel like watching it in the original black and white instead of the remastered color version. But I do highly recommend everyone seek out the original, it has a great cast as well: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood.

16. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

I think everyone in their lifetime has either had a neighbor like or known someone like Clark Griswold. They go all out with their decorations and want everything to be perfect for Christmas. I love Christmas, and Winter is my favorite time of year, but even I have my limits when it comes to decorations. It’s a lot of work to put up decorations and not to mention the energy bill tends to spike a bit this time of year (although not nearly as much as running the AC during an Arizonan summer). So, when I want to see a crazy display of lights, I go no further than the TV in my living room and I reacquaint myself with the Griswolds and their Christmas shenanigans.

17. The Santa Clause (1994)

This movie taught us all a valuable lesson, do not scare Santa while he is on your roof. Otherwise, you wind up accidentally killing Santa and having to take over his job. Luckily for the rest of us, Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) found that out the hard way and made his handy guide for us all. Ok, clearly I’m kidding, except for the premise of this movie. I remember watching this movie as a kid and while there have been a few sequels, none of them can top the original. I really liked this movie, but I was also a Tim Allen fan, as my parents used to watch a lot of Home Improvement. And of course, what 90s kid doesn’t know Tim Allen as the voice of Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story. So for nostalgia’s sake, grunt a big Tim “the Toolman” Taylor “roh roh roh” before settling down to watch this fun Christmas comedy. Don’t worry, you won’t need to go to infinity and beyond.

18. Gremlins (1984)

It’s recommended to never get your kids a pet for Christmas unless you’re absolutely sure that your kids are willing to take care of said pet, or you’re prepared to take care of the pet when they don’t. No movie hammers home more the importance of proper pet care than this one. Three simple rules: No water, no bright light, and no feeding after midnight. The consequences of not following these rules were nothing short of disastrous for one small town plagued by gremlins. Billy, his girlfriend Kate, and little adorable Gizmo, must work together to save themselves and the town from these ugly and dangerous creatures.

19. Scrooged (1988)

Remember before when I said there was at least one more version of The Christmas Carol on this list? Bill Murray, Karen Allen, Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane and more...bring this modernized telling of the tale to life. Scrooge is a miserly TV executive named Frank Cross, who gave up on love with Claire and needs a visit from those three ghosts we know so well to get him back on track. I remember when I was younger, the elevator scene with the Ghost of Christmas Future always scared me and I would cover my eyes or turn away. I didn’t know exactly what it looked like until I was older. So if that part still creeps you out, don’t worry, it is a brief scene and is worth it in order to enjoy this great Bill Murray flick.

20. Jack Frost (1998)

Michael Keaton as a talking snowman. Need I say more? Of course, I am going to say more about this movie, because it’s one that I really enjoy and think doesn’t get enough credit. I’ve been a fan of Michael Keaton since Beetlejuice and Batman, so naturally, I was a fan of this film. While it’s just his voice coming out of a snowman, for the majority of the movie, the snowman does resemble Keaton and his mannerisms. If you’ve never seen it, give Keaton’s combination of Jack Frost and Frosty the Snowman a chance.

21. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)

For the longest time, I did not realize there were other Ernest P. Worrell movies and that there was actually an entire franchise. Not until I discovered Ernest Goes to Camp, Ernest Goes to Jail, Ernest Scared Stupid and Ernest Goes to School. Of them all, Ernest Saves Christmas has remained my favorite, but Ernest Scared Stupid is a close second. We had this on VHS and I watched it often as a kid. In this movie, and all the others, Jim Varney plays Ernest P. Worrell. Ernest is a buffoon and a redneck with a raspy voice, that gets himself into trouble but always manages to work things out. And in the case of this movie, manages to help save Christmas. If you’re at all interested in finding out what happens when you cross a clumsy redneck with Christmas, then this is the movie for you. “KnowhutImean?”

22. Home Alone (1990)

This movie starred Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, the kid who gave parents in the 90s cause to think twice about leaving their kids alone at home, for fear of them destroying the house with booby traps to defend against burglars. This movie spawned a myriad of quotable lines, and an entire franchise. While Culkin only did two films, the original and it’s sequel, there are apparently three more that noone has ever heard of. But I wouldn’t bother with those, just stick with the original. So, grab some popcorn “ya filthy animals” and enjoy watching a kid destroy a couple of criminals.

23. Jingle All the Way (1996)

After he was the Terminator and after he fought predators in the jungle, Arnold Schwarzenegger got to find out what it was like to be Turbo Man. In this Christmas comedy, a dad (Schwarzenegger) tries everything he can to get his son one of the hottest toys on the market. Even to such lengths at picking fights with a postal worker out for the same thing, played by comedian Sinbad. If you enjoy comedic Arnold as much as Action Arnold, like I do, then sit back and relax. “It’s Turbo time!”

24. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Now, I will be completely honest. I can’t recall if I’ve actually seen It’s a Wonderful Life. I think I have, or maybe just a portion of it? But I have gone through life hearing about the movie and it’s plot every Christmas for years, from other Christmas movies and other people. It’s touted as one of the top classic Christmas movies, and is a must watch in many households for the Christmas season. So, I thought I had better include it in the list, lest I be shunned. I will make it priority to watch the film all the way through.

25. A Christmas Story (1983)

So we come to the last film on the list. This also is considered a must watch for Christmas by a lot of people. Unlike the Jimmy Stewart staple, I have seen this movie, once, and honestly that was enough for me. It’s not a bad movie but it’s just not one I feel I have to watch every year necessarily. But, other people love it and I can appreciate what people love about it, so that’s enough to include it on this list. It does have some great moments and I do like that it is based on the partially real-life writings of an author (Jean Shepherd). Anyway, if you love this movie, let me know why and it may help to convince me. So enjoy watching the wintry exploits of little Ralphie, but be careful, “you might shoot your eye out kid.”

You can’t watch all of these movies on Christmas, there might be enough time to watch them all over the entire Christmas weekend, if you’re snowed in. But hopefully this list gives an idea to those who don’t know where to start. And hopefully some of these become your favorites to watch every year, as some have become mine. But remember, who you watch these movies with is really more important than which ones are favorites or the best ones to watch for Christmas. Spending time with family or those you care about is the important thing and these movies just help to provide entertainment and a way to make cherished family memories this holiday season.

So with that...Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year everyone!