I Think About This a Lot: Holiday Edition

Nine writers on the seasonal pop-culture moments that have stayed with them over the years.

Photo: Snap Stills/Shutterstock
Photo: Snap Stills/Shutterstock
Photo: Snap Stills/Shutterstock

I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds. In honor of the season and I Love the Holidays!!!!! — our week dedicated to holiday excess — we asked writers to share the holiday-themed pop-culture moments they think about … a lot.

The “freak flag” quote from The Family Stone

The Family Stone is the kind of mawkish holiday movie that normally makes me sick, and yet I think about it all the time. Its motley cast of A-listers —Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Danes, Luke Wilson, and Dermot Mulroney — is only one-upped by an almost obscene number of tearjerker moments. In spite of all this, I’ll never get over Luke Wilson seducing SJP, his brother’s girlfriend, with the line, “You’ve got a freak flag, you just don’t fly it.”*

SJP plays a major stick in the mud. She fell in love with Dermot Mulroney over Excel spreadsheets, but there’s more inside her. Mulroney thinks he knows what it is, but it’s his brother, Wilson, who can actually bring it out. Wilson’s freak-flag line ends up transcending its cheesiness and instead becomes the beginning of the great Family Stone Christmas Miracle. It also became my secret dating mantra. I don’t want to be anyone’s “type,” the way Mulroney thought he should be dating SJP because she seemed good on paper. Instead, I’m always on the lookout for someone who sees my inner freak flag.Lacy Warner

The song “Dominick the Donkey”

Last Christmas, I gave 23andMe my DNA. The very next day (okay, two weeks or whatever) they gave my heritage away by revealing a shocking truth: I’m only 8.3 percent Sicilian. My name is Crissy Milazzo (two Z’s! A city in Sicily! You can say it mee-laht-zoh all authentic-like!) — but it should really be Crissy McMajority Irish, as that is my genetic truth. Still, my suburban New Jersey upbringing demands I reflect on “Dominick the Donkey.” Or as my dad called it, “that stupid song about the paisan donkey.”

It’s an upbeat novelty carol by Lou Monte, an Italian-American from New Jersey who apparently made a killing off Italian novelty songs: “Dominick the Donkey” came out in 1960, but it lives on through the tristate Italian Nostalgia Industrial Complex to this day. I remember my dad singing it as we walked through the Christmas tree farm, delighting in its dramatization of Italian-ness. In the song, Rudolph is a little bitch and can’t make it up Italy’s hills. So Dominick the donkey hee-haws his way through the homeland, bringing little Josephine a pair of shoes made in Brooklyn. I think about Dominick every year. This year, I reflect humbly, feeling 8.3 percent warm about my lifelong connection to this majestic, heroic ass. —Crissy Milazzo

Ana Gasteyer playing a topless Martha Stewart

Growing up, my family had a Hanukkah tradition of watching a VHS recording of the best holiday sketches from Saturday Night Live. As a 12-year-old, nothing made me laugh-scream harder than “Martha Stewart’s Home for the Holidays Topless Special.” After some plinky holiday music and soft-focus shots of fireplaces and wreaths, we see Ana Gasteyer in her blonde Martha wig, topless and covered only by a black censor bar and some high-waisted slacks. I still can’t see a turtleneck without thinking of the tight shot of Martha’s face and a red turtleneck sweater coming up to her chin, only to pan out and reveal it’s just a festive holiday dickie that stops at the top of her sternum. (Nothing is funnier than weird partial nudity — like wearing a T-shirt and no underwear.) The sketch ends with Martha (Ana) saying, “Even if you celebrate Chanukah, it’s still a jolly good time,” with the softest ch- pronunciation I’ve ever heard. It’s how I read that word whenever it’s spelled with the Ch. It’s perfect. —Alison Leiby

The Princess Unicorn toy from The Office

The Office’s “Moroccan Christmas” is my favorite holiday episode for obvious reasons: Phyllis shoves baby Jesus in a drawer (“it’s not on theme”), Meredith’s hair catches fire, Michael shares his recipes for a One of Everything and Orange-Vod-Juice-Ka (orange juice and vodka). And yet, I find myself thinking about the enigma that is Princess Unicorn year-round. She’s everything you’d want to be: half-girl, half-unicorn, owner of a sharp horn that “can pierce the sky.” Dwight, who purchases all the Princess Unicorns in the area to sell them at a markup, raises excellent questions: Did the king have sex with a unicorn? Did a man with a horn have sex with a royal horse? Is it just plastic surgery? Or a cancerous growth?!

But it doesn’t really matter. I think I think about her a lot because she reminds me of simpler times — the days when my biggest worry was getting whatever weird “It” toy everyone inexplicably wanted for Christmas, even though said toy was weird as fuck. Princess Unicorn is my Furby, but way less needy; she’s one of my Sky Dancers, but slightly less hazardous to the faces of siblings who get in the way; she’s one of my Pound Puppies, but way less depressing. Her horn is a weird, poke-y beacon of light during dumpster-fire times. Plus, she comes in black. Because it’s Christmas, and at Christmas, you tell the truth: I want a 10-Year Anniversary Edition Princess Unicorn toy in the NBC Store over an Office reboot on actual NBC. —Erica Smith

Mariah Carey’s Mrs. Claus dress

There are not many better things to look forward to during Christmas than the familiar sound of bell chimes in the beginning of the one song that warms my cold, black heart: “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” It also means that Mariah Carey will soon bless us with a sexy Santa Claus costume, which she wears almost every year.

When I first watched the music video and saw Mariah wearing that legendary dress, frolicking in the snow, I thought to myself, Can a gal like me, ever? I also saw her perform the song live, in the dress, and fell in love with the look even more. Back then, it wasn’t as easy to find such a costume. There was no Leg Avenue or creating cheap versions of every character costume in existence. An avid but clumsy crafter, I had considered gluing some faux-fur trim onto a velvet dress and calling it a day at one point, but I couldn’t do Mariah dirty like that.

Perhaps this year, I will finally invoke the Mimi in me and find a sexy Santa Claus dress of my own — as an ode to Mariah, the Queen of Christmas, and the queen of my heart. —Marie Lodi

Pee-wee Herman’s 1993 Christmas Special

Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special aired in 1988 on CBS. My family has watched it just about every year since, first on VHS (taped from a broadcast) and later on DVD (purchased by me and forcibly put in front of a family of now-adults with now-waning interest in the Pee-wee Christmas special). Along with the standard Playhouse cast (Chairy, Jambi, Globey, Cowboy Curtis [Laurence Fishburne]) there are about a billion celebrity guests: Frankie Avalon, Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Rivers, Charo, the Del Rubio Triplets, Annette Funicello, Magic Johnson, Dinah Shore, Grace Jones, Oprah Winfrey, k.d. lang, Little Richard, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. It’s a weird and sweet hour of television and, both clearly and winkingly, it is full of gay icons. It’s just the best.

One of the parts that pops up in my head the most throughout the holidays and the rest of the year is when Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are tasked with making Christmas cards. Annette explains she’s making the Christmas cards using “the stencil process,” with a tree stencil and a toothbrush and a screen and a cup full of green paint. “I hope you remember to wash that toothbrush before you wash your teeth, though,” warns Pee-wee. “Oh … that’s a good idea,” says Annette, before turning to the camera with a mouth full of green teeth. Haha! Frankie makes his cards using a potato that he somehow carved a candy cane into, dipped in paint. (“Ohh. Potato-y,” says Pee-wee.) The Christmas cards are an oddly tactile memory for me and I’ve always wished I could duplicate them — cut something into a potato and dip it in paint, or brush a toothbrush on screen. This year is no different. Maybe I’ll finally do it when I have children and force them to watch the Pee-wee special, continuing the Pee-wee tradition. (I also always think “Ohh. Potato-y” when confronted with a potato, but that has little to do with Christmas.) —Kelly Conaboy

David Bowie introducing The Snowman

The Snowman has long been one of my favorite holiday things, even with its serious gut punch of an ending (spoiler: the titular snowman MELTS and THAT’S IT, it’s just OVER). But it wasn’t until much later in life that I realized the dude in the beginning is David Bowie. His cameo is just over a minute long, and I’ve spent hours thinking about it. Beyond wondering how David Bowie ended up starring in the introduction to a short animated film about a boy and his enchanted snowman friend, I’m kind of obsessed with the implication that The Snowman is David Bowie’s actual life story. “This attic’s full of memories for me,” Bowie says as he appears in frame, dressed in a cozy sweater. He’s surrounded by familiar stuff of family history — hobbyhorse included. “One winter I met a really big snowman,” he says, and opens a drawer to pull out a scarf. The melancholy piano score begins to play. “You see, he was a real snowman,” Bowie says. He looks straight into the camera. It’s both weird and, because it’s David Bowie, extremely plausible.

Aside from David Bowie’s, there are no other speaking parts in The Snowman. It’s a simply told story about magic, living in the moment, psychedelic dance parties, breaking the rules sometimes, and saying good-bye to beautiful things. So, damn — maybe The Snowman is about David Bowie after all. —Jamie Burke

Kevin McCallister praying in Home Alone

The most frustrating moment of my childhood had nothing to do with me at all. It was when, candles lit and head bowed, a young Kevin McCallister prayed that God would “bless this highly nutritious microwavable macaroni-and-cheese dinner and the people who sold it on sale,” only to be interrupted by the chiming of the clock that told him the Wet Bandits were on the way. This scene from Home Alone haunts me. Beautiful, perfect Kevin McCallister was robbed of his much-anticipated dinner! Imagine the pranks he could have pulled were he properly carb-loaded before the arrival of Marv and Harry! Imagine the disappointment of the checkout lady who sold Kevin his trousseau of household goods to know the macaroni-and-cheese was never consumed! Home Alone starts with one food disaster for Kevin McCallister — remember when Buzz eats the last of Kevin’s pizza? — and ends with another, a sad, cheesy set of culinary bookmarks. This Christmas, every time I bow my head for a family meal, I will say a silent prayer for Kevin McCallister and his now-cold microwavable macaroni-and-cheese dinner. —Laura Turner

Kevin McCallister’s bad brick prank in Home Alone 2

When I was a kid visiting my grandma’s house for Christmas, my cousins and I had a pair of holiday entertainment holy grails: the first two Home Alone movies on VHS. We watched those motherfuckers until the tape ran ragged — especially the scenes with the traps. One thing that always struck me as odd though — after it has been well-established that Kevin McCallister is a young booby-trap virtuoso, in the second film he opens his vendetta against the Sticky Bandits by just, uh, chucking a big-ass brick at Marv’s head. Several times! Setting aside the fact that multiple bricks to the dome should have instantly killed that poor man, this fun prank lacks all of the trademark inventiveness of Kevin’s previous work. Where is the ingenuity we came to love in our favorite little holiday sociopath? Where is the whimsy? Anyone can murder a guy with a brick. —KT Nelson

*This quote has been corrected.

I Think About This a Lot: Holiday Edition