In the previous, introductory column of Who’s On Your Hero List, I promised that each new entry would feature a guest writer, who would share with us people that inspire them. Those days are coming, but right now I’d like to hog the spotlight once again with a slight variation on the Hero List Theme. This is Who’s On Your Hero List -Christmas Edition! 🎅🏼
To get started, we’re going to give Jesus a pass, and recognize that his contributions to Christmas are, obviously, far above the level of this little exercise. With that said, here are my 3 Christmas Heroes.
#1. Rankin and Bass
Who are Rankin & Bass, you ask? I bet you already know without realizing it. Rankin and Bass are the producers who brought us some of the greatest Christmas movies of all time, namely Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. You know, the one with Hermey (the elf who wants to be a dentist) the misfit toys, Yukon Cornelius, Clarice, Bumble, and the well-dressed, banjo-playing snowman. The clay figures, stop-motion animation, great songs and perfectly-conceived scenery all combine to make this movie something special.
Although Rudolph is the most iconic, Rankin and Bass produced several other great holiday specials that perhaps you’ve seen as well. Things like Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, The Year Without A Santa Claus (with Heat Miser and Snow Miser), The Little Drummer Boy, and Nestor The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.
All of these films were made in the 1960s-1970’s, but the influence of Rankin and Bass didn’t end there. Instead, they had a major impact on another beloved, Christmas classic– Elf. The scenery in Elf is deliberately inspired (or some would say straight-up copied) from Rudolph’s Rankin and Bass world. Look at the costumes, the shape of the buildings, the physical features of the characters. It’s easy to imagine Buddy the Elf and Rudolph’s friend Hermey as brothers- and that’s no accident.
Rankin and Bass have had a huge impact, not just on Christmas movies, but on Christmas culture in general. I’m placing them atop my Christmas Heroes list, like a rehabilitated Bumble placing the star atop a Christmas tree.
#2. Johnny Marks
Johnny is another one of those people you know but may not realize it. Marks is a songwriter who has something in common with Rankin and Bass- that something is Rudolph The Red- Nosed Reindeer. Marks wrote that catchy little tune along with many other Christmas staples including Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, Holly Jolly Christmas, Silver and Gold, and others. All of the songs used in the Rankin and Bass Rudolph are written by Marks.
Believe it or not, Rudolph was a number one hit in 1949 as performed by Gene Autry, the singing Cowboy. Marks was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1981 with good reason- if Santa had a songwriting workshop, Marks would be the head elf.
#3. Blow Mold Lights
As a sustainable living advocate, environmentalist and nature lover, blow mold is my guilty pleasure.
What is blow mold? Imagine hollow pieces of plastic, shaped into Santa Claus, Nativity scenes, carolers or anything at all really. Now imagine those pieces with a lightbulb glowing inside them as they sit on you front lawn. Aw yeah! Now we’re talking Christmas decor!
Classy? Not at all. Fun and festive? Totally!
Growing up as a kid in Lancaster PA, there was a guy across town on Orange Street that had an incredible collection of blow mold lights and other Christmas decorations. He set them up in his yard and it became a public attraction. We would look forward to going to his house every year, walking around in his yard and looking at the lights. I wanted to be that guy, bringing happiness to people through a light display.
Several years ago my daughters and I decided that we would begin a blow mold collection of our own (my wife claimed opposition to this, but gradually converted). We add one new piece each year, displaying all in the small flower beds outside our front fence. We aren’t at “Orange Street Level” yet, but we’re getting there, and what we have so far looks great if I do say so myself!
There’s just something about oversized, tacky, plastic Christmas lights that I find irresistible. But technically, only living things are eligible to be on a Hero List, so I’ll officially award my final spot to all blow mold makers, sellers, collectors and display-makers.
That’s my Christmas Hero List. They may not be world changing figures, but they sure do make Christmas a lot more fun than it otherwise would be. So, in the spirit of Rankin and Bass, Johnny Marks and blow mold lights, take some time this season to watch some good Christmas movies, listen to some happy holiday tunes, and notice where the blow mold light displays are in your community. In other words – take time to enjoy the more whimsical side of the season.
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