This is how I spent Christmas 2013:
I got up around 10:30ish. I prepared the stuffing for the Christmas turkey and shoved that bird in the oven at precisely 11:41 a.m.
Then – thank heavens for the Turner Classic Movie network – I watched films with religious themes until dinnertime.
The day left me pondering exactly what my favorite Christmas things are. At the risk of boring readers, here’s my list:
1. Favorite Christmas song: "The Little Drummer Boy," with the caveat that the Harry Simeon Chorale’s version is the only one that gets it done for me.
I love this version for several reasons. The song itself is a simple tale, simply told, and the Harry Simeon Chorale version tells it the simplest. The song, save for someone striking a triangle, is a cappella. It tells the story of a poor drummer boy that meets the Christ child in the manger. The boy is so poor that he “has no gift that’s fit to give a king.” So he offers to give the only gift he can: playing his drum.
And so he does. As the ox and lamb keep time, the boy plays and, according to the song, “plays his best for the Christ child.” When the drummer boy is done, the Christ child smiles at him.
The little drummer boy had little to give, but he gave what he could. If that doesn’t get to the essence of the Christmas spirit, I don’t know what does.
2. Favorite Christmas movie: There’s quite a list to choose from here. I suspect most people would go with “It’s A Wonderful Life,” which isn’t a bad choice at all.
There are any one of a number of film versions of Charles Dickens’ novel “A Christmas Carol.” And then there’s “Miracle on 34th Street.” A relatively recent film – certainly more recent than the ones I’ve mentioned – is “A Christmas Story,” which has become a classic in its own right.
But my choice is “Ben-Hur.” It’s not normally thought of as a Christmas story. There’s certainly no jolly Santa cavorting around in a sleigh with his reindeer or anything else that might be described as, for lack of a better word, “Christmas-sy.”
Here’s what “Ben-Hur” does have going for it as a Christmas story. Every year around this time, some station somewhere will be airing “Ben-Hur.” And the novel on which the film is based is indeed subtitled “A Tale of the Christ.”
The 1959 version that starred Charlton Heston (and won 11 Oscars) opens with a scene of the Christ child being born in a manger. For me, that’s enough to make it a bona fide Christmas film. It’s easy to see why the 1959 “Ben-Hur” won 11 Academy Awards. Everything about the film is nearly perfect: the script, acting, cinematography and superb musical score. And the chariot race is easily the most exciting nine minutes ever put on film.
3. Favorite Christmas story: it’s tempting to go with Dickens’ novel “A Christmas Story,” but I found O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” to be a little bit more enjoyable. But both prove the adage: the novel or the short story is almost always better than the movie.
4. Favorite Christmas gift: getting that “Merry Christmas” phone call from my three grandkids who live out in Berkeley, Calif.
It’s been nearly three years since they’ve moved from Baltimore to Berkeley, which puts them a wee bit too close to Oakland, Calif., for my tastes. But they seem to enjoy it.
The grandkids – two of whom are also my best pals ever, in addition to being my bodyguards and kneecappers, at least when they were here – made that call around 7 p.m. EST.
It was the perfect ending to my Christmas 2013.
GREGORY KANE, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.