‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except… the four a**holes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation.
Ah yes, that famous quote from the popular Christmas film ‘Die Hard’.
Who could forget that magical moment when John Mc Clane wraps a chain around Karl’s neck and hangs him from the rafters? And what says Christmas more than when Marco gets riddled with bullets whilst standing on a table?
The film was based on the book ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ by Roderick Throrpe, a sequel to ‘The Detective’ which was made into a film starring Frank Sinatra in 1968. Funnily enough, because it was a sequel to ‘The Detective’, the film company were contractually obliged to ask Sinatra to play the lead role in Die Hard. I can’t help but think it would have turned out to be a completely different film.
Yippie-Ki-Yay Kookie Cat
Besides a brilliant scene which showcases Alan Rickman as a genius actor (yes the one where he, a Londoner, is playing a German pretending to be an American) there is also a strong festive theme running through the film and plenty of blood to kick off our ‘Red Christmas’ theme.
And if you’re thinking to yourself – where the hell is all this going?
Well, to find out, you could follow me as I pass through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then through the Lincoln Tunnel……Or you could just read the next paragraph about the poem where the introductory Die Hard Quote stemmed from and to the birth of Santa’s suit…
The famous red suit
There’s an urban myth that the modern image of Santa Claus was invented by a large multinational company that manufactures a popular drink with a name that sounds a bit like stroke-ebola. But in reality it was born from a group of writers known as the Knickerbockers of New York. These writers wanted to reintroduce Saint Nicholas to early nineteenth century New York in an effort to negate the growing problems within society. Part of this group was Washington Irving, the author of Sleepy Hollow. He wrote plenty of moral tales and in one particular Christmas story he described Santa as being a large man in a red suit.
Another writer, Clement Clarke Moore, was inspired by Irving’s depiction of Santa and he used it in his poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’, also known as ‘A Visit From St. Nicholas’. But Moore never meant for the poem to go public. In fact, it was a close friend of Moore’s who actually sent the poem to a newspaper, where it was published anonymously. It quickly became a huge hit. But, feeling that the poem was beneath his literary talents, Moore denied writing it for nearly 15 years.
It’s a Wonderfully Red Life
The very popular Christmas film ‘It’s a wonderful Life’ was based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern called ‘The Greatest Gift’. Like so many writers, after failing to find an interested publisher he published it himself and sent the story to 200 friends as a 21 page Christmas card. Although this may have raised some issues for his friends in regard to keeping the card upright on the mantelpiece, it also meant that it fell into the hands of RKO Pictures. They subsequently bought the rights to the story and made the film.
Loved by millions now, it was not so popular with the FBI at the time who disapproved of the unflattering portrayal of big-city bankers (poor little mites). They stated that Lionel Barrymore’s character as a dislikable, scrooge type person in the film was an attempt to discredit bankers. According to the FBI, this was a common trick used by communists.
Although accused of being a ‘red film’, it did revolutionise special effects for Christmas films forever. Up to then cornflakes were painted white and used as snow for Christmas films. This meant that dialogue would have to be dubbed in after snowy scenes because of the constant crunching as actors stepped on breakfast cereal.
A less bothersome snow was invented for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, made up of water, soap and a fire-fighting chemical called Foamite. It was pumped through a wind machine and instantly became a much more popular snow effect for films, much to the utter joy and relief of cornflakes all across the globe.
Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer
Rudolph, the most famous of Santa’s reindeer came to life as part of an ad campaign. He first appeared in a in a story written in 1939 by ad copywriter Robert L. May. It was published in a Montgomery Ward department store booklet and distributed to children who were visiting the store. The rights to the story were owned by Montgomery Ward so May received no royalties after it became a success. It was only when May was almost bankrupt that he regained the rights to the piece. Rudolph soon became an even bigger success when May and his brother-in-law Johnny Marks set the story to music.
Recently Norwegian scientists have hypothesized that Rudolph’s red nose is probably the result of a parasitic infection of his respiratory system.
Oh, how festive!
Little Red Rooster
Some Bolivians celebrate Misa del Gallo or “Mass of the Rooster” on Christmas Eve. People sometimes bring roosters to midnight mass to symbolise the belief that a rooster was the first animal to announce the birth of Jesus. While, in Poland, spiders or spider webs are common Christmas tree decorations because according to legend, a spider wove a blanket for Baby Jesus. In fact, Polish people consider spiders to be symbols of goodness and prosperity at Christmas.
But please, and I can’t stress this enough, please, please, please remember that a spider is not just for Christmas.
Little Red Riding Hood
Quentin Crisp, an English actor and writer who starred in a number of films including Red Ribbons and Little Red Riding hood has strong ties with Christmas. Not only was he born on Christmas day in 1908 but he was also the first person to give the alternative speech on Channel 4 in 1993.
In his early twenties Crisp decided to devote his life to “making the existence of homosexuality abundantly clear to the world’s aborigines”. He cross-dressed and acted intensely effeminate in public, often at great risk to himself. In London he worked as a prostitute, book illustrator and finally as a paid nude model in government-supported art schools. A dramatization of his autobiography ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ stared John Hurt who he claimed was his ‘representative here on Earth’.
A Child as Red as Blood and as White as Snow
From a writer born on Christmas day to a writer who died on Christmas day, 1851 – Wilhelm Grimm. He was the younger of the Brothers Grimm, the famous collectors and publishers of many fairy tales. It was four days before Christmas in 1812 when they presented the first volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales which included Little Red Cap, Snow White & Rose Red, as well as many others. Ever since, despite the fact that the original tales were often cruel, violent and bloody, editions of their tales have been very popular around Christmas time.
I’ve plucked the following extract from The Juniper Tree, a story which begins with the image of vibrant red blood on white snow…
“My mother she killed me,
My father he ate me,
My sister, little Marlinchen,
Gathered together all my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,
Laid them beneath the juniper-tree,
Kywitt, kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!”
So with that cheery passage, I’d just like to say, for those who celebrate it
– Happy Christmas
And for those who don’t
– Happy Holidays
And for those on the fence
–Happy – 4th century assigned birthday of Jesus Christ & birthday of Isaac Newton but also the time of the more ancient polytheistic festivals that occurred near the southern solstice – Day’.