Marijke Rowland

Season brings nostalgia and the traditions we love

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a yearly must-see.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a yearly must-see. Classic Media

What makes the holidays?

Seeing family, hanging stockings, trimming trees, sharing joy. But what makes the holidays entertaining? For each of us there are holiday programs, events and traditions that signal the start of the season and get us into that merry and bright mood.

Perhaps it is this weekend’s Celebration of Lights parade through downtown Modesto. The holidays start when you’ve bundled your family up in fluffy jackets and wave at flashy cars and floats filing by. Perhaps your holidays start with the graceful elegance of Central West Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker” starting next weekend (see more on Page E10). Christmastime dances into your hearts with Sugar Plum Fairies and Snow Kings. Or perhaps it’s the Modesto Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops! show this weekend that shoots you into decking the halls. The more musicians the merrier, I always say.

Despite companies’ and marketers’ best efforts to get us into the spending spirit earlier and earlier each year (creating that jarring shopping moment when you walk from one aisle selling bags of bones and creepy gravestones to the next aisle selling smiling snowmen and angel tree toppers), what makes it truly feel like the holidays is different for all of us.

When you hear “White Christmas” on the radio. When you watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” on TV. When Ralphie almost shoots his eye out on Christmas morning.

For me, the holidays don’t feel like the holidays without rewatching three Christmas specials.

The first is “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which got its annual airing this week on ABC and will repeat Dec. 16. For a show released in 1965, its message about rampant consumerism remains as salient as ever. Plus, the Vince Guaraldi theme music is the one Christmas song I never get sick of hearing throughout the season.

Then there is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (airing Tuesday and Dec. 13 on CBS). The story of misfits and celebrating our differences is as timeless as when it first aired in 1964. And the brilliant stop-motion animation by Rankin/Bass is instantly nostalgic. Plus, who couldn’t love a wannabe dentist elf? Though after all of these years of watching, I still don’t know what exactly is wrong with Dolly on the Island of the Misfit Toys. (But, seriously, can anyone tell me? It’s been driving me crazy for literally decades.)

Finally, there’s “The Snowman.” You won’t find it on any broadcast networks like the others because it’s a British offering from 1982 that has become a U.K. tradition. The 26-minute short about a snowman who comes to life on a winter’s night and takes a young boy on an airborne adventure has no dialogue. But its simple, gorgeous animation speaks volumes. Once the glorious song “Walking in the Air” begins, your heart truly takes flight. While it has a soggy ending similar to the American “Frosty the Snowman” special, I’ve always found this show to be so much more uplifting. Don’t ask me why, but “Frosty” always bummed me out.

There are plenty of other great contenders for holiday programming: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the cartoon, not the Jim Carrey abomination), “Love Actually” and “A Nightmare Before Christmas” among them. While our choices and how we celebrate may be different, what is the same in the best holiday programming is that spirit of love, understanding and community.

So whatever your favorites this season, snuggle yourself in for a long winter’s night and enjoy.

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter @marijkerowland.