By Mike De Felice
Kitsap News Group
PORT ORCHARD – Writing Christmas cards, decorating the tree and house with colored lights, and getting together with family and friends are all important parts of the holiday season.
Another key holiday habit for many is settling down in front of the TV to enjoy Christmas movies. There is nothing like watching a Christmas classic movie — be it a made-for-television Lifetime or Hallmark feel-good movie or a holiday classic — to get you into the holiday spirit.
So, what will some of South Kitsap’s prominent citizens do to get warmed up for the season? The Independent asked several folks about their must-watch Christmas movie:
South Kitsap School District Superintendent Tim Winter:
“A Christmas Story” is the top choice of South Kitsap School District Superintendent Tim Winter. “The movie is about Ralphie growing up — I think in the ’50s. To me, the movie is about family traditions and mishaps that occurred over the holidays,” he recounted.
Ralphie dreams of getting a Red Ryder air rifle in the 1983 movie while contending with the quirks of his cranky dad and doting mother. Winter estimated he has watched the wintry Christmas classic between 15 to 20 times. He has a few favorite parts:
“There is a scene where the kid sticks his tongue on a frozen flagpole, which is something we were always warned not to do. And when the mom bundles up the kid so much he can barely move. Another good one is where the neighbor’s dog gets in the house and eats the family turkey. That just cracks me up.”
Winter once had a neighbor who had a leg lamp, an item that plays a prominent role in the Christmas classic. “That gave me a good laugh during the holidays.”
It’s one of those movies you can start watching, even during the middle of the story and still enjoy it, he said. “It seems like every time I watch it, I see something new.”
The fact that it’s on seemingly 24 hours a day leading up to Christmas provides a degree of comfort to the school district chief.
“It’s nice to have that constant. It reminds you of past Christmases.”
Kathleen Wilson, Port Orchard Library librarian and Kitsap Regional Library manager:
“‘Elf’ is our family’s Christmas movie,” Wilson said. “It’s hilarious.”
Will Ferrell plays Buddy the Elf, who accidentally falls into Santa’s bag and is brought to the North Pole where he is raised as an elf, Wilson explained. After realizing he has a biological father, Buddy sets off to find his dad and winds up in New York, where “adventures follow,” she hinted.
Wilson estimates her family, which includes two sons, has watched and enjoyed the movie nearly 20 times.
“[When the kids were growing up] we would drive our minivan to visit my sister for Christmas. Our young boys were in the backseat and would watch ‘Elf’ over and over again. At one point, I think I knew most of the dialogue from listening to it so many times,” she laughed.
A part of the movie that always makes Wilson burst out laughing is a scene where innocent-minded Buddy, now an adult, is in a mailroom and discovers alcohol. Not long after, he is dancing on tables.
“Buddy happened to love syrup, and my kids really enjoyed that,” the librarian remembered. Seeing the misadventures involving the syrup often spurred the family to have pancakes the next morning just so the boys could drench them in the liquid sweetness.
Another fond memory the Wilson family has of the movie is the times the whole gang would go to the now-closed Dragonfly Cinema on Bay Street when “Elf” played for free all day during the Festival of Chimes and Lights event. The theater has since closed and is being refurbished — and has been rechristened the Polaris Theater. Wilson hopes the new owners will bring back the tradition of showing a Christmas movie all day for free.
Elf brings back warm holiday memories for Wilson.
“Even talking about the movie now makes me really happy. I think I’ll watch the movie tonight,” she said with a smile.
Port Orchard Police Chief Matt Brown:
Matt Brown knows where he stands in the long-standing debate over whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas or an action movie. He insists the Bruce Willis picture is the best-ever Christmas flick.
In it, Willis portrays an NYPD officer who tries to save his wife and others taken hostage by German terrorists during a Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.
“The movie has everything,” Brown insists. “Action [disposing of bad guy Hans Gruber off the roof] and it’s highly quotable [‘Yippee Ki Yay – (expletive deleted)’].”
The top cop admits “Die Hard,” released in 1988, is not exactly a sentimental movie that you cuddle up with the family to watch. In fact, of the 20 or so times he’s watched it, he’s usually alone.
“Watching the movie alone with my dog ‘Bear’ [a big Rottweiler] on Christmas Eve. That makes me sound very sad. Thank you,” he chuckled.
A must-have munchable when watching the show are chocolate-cover rum balls, a truffle-like confectionary cake that is made by his father.
Watching “Die Hard” alone with his pup — and those rum balls — seems to be the best possible Christmas present the chief could get.
Bobbie Stewart, Old Central Antique Mall owner:
“When I was a kid, we didn’t have a TV,” recalled the 85-year-old Port Orchard sweetheart. “We would go to the theater and see ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ and ‘White Christmas’ with Bing Crosby, but it wasn’t a tradition.”
Instead, Bobbie’s Christmas tradition was showing family movies that she put together. The homemade programs center on family activities from the previous year’s Christmas.
“It’s funny, we have such a technical world. Now, you can see pictures and movies on your phone but to this day, my kids love watching those movies on an old, old 8mm projector,” she beamed.
The audience watching Bobbie’s movie showings consisted of relatives, including her four grandkids and her sister’s five daughters.
The movies were not the only entertainment, mind you. Following the movie presentations, the family sang Christmas songs while her husband played guitar. Bobbie’s mom kept the children’s energy level up by bringing out an array of her own desserts – fudge, peanut brittle and divinity candy.
That the Stewart family still has those beloved movies is a bit of a miracle. A few years back, her daughter’s home in Bellevue, where the films were stored, burned to the ground. The only things pulled from the ashes after the tragedy were small metal containers that contained and protected the precious family movies.
6th Dist. U.S. Rep Derek Kilmer:
“I LOVE Christmas movies. I’m a fan of all of them,” admitted U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.
“During the holidays our home has a constant stream of ‘Elf,’ ‘Love Actually,’ ‘A Christmas Story,’ … and ‘Die Hard.’ But I most look forward to watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ every year. Just love it,” he admitted.
The Democratic legislator has fond memories of enjoying the black and white classic starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, which debuted in 1946.
“I loved watching it the first time when I was a kid — but enjoyed showing it to my kids a few years ago, too. It’s a story about generosity and kindness and the fact that people can make a difference to one another.”
Kitsap County Sheriff John Gese:
A movie not widely distributed, and only infrequently shown on television, is a holiday favorite of the county’s recently appointed sheriff.
“It’s called ‘The Gathering’ and stars Ed Asner,” said Sheriff John Gese.
“It’s a story of a guy who is pretty much at the end of his career. He finds he doesn’t have much time left because of a medical diagnosis. He realizes that he’s become estranged from a lot of his family, so he tries to engineer a gathering at Christmas,” Gese explained.
Asner’s efforts pay off in the end as the family comes together to enjoy Christmas as they did in the past. The sheriff’s favorite scene in the 1977 release is when the final family member — with whom Asner had the most troubled relationship — shows up to complete the family gathering.
The sheriff admits the movie has caused him to shed a few sentimental tears.
“To me, it’s a great story about the value of family and friends and reconciliation — key things for the holidays.”
Gese, who first saw the movie when he was in his 20s, estimates he has watched it at least 30 times since then.
Because the movie is hard to come across on television, Gese purchased a DVD of it.
“I try to make a point of watching it every Christmas.”
Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putannsuu:
The mayor’s favorite show to watch during the holidays is not actually a movie.
“It’s the cartoon, ‘Frosty the Snowman’,” he revealed.
“My sister and I looked forward to it every year. That was a must.”
The 1969 animated television special centered on a group of kids building a snowman. The mayor’s favorite scene was when a magical hat was placed on Frosty, bringing the frozen character to life.
Like many, Putannsuu fondly remembers the holiday season.
“Our home being decorated for Christmas. The tree with presents under it. It was just truly a special time of year as a child.”
When it was time to watch the cartoon, the mayor said, “We had to pop popcorn and have hot chocolate.”
Putannsuu carried forward his childhood tradition by watching the show with his own kids. When they were young, his daughter and son also made it a habit to gather and enjoy “Frosty.”
Does the mayor think he’ll find time to enjoy ‘Frosty the Snowman’ this holiday season? “I just might have to,” the two-term mayor smiled.
Kitsap News Group Executive Editor Bob Smith:
When Smith remembers his own Christmas Past, he points to repeated viewings of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
“It’s a movie I actually didn’t watch until I was in my teens,” Smith said of the classic film starring Jimmy Stewart. “I was so impressed by his performance, I sent him a fan letter. And he mailed me a really nice note thanking me for my letter.”
But as a child, the Independent’s editor said he and his twin sister always looked forward to watching the slew of television Christmas cartoons that would fill the airwaves.
“Topping the list is ‘Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.’ I can still sing the lyrics to most of the tunes on that cartoon. For some reason, that show seemed to be a favorite of kids of my generation. Then there was ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ with the Isle of Misfits, and ‘Frosty the Snowman.’ And I can’t forget ‘A Garfield Christmas’ and his hip grandma.
“When I had little kids, we’d pop some popcorn and gather in front of the television to watch them on DVD,” he remembered. “Great memories, for sure.”