I love Christmas and I LOVE decorating my tree.
Given where my interests lie, it makes perfect sense that the tree is all pop culture and nothing but pop culture, and that even though I tell myself I’ll only buy a few new ornaments each year, that I often end up buying 70 to 80. After all, who can resist all the fabulous new Disney and Hallmark ornaments or those brilliant rare finds on eBay which are never repeated and which you, by which I mean “I”, are infinitely glad you snapped up when you did.
This year’s selection went very heavy on animation, on old nostalgic pop cultural touchstones and on some of the franchises I love the most such as Star Wars. Adding them to the stock of Christmas tree ornaments in what was a very tough and exhausting year brings me so much joy, and while yes, I buy likely far more of them than I should, when they’re on display it all feels worth it in ways that lift the spirit when I need it the most at the end of the year.
I read a lot of books in my childhood, many of which still have a fond place in my heart but close to chief among them are The Berenstain Bears, a loving family of anthropomorphic grizzly bears who sprang forth from the imaginative minds of Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art graduates, Stan and Jan Berenstain. With the help of Dr. Seuss aka Theodor Geisel, they published their first book about the bears in 1962, The Big Honey Hunt, a roaring success which gave birth to over 400 titles and 260 million plus in sales, and these Christmas ornaments which I am beyond thrilled to have tracked down. If Christmas is about love and family, and it often is, then you need The Berenstain Bears on your tree!
I can still remember how big of a seismic pop culture impact The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) films made in the Noughties when they made going to the cinema at Christmastime a must-do outing for 2001-2003. Strangely, despite devouring lots of fantasy books growing up, I hadn’t read any of LOTR books at the time, something I quickly rectified between my first and second outings to see The Fellowship of the Ring at the cinema at Miranda in Sydney where I was living at the time, when I devoured the weighty first instalment in the book series, which was quickly followed by books two and three. I loved many of the characters in the books but one of my favourites was, and remains sweet, wise, nonsense Gandalf, a wizard of the Istari order, who shepherded the Hobbits to victory on Mt. Doom as well as fighting some titanic battles of his own.
What a delight Encanto is! I am sucker for a beautifully produced animated musical and Encanto, released late in 2021 by Disney, is one of the best, a gorgeous tale of family, loss and gain that warms the heart and gets the toes tapping. As I said in my review, “Mirabel is the beating vibrant heart at the centre of Encanto, a film … that great deal to counter the idea that grief is forever and there is no coming back from the finality of the end”. Having experienced a great deal of grief in the last seven years due to the death of both parents, I found the film, and Mirabel in particular to be a great comfort and very much worth adding to the tree.
If The Berenstain Bears are near to the top of the pile when it comes to childhood books I loved, then The Moomins are happily sitting on its very summit. Appearing in everything from novels, which is where I discovered them, short stories and comic strips, the creation of Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson are a cosy delight who warm the heart as well delivering some sage lessons about life. First published in 1945 and continuing on in some form until 1953, the Moomins tackle some fairly weighty issues such as war and natural disaster but always with a firm on inclusivity, love and belonging, all qualities that attracted me to them and which continue to make them a delight to read all these years later.
Pecos Bill isn’t one of the biggest stars in the Disney pantheon, but based on a collected series of short stories by Tex O’Reilly in 1923 (after the first stories appeared in The Century Magazine in 1917), which took a deep dive into American folklore, particularly that of the Wild West. Adapted by Disney in 1948 as a 23-minute short film, Pecos Bill actually made its way into my heart via a merchandised book from the film, which came complete with a 33 1/3 long playing record which regaled me with the story of this American cowboy. In fact, it’s highly likely I read the book and listened to the record well ahead of ever seeing the short film on the Wonderful World of Disney and after playing the record so many times, having Pecos Bill on the tree feels like a fitting homecoming.
I love pretty much all the movies Pixar has ever produced – sorry Cars but I just don’t feel the love, not even a little bit – but right at the top of the list, jostling for heartfelt space with UP and all the Toy Story entries, is Inside Out. I described it in my review as “an unqualified joy to watch, an excursion into the universal “feels” of growing up, of coming to terms who we are and our place in the world” and it is that and more, full of characters who represent our emotions and who dreams and who really get to the heart of what it means to be human, both the happy and the sad. I had a couple of the characters on the tree but finding this perfect set made my day, giving me a chance to display the full scope of this most wonderful of animated features for the first time.
A Disney classic which came out mid-twentieth century in 1953, and which is based on J. M Barrie’s melancholically evocative book, Peter and Wendy, Peter Pan is a movie that feels like two halves brought together astonishingly well. On one side, the film is an escapist adventure into Neverland where all kinds of magical things await, but on the other? Well, there’s darkness and evasion and a sense of trying to escape the inevitable, a layer of real world humanity which grants this movie a deeply affecting emotional weightiness that still affects me to this day. I love this ornament because it evokes the whimsical joy of the story, right before the truth of what lies behind the joyous façade kicks in …
Credited with being the film that kicked off the Disney animation renaissance, The Little Mermaid is another animated feature that, contrary to the reputation the Mouse House has for blandising everything, is equal parts light and dark. Based of course on the immortal story by keeper of European fairytale heritage, Hans Christian Anderson, The Little Mermaid is longing and harsh reality, evil and selflessness, and as Flounder here demonstrates quite a lot of whimsical humour that leavens out the movie’s more darkly contemplative moments which, happily, do end with everyone happy and fulfilled (nothing like the original tale but that’s likely for the best in a world where happy-ever-afters are rare on the ground and good for the soul.)
Honestly is there anything the dearly-departed Jim Henson couldn’t do well? Sesame Street. The Muppet Show. And the effervescent loveliness of Fraggle Rock, which debuted in 1983 and ran for five seasons before being revived n April 2020 as Fraggle Rock: Rock On! shorts which eventually becoming a full-length episode series, Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock, in January 2022 on AppleTV+. The series, both then and now is an innocent delight with the world-building sublime, the lead characters warm and fuzzy joys and the lessons perfectly on point. It’s hard not to feel yourself relaxing in a world where, the Gorgs aside, everyone is ineffably lovely, and escaping is one guaranteed way for the world to not suck so much anymore.
On Peanuts I LOVE YOU! I have loved the whimsically whipsmart creation of Charles M. Schulz, who sadly died in 2000 and whose 100th birthday this gorgeous ornament, which recreates his working desk, marks, ever since I was a boy and I’d spent my pocket money buying second-hand Peanuts paperbacks for 20 and 50 cents apiece at a bookstore a few blocks from where we lived in Grafton, NSW.