The colors of White Christmas

The opening of White Christmas is like a gray winter’s day. It’s nighttime on a battlefield, and an army unit is celebrating Christmas and the impending reassignment of a general. The men are all wearing dusty green uniforms, and they are so quiet you could hear a snowflake land. Their eyes are focused on a makeshift stage, where Bing Crosby starts to sing one of the most popular Christmas songs in the world. This is when, no matter how many times I’ve seen the movie, I start to cry. Bing Crosby’s voice is just too beautiful, the love he shows these men too sincere for my bruised heart to take.

There are no bright colors on this battlefield, and the only Christmas tree in sight could rival Charlie Brown’s. There is no light except for bombs falling—at first far away, and then close enough to cause destruction that ends the small respite Christmas had provided from the horrors of war.

It’s in this chaos where the friendship of leading men Phil and Bob is solidified. When the bombs cause a wall to fall toward Captain Bob Wallace (played by Crosby), well-meaning goofball Private Phil Davis (played by Danny Kaye) pushes Bob out of the way, injuring himself in the process. In return for saving Bob’s life, Phil asks to be a part of Bob’s show when the war is over. Phil plays up his injury, preying on Bob’s guilt and good nature until Bob relents. With their handshake, the world of the film transitions from a gray winter’s day to the colorful, perfect world of a snow globe.

My favorite part of Christmas is the decorations. Every year I decorate a Christmas tree, loading it up with the most colorful ornaments I can find. I use the tackiest garland and the sparkliest tinsel to make the gaudiest Christmas tree possible. (Did you know that tinsel garland and strands of tinsel are different? Did you know that multiple colors of each can clash so hard it hurts your eyes?) I have some oversized ornaments so big they make my little Seussian tree lean over to one side. It’s loud and crowded and imperfect, just like me.

White Christmas is the opposite of my little Christmas tree. Where my tree is chaotic and overstuffed with clashing colors, White Christmas provides a beautiful, coordinated diorama of glamour. When I pull out this movie each year, I know exactly what I am getting: a perfect Christmas scene, with tiny beautiful figures frozen in time. All you need to do to is shake it up and add some snow.

The introduction of Bob and Phil to the Haynes sisters is the shakeup this world needs. Betty and Judy Haynes (played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, respectively) are another show business duo who sing and dance—just like Bob and Phil, only their act hasn’t quite taken off yet.

The song I constantly get stuck in my head, no matter what time of year it is, is the song the Haynes sisters sing at the nightclub where they meet Bob and Phil. I’ll be walking around my apartment mid-June and suddenly the line “Lord help the mister that comes between me and my sister” will pop into my head and I won’t be able to help bellowing the next line to our pet parakeet who sings along: “And lord help the sister who comes between me and my man!”

They both wear blue dresses, covered in lace, and carry large, feathered fans to use in their routine. While watching the Haynes sisters sing and dance to that song, Bob and Phil become as enraptured as I do. Their eyes are drawn to their true loves, and their fate is sealed from there. After helping the sisters get out of trouble at the club, Phil tricks Bob into following them to Vermont, where the sisters are booked for the holidays in what turns out to be an inn run by their former general. What follows are the adorable hijinks that I imagine all beautiful, talented people in show business fall into when they get together. They sing and dance to solve their problems, and mend hearts and minds with their creative souls.

Like a snow globe, this movie is a time capsule. Not just for the glamorized picture of 1950s show business, but also for my own idealized version of the holidays. When I watch this movie, I am transported back to a couch in my parent’s home, snuggled under blankets with my mom, who watched it with me every Christmas. Every time I think of White Christmas, I think of my mother. To me, she is as inextricable from the movie as Bing Crosby is to the song he sings so well.

This is not a sad story. My mom is alive and doing well; we talk all the time. When I asked her what she liked about this movie, she got so excited she started to stutter. She watched it with her family, she said, and her father sang the songs in his deep voice. Watching this movie around the holidays ties us all together, me to my mom, to her parents, like garland on a family tree. My mom’s dad died before I was born, and her mom died not long after. I don’t have Christmas memories of them, but I have a shared experience of something beautiful we all have watched. We were separated by time, but the movie never changes. I am seeing what they saw, singing the songs they sang, and allowing the colors and feelings of Christmas to wash over me in the same way.

And the colors in White Christmas are beautiful, indeed. The jewel tones of the costumes act like ornaments to the story. The yellows are not just yellow: they are mustard, they are goldenrod, they are citrine. The colors are a little too strong to be real; they take on a hypernatural, saturated tone. Just look at how blue Bing Crosby’s eyes are. Look at how red the velvet is, how luminous Rosemary Clooney looks in her black sequined gowns. I want to dive into those swirling colors and live where things are a bit too bright and a bit too beautiful to really exist.

After watching this movie for the thousandth time one winter—it was gray outside but bright and warm on my TV screen—I researched how they made White Christmas. It was one of the few movies shot in VistaVision, which the movie proudly displays on one of its opening screens. This film process was used by Paramount to create a wider screen, but it was quickly dropped for more technically advanced films that were less difficult to use and had a finer grain. In America, its popularity lasted less than 10 years. But the real star of White Christmas is Technicolor. The same process that made Dorothy’s world come to life in The Wizard of Oz, Technicolor is known for that look of oversaturation. It was often used for musicals, mirroring the exaggerated look of stage makeup to create a not-quite-realistic image that’s visible on the stage from far away. The colors in a movie made with Technicolor are visible from the back of the room—hell, they are so bright you could probably see them from the moon.

The combination of these two processes envelops the viewer in a wide, colorful world. It’s a little fuzzy around the edges, like a daydream, in a way that films made with new digital technology aren’t. One way isn’t better than another—I am not one to say that more advanced technology and more flexibility in which to create “ruins” filmmaking in any way. But White Christmas represents a sliver of time in the life of filmmaking. It is a preservation of a perfect marriage of filmmaking process and subject matter. It requires saturation and richness to live in this world where dancers tap dance on a whim and singers duet whenever they fancy. It requires the viewer to let go of realism and accept the exaggerated fashion of fantasy. It would lose its sheen under the scrutiny of high definition.

The writing and direction, though, hold up under a microscope. Like all fairy tales, it seems like a simple story at first. Chaste kisses stolen in front of a fire while drinking buttermilk and eating liverwurst sandwiches lead to love, which leads to misunderstanding, which leads to reconciliation. A tale as old as time. But not one line is wasted, and all of them are sharp.

On the first night they all meet at the club, Phil asks Judy to dance. They move from the dance floor in the club to outside near the water, where they use boats and a dock as a stage. The camera follows every dip and twist, the same way two new lovers will follow each other into their relationship. They’ve just met, but they step together keeping perfect time, gracefully dancing into love, rather than falling. Judy’s skirt flows around her like a cloud when she spins, emulating the dizzying feeling of a new crush. Their dance is more elaborate than any so far in the movie—Phil and Judy make each other better, more beautiful.

When they get interrupted because of a phone call from Betty and Judy’s troublesome landlord, Phil offers to help. “We like to take care of our friends,” he says. “We’re practically strangers,” Betty says. “Well, we’d like to take care of that, too,” he responds, their conversation flowing just as easily as all of their dance routines.

In one of my favorite scenes, the relationship of Bob and Phil is shown in the way they undress in their dressing room after a show. They are arguing, but while they fight Phil tosses his cane to Bob to put away, and Bob passes his hat to Phil to put in a suitcase. It’s a song a dance of a different kind, one that reveals their familiarity couldn’t be disrupted by something as silly as a disagreement. They’ve helped each other put away their clothes a million times, and have probably had this same argument a million times, too.

An argument with a close friend in real life would send me reeling, but in White Christmas, I know it will be resolved in two hours’ time. That’s why I turn to stories in the first place—they fix what I cannot, offering a perfected image I take comfort in, but that I couldn’t possibly live up to. In stories, arcs make sense, and tragedies have meaning. Colors in fictional worlds coordinate instead of clash. I sometimes worry that I hide too much in pretty pictures of false lives instead of facing my real problems. Instead of sand, I stick my head in books and movies.

My real Christmas with my lovable but fallible family will never match the beauty of a perfect Christmas image in a snow globe. But taking pleasure in small moments of beauty is no small thing—and making something beautiful can be momentous. Every single shot and dance step of White Christmas acts as a tiny Christmas light, adding up to a stunning whole that illuminates those I love in a rosier glow. My own Christmas decorations similarly act as a tangible representation of the love I feel for the world around the holidays. Sometimes the decorations are the point. After all, a Christmas tree with no ornaments would just be an ordinary pine.

to do lists of the semi-adult: episode 12

to do lists of the semi-adult

Adult Christmas is hard. When you’re little, you basically just have to show up for presents on Christmas morning. Now we have to do the shopping and the cleaning and the cooking all while working full time. If you’re in the middle of holiday stress, you aren’t alone.

Jewels and I are struggling a little to get it all done, but we’re getting there one to-do list at a time. In this episode, we talk about dealing with a crisis around the holidays (everyone’s ok now), when to mail your gifts, and what we do to get ready for the New Year.

In our lightning round, Jewels talks about finishing her amazing Starry Night cross stitch. I have been reading Sex Criminals and ODY-C, and Jewels has just caught up with Serial. We both cooked last week–Jewels made beefy mushroom soup and I made a delicious pasta from Blue Apron with cauliflower and capers.

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or by using our feed link. You can also always find them on my Podcast page. You can find me right here at Rae’s Days, on Instagram, and on Twitter. Jewels is at Oven Lovin, on Instagram and on Twitter.

to do lists of the semi-adult: episode 11

to do lists of the semi-adult

In this episode, Jewels and I talk about planning for Christmas. I know–Christmas before Thanksgiving?! But part of being a semi-adult is thinking ahead, so here we go.

Jewels and I love Christmas cards (and most other things about Christmas). Jewels has a Pinterest board dedicated to couple’s holiday card ideas, just in case you can’t find a snowy lodge and perfect winter scene for a photo card before you need to get them printed. Jewels has previously done something like Minted’s Year-In-Review card.

I am really into buying cards because I can’t get it together enough to make them on time. I love Barnes and Noble’s holiday cards on sale. And dollar stores have some good affordable options. I am really, really into the idea of an address stamp (like this one) to make things go faster. Elise Joy recommends the Simon Stamp.

We also talked about making small gifts for our friends (like ugly sweater tree ornaments, coffee cozies, monogrammed coffee mugs and Insta-magnets). I also talked about my family’s cool Christmas camp, which you should definitely do with your family at Christmas. If you have any Christmas planning ideas, let us know!

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or by using our feed link. You can also always find them on my Podcast page. You can find me right here at Rae’s Days, on Instagram, and on Twitter. Jewels is at Oven Lovin, on Instagram and on Twitter.

ugly sweater ornaments

snowman ugly sweater ornament

For a tiny apartment with a tiny Christmas tree, I sure do have a lot of ornaments. I can’t stop! They are miniature works of art and I love to look at them on my tree and in every holiday store or catalog. But good ornaments don’t just have to be professionally done. The best part of some trees is the handmade touches from ornaments you can make yourself. So let’s get to making some. And let’s make them ugly.

Ugly sweaters are one of the best parts of holiday fashion, right? People are even throwing ugly sweater parties. And if you’re a little unsure of your crafting abilities, what better way to hide any mistakes than by making something that should be purposefully ugly. Your first step for your ugly sweater ornaments is gathering materials.

felt and sweater ornament template

I started with a rainbow of wool felt. I like this felt from Purl Soho because it’s high quality wool and comes in really gorgeous colors, but I think any felt would do. Print and use the Rae’s Days Ugly Sweater Template to cut out the shape of the sweaters.

cut out sweaters for ugly sweater ornaments

After you have a few blank sweaters, use any materials you’d like to decorate them. I used felt to cut out shapes and hot glue them on. I wanted to use materials I had on hand, but if I had any sequins, you can bet they’d be all over these.

decorate and assemble your ugly sweaters

After that, step back and admire your work.

ugly sweater ornaments

I am no perfectionist, and these sweaters are no exception. I didn’t measure, and I didn’t worry about getting everything perfect. These are *ugly* sweaters, remember? But I have to say, they look pretty cute in the end. One of my favorites is the Santa sweater. If you wanted, you could use this same template to make Santa ornaments instead. All you need is some white felt for the accents, and some black buttons (I used my hole punch again to make the little felt circles). Once you’re happy with your collection, you need to add some string or yarn so you can get them on your tree.

cutting string for ugly sweater ornaments

I used some gray yarn I had on hand, and I cut it six inches long. On the template, there is a six-inch ruler you can use to measure your string. Then I made a loop with the yarn and hot glued it into the back of my ornament. The easiest way for me to do this was to use a spare piece of felt and glue that to the back to hold the string in the right place.

back of the ugly sweater ornaments

You could use any spare piece of material you have. I cut some into circles because I thought it looked like buttons on the back. Then, hang it on your tree!

ugly sweater ornament hanging on a christmas treechristmas tree with ugly sweater ornaments

Pick up the Rae’s Days Ugly Sweater Template here, and get started! If you make any, I’d love to see them. Please share on Instagram (I’m raenudson) or Twitter (rclnudson) with the hashtag #raesdays!

characters’ christmas trees

christmas tree

One year in college I left our Christmas tree up so long it became an Easter tree (complete with Easter egg lights). For a few years in New York I lived in a 400-square-foot apartment, but I always made sure I had room for my boxes of Christmas ornaments.

Right now I have a small fake Christmas tree that’s roughly three feet high. The lights built into it burned out last year–I might need to retire it soon. For now, I just added extra strands of lights (including the Easter egg ones).

I don’t know what I like more: the twinkling lights, the bulbs of bright colors, or the sparkly garland.

christmas tree

My tree is a Doctor Seuss tree. Its ornaments are too large, and too small, and the giant glitter star at the top makes it a little lopsided. I use (and save every year) the tackiest, most colorful garland I can find. I only wish I could fit more ornaments and lights on my tiny tree (and figure out how to take a better picture of my narrow tree in my tiny narrow living room).

I love my little Christmas tree, and I think it does a good job of representing my unique brand of Christmas cheer–more is more and the brighter the better.

After all, your tree is a reflection of your style. Are you traditional? Modern? Minimalist? Tell it to me in Christmas tree. I love seeing my friends’ (ok, and strangers’) trees. It’s a peek inside their holiday brain–and sometimes there’s a bit of personal history in the branches. I assume this is true for fictional people, too, so what would some characters I’ve met this year have on their Christmas trees?

jon snow christmas tree

Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. Jon Snow’s tree on the wall would be pretty sparse. They’d have crow decorations and black ornaments. Some books might be under the tree as a gift to Sam, and it would definitely be covered in snow.

delirium tree

Delirium from the Sandman. Delirium’s tree would be a delight–at least at first glance. It would be rainbow, like her speech bubbles, and it would have whimsical ornaments. I have a feeling Delirium decorated until something else came up, and then she promptly deserted her tree in favor of a new distraction. Or maybe she hit the eggnog a little too hard before she got started.

bernadette tree

Bernadette from Where’d You Go Bernadette. Once Bernadette was a great architect. She used recycled materials and wasted nothing. Her tree would be made of materials found around her Seattle home, and the blue glass would be a tribute to her daughter Bee’s trip to Antarctica and the glaciers she saw there.

So how do you like your Christmas tree? Whimsical like Delirium’s? Or maybe upcycled like Bernadette’s?

gift-card giving fun felt envelopes

When I was little, my grandpa gave me a gift card to Barnes & Noble for $20.

I thought it was the most money in the world. I remember looking at all the shelves, picking out so many books, so excited at the new stories at my fingertips. When I was done, we went to the cash register, and–shockingly–the total was more than what the giftcard would cover. About $20 more. My generous mother said she would pay for the rest, and I bounded home with treasures from my giant shopping spree.

Gift cards are fun. They can let someone have fun and shop without budget worries. They can help you provide for someone when you aren’t sure of their size or exactly what they need. But sometimes I feel like they can be a little impersonal–it’s a great gift, but it’s hard to be excited about giving someone a piece of plastic.

So to make my gift-card giving a little more fun, I whipped up these felt envelopes. It was super fast, and I think they came out really cute!

gift card envelopes

I measure a long rectangle of 9 and 3/4 inches by 4 and 3/4 inches.

measure felt for gift card envelopes

Then I cut out the felt, and folded it into thirds. I used an iron to help me make the creases. Then I pinned it in place.

gift card envelopes folded

Then, for the top of the envelope, I measure a dot in the middle of the felt, used my ruler to make a triangle, and cut to make a point.top of gift card envelope

Then I used a zig-zag stitch–just for fun–and sewed up the sides of the envelope and to the point. I also have these cool velcro dots in my craft bookshelf, so I added those on and was done!

done_MG_0300

You could also embroider the letter of the person you are giving it too, or use a ribbon to secure the envelope instead of velcro. I just used what I had on hand. I also wasn’t very precise–you don’t have to be a perfect sewer to make these work. You could even use hot glue instead of a needle and thread. Or colored duct tape! Or any materials you have on hand! Have fun, and be proud to put it under the tree.

tree_MG_0311

Don’t forget in this season of giving that the Newtown libraries have set up a Books Heal Hearts fund to provide books and materials for their community. Like my grandpa gave the gift of books to me, you could help provide for some kids who really need some new stories or comforting entertainment. Read more in my original post on Books Heal Hearts.

christmas dinner keepsake

I love the idea of having a dinner party, now that I have a table that can fit more than two people. And to me, name tag place holders at dinner scream “I can throw an awesome dinner party and my details are more fun than the average entire dinner.” Don’t they say that to you? 

diy name tag

I don’t have fancy Christmas plates, or lovely linen napkins. One day, I will, but in a studio apartment it was just impractical for my lifestyle. But this name tag makes me feel like I could throw a fun dinner party that I’m proud of because I put time into an extra special detail. All you need are:

  • an ornament. I used mini ornaments because I have a mini tree, but I think they would work well at any size as long as you have a glitter-free space to write on. 
  • silver sharpie
  • gold marker
  • ribbon

place settingAnd voila! You can dress up any setting with a fun name tag your guests can take home and place on their tree.

christmas ornament

You can use any color ornament, and use gold or silver to write the name and make a design. I think it would also be nice to put the date of the event on your ornament, for a keepsake. Now hurry over! I’ll make dinner as soon as I finish more name tags.

diy ornament