Josh: Josh Clark
Chuck: Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant
Vo: Voiceover Speaker
Vo: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from HowStuffWorks.com.
Josh: Hey, and welcome to the Christmas podcast. I'm Josh Clark. There's Charles W. "Chuckers" Bryant, and guest producer Noel is with us today.
Chuck: Yeah, we got a Jeri stocking, though, hanging over by the fireplace.
Chuck: And I am glad you built that fire, my friend.
Josh: It's a little hot in here.
Chuck: Gets me in the mood, though, you know?
Chuck: Christmas spirit.
Josh: Oh, the Christmas mood, I see.
Chuck: Oh yeah.
Chuck: You talking about the mood for love? [LAUGHTER] That too.
Josh: Yeah, we have, like, glad tidings and good cheer and warmth and Christmas lights and color and sugar sprinkles and stuff-like, all over the place. It's our Christmas.
Chuck: I have to say, my friend, you really know how to set the mood in here. You really go all out.
Josh: Thank you.
Josh: Thank you very much.
Chuck: Well done.
Josh: I'm glad you feel comfortable. Noel, do you feel comfortable? Noel says yes. He has a little-he painted his beard white and is pretending to be Santa.
Chuck: Mine is going white naturally.
Josh: I'm not growing a beard because-
Chuck: There'd probably be some gray in there at this point.
Josh: Sure. I've made my bed, now I'm going to lie in it.
Josh: Does that make sense?
Josh: So, Chuck, I think we want to say welcome to everybody out there.
Josh: And we hope that you're having a wonderful holiday season so far. So kick off your shoes, put on your slippers, make some-well, make yourself comfortable.
Chuck: Yeah, put on your comfy pants.
Josh: There you go. As we prepare for our 2014 Christmas Extravaganza.
Josh: So, Chuck.
Josh: You have seen the great, great movie A Christmas Story?
Josh: Not just one of my favorite Christmas movies, it's one of my favorite movies of all time.
Chuck: Yeah. John Hodgman has never seen that.
Chuck: I thought so too.
Josh: And disappointing.
Chuck: Yeah, he said he's not a fan of Jean Shepherd, so I guess if you're not a fan of Jean Shepherd, you wouldn't like A Christmas Story.
Josh: Yeah, that's-this is tough to swallow.
Chuck: I know.
Josh: Like, I'm having trouble swallowing right now.
Chuck: [LAUGHS] Yeah. You got Hodgman stuck in your throat?
Josh: For everyone else out there in the world besides you, John, A Christmas Story is a beloved holiday movie.
Chuck: Oh yeah.
Josh: And it's actually got kind of a cool little backstory, to tell you the truth. It was the movie that wouldn't go away. It would not be overcome.
Chuck: That's right. It's the 1960s, Bob Clark is a writer and director, and he's driving a date around and he's flipping the radio around because his date was dull.
Chuck: [LAUGHS] And he comes across writer Jean Shepherd's recollections and stories. He's an audio storyteller.
Josh: A humorist.
Chuck: A humorist, exactly. Talking about growing up in Indiana in the '30s and '40s. And he was smitten with it. And apparently was so smitten that he just kept driving until the program was over, and said, "You just stay there and be quiet. I'm listening to this story on the radio."
Josh: Okay, so yes, "smitten" is a good way to put it. Enthralled, maybe.
Josh: But he decided right then and there, "I'm going to bring Jean Shepherd's stories to the silver screen."
Chuck: [LAUGHS] That's right.
Josh: It took him a little while because, as this article says, and we got this from AChristmasStoryHouse.com, Clark-
Josh: He was a journeyman director; he specialized in B-movies.
Chuck: Yeah, not many people know this: he made a movie called Silent Night, Evil Night. He made another Christmas movie.
Josh: Not Silent Night, Deadly Night?
Chuck: No, this was called Black Christmas. It's one of those that was released under several titles.
Josh: Was it ever Silent Night, Deadly Night?
Chuck: It was Black Christmas or Silent Night, Evil Night. And then there was another title. And he also did a movie called Moonrunners about moonshine, that Dukes of Hazzard was based on.
Josh: Wowee, this guy was all over the place.
Chuck: Yeah, he got a big fat settlement when they released that Dukes of Hazzard movie recently.
Josh: Nice. Good for him.
Chuck: Like 18 million bucks.
Josh: That's great.
Josh: So Bob Clark, in the '60s, becomes enthralled with Jean Shepherd, and it wasn't until the early '80s that he got to make A Christmas Story. And the whole reason he got to make A Christmas Story is because he finally made a blockbuster movie known as Porky's.
Josh: A teen sex romp comedy.
Chuck: Man, that movie was the most mysterious, enticing thing when I was a kid.
Chuck: Because I was ten years old, and it was supposedly just the dirtiest thing that had ever been made.
Josh: Yeah, I wasn't allowed to see it.
Chuck: I wasn't allowed to see it.
Josh: I still, to this day, have not seen Porky's.
Chuck: You know what's funny? Watch Porky's and you'll be like, "This is pretty tame."
Chuck: Like it's bawdy, but it's really not-I thought it was borderline pornography.
Josh: That's what I took from it, too.
Chuck: No, it's not at all.
Chuck: Huge hit, though.
Josh: It was an enormous hit.
Chuck: At one time-for a brief time, it was the best-it was a top 25 all-time grossing movie, and the bestselling comedy of all time.
Chuck: But only for a brief window. I think Ghostbusters quickly dwarfed it.
Josh: And-well, it should, yeah.
Chuck: Rightfully so, yeah.
Josh: So the studios came back to Bob Clark and said, "Man, do that again. Make a Porky's 2." He said, "Eh, eh, eh, despite John Hodgman's wishes, I'm going to make another movie first. It's called A Christmas Story, that's what we're going to call it. And we're going to base it on Jean Shepherd's stories that were collected into a book called In God We Trust, All Others Must Pay Cash."
Josh: And they said, "Fine, just go do your movie or whatever," and he did. He made this movie. He scouted out 20 cities, I believe, and finally settled on Cleveland, and one of the reasons he settled on Cleveland was because Jean Shepherd grew up in Indiana, which is very near Cleveland, and Cleveland had a department store called Higbee's, and Higbee's said, "Hey man, we were around in '40s. Why don't you just go ahead and film some of your stuff in here?" And he said, "Cleveland it is."
Chuck: Yeah, it still had that old-I mean, they had to dress it, of course, but it still had that old department store look, that classic look. By the way, if you're ever in New York again, go to Macy's Herald Square and ride the wooden escalators.
Chuck: And be prepared to be delighted.
Josh: Oh really?
Chuck: It's just the coolest thing, man. I didn't even know they existed. But they're wood-the rails, the steps, the whole thing.
Josh: Yeah? The people on them?
Chuck: [LAUGHS] And they haven't redone them. They're still, like-
Josh: Well, sure.
Chuck: It's really pretty neat.
Josh: It's not like the cutting-edge, new wood elevators.
Chuck: No, but it feels like a Higbee's.
Josh: Wait, escalators or elevators?
Josh: Even cooler.
Chuck: It feels like you're in a Higbee's, though, when you're at Macy's Herald Square because it just has that old school department store feel when you're on those things.
Chuck: They didn't give him much budget for A Christmas Story.
Josh: No, and they didn't expect very much from it, either.
Chuck: No, they give him just about 900 screens the weekend before Thanksgiving, and it made a little bit of money-a couple of million, then about four million the next weekend.
Josh: Yeah, like six million in its first two weekends.
Chuck: Yeah, but they didn't have a big plan to roll it out because they didn't count on it being much, so they didn't roll it.
Chuck: Grossed about 19 mil, which, of course, made the money back and then some, so it was a moderate success as far as making the suits happy, but it wasn't some runaway hit until cable TV.
Josh: Well, yeah, not just cable, but video as well.
Josh: So MGM, like you said, didn't think too much of this movie, and they actually sold it to Warner Brothers. They tossed it into a pot of 50 movies that Warner Brothers bought, and after Warner Brothers bought it, I guess they had to do with Turner because TNT, in 1988, had a stunt on Christmas Eve where they ran it twelve times-for 24 hours, they played A Christmas Story back to back. And they just, I guess, did it to fill some airtime. And it was just a huge hit. People started clamoring for it, and every year, I believe, since, they've had A Christmas Story marathon, now on TBS.
Chuck: And, at some point during the day, 40 million people tune in to watch at least parts of this movie.
Josh: And for good reason. Do you want to know why?
Josh: Because A Christmas Story is one of the greatest movies ever made.
Chuck: It's really pretty great.
Josh: So you want to hear some cool facts about A Christmas Story?
Chuck: Yeah, how about the fact that the part of the father that was ultimately played by Darren McGavin was originally offered to Jack Nicholson.
Josh: Man, I shudder at the thought. Can you imagine Nicholson in that movie?
Chuck: Actually, I could.
Josh: I can't.
Chuck: I think he would have been pretty great, but Darren McGavin is the greatest.
Chuck: I was actually lucky enough to go to a screening at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California, over Christmas, and Bob Clark did a Q&A, and Darren McGavin was there.
Josh: That's awesome.
Chuck: Right before he died. And was old and frail and he got a standing ovation, and his wife, like, helped him stand up, and I think he-it just wasn't clear to him, and she was like, "This is for you, this is for you." It was just the sweetest, sweetest moment. One of my best Christmas moments ever.
Josh: That's a nice Christmas moment.
Chuck: It was great.
Josh: Jean Shepherd, he did all the voiceover narration, as Ralphie, right?
Chuck: Yeah, as grown-up Ralphie.
Josh: Yep, but he also made a cameo. So the old man who says, "That's the back of the line," or, "The line starts there," that was Jean Shepherd.
Chuck: That was. And Bob Clark also had a cameo as Swede, the neighbor with a Southern accent who stops by to marvel at the infamous leg lamp.
Josh: He goes, "Oh, you won an award?"
Chuck: Yeah, a major award.
Josh: Yep, that was the director. And the kid, Grover Dill, right-the little toady.
Josh: He actually went on to become the $2 paper boy in Better Off Dead.
Chuck: I had no idea. I didn't know that.
Josh: Two dollars. Didn't ask for a dime. Two dollars.
Chuck: Yeah, and apparently those are the only couple of three movies that he was ever in.
Chuck: Yano Anaya, which is an odd name.
Chuck: Speaking of leg lamp, it was based on a real lamp, a Nehi logo that was eliminated. And the style was, of course, Reuben Freed, the production designer created the leg lamp, and I wonder if he has any claim on that thing, because those things are sold like crazy now.
Chuck: Little ones, big ones, like keychains. I wonder who's making that dough?
Josh: Hopefully it's going to him.
Chuck: I doubt it. It's probably going to MGM or Warner Brothers.
Josh: Probably. It's not very Christmassy.
Josh: You can pinpoint-even though it's never said, you can pinpoint the month and year when all this action takes place, thanks to the Little Orphan Annie decoder pin that Ralphie gets.
Chuck: Yeah, great scene.
Josh: The one he gets is the Speed-O-Matic model, which is the one that was released in 1940, so A Christmas Story takes place in December of 1940.
Chuck: Many of the exteriors are filmed in Toronto.
Josh: Except the house. The house is in Cleveland, and it's now a museum.
Chuck: I've been there.
Josh: So you can-you have?
Chuck: Oh yeah.
Josh: Okay. Do you recommend it?
Chuck: I've talked about it before. It's the best thing ever. You go and there's the original house that you can walk through that's still dressed like the movie, and then, down the street, someone bought another house and has a museum of artifacts and things from the movie. And it's totally a great time. If you're ever in the Cleveland area around Christmas, do it.
Chuck: It's going to be busy, but don't go in the summer, you know. You really got to get that Christmas feeling [LAUGHS].
Chuck: But a lot of the exteriors, though, were filmed in Toronto because in one scene you can even see one of their red trolley cars in the background, which Cleveland does not have.
Chuck: Or Indiana, as far as I know.
Josh: So Chuck, that's A Christmas Story, huh?
Chuck: Yeah, I mean, I guess we should say that there were some deleted scenes that never made it-you know the Black Bart scene. He shot several of those, including one with Flash Gordon, and at the Christmas Story House you can see clips of those and some of the artifacts. And Ralphie, you know, went on to be a big-shot producer.
Josh: Oh yeah, Peter-
Chuck: Peter Billingsley.
Josh: Peter Billingsley, yep.
Chuck: Of a lot of those Vince Vaughn/Favreau movies he's attached to. And I think Vince Vaughn still calls him Ralphie sometimes, just to get under his skin.
Josh: I could see that.
Chuck: Of course.
Josh: Chuck, it wouldn't be one of our Christmas specials if we didn't talk about booze.
Chuck: [LAUGHS] Offer an alcoholic recipe?
Josh: Right, exactly.
Chuck: Yeah, true.
Josh: So this year, we're doing mulled wine. Mulled wine is old. Actually, they think that it was developed to keep old wine from spoiling, or when it was about to spoil, to use it up really quick.
Chuck: Yeah, and it gained a lot of notoriety when Charles Dickens put it in A Christmas Story-I'm sorry, Christmas Carol.
Chuck: Still got that on the brain.
Chuck: And that's largely where its association with the holidays comes in, I think.
Chuck: I don't like it. Do you?
Josh: I love it.
Chuck: Yeah, I don't-I can't do it.
Josh: They sell it on the streets of Budapest, and it is wonderful stuff.
Chuck: Yeah, I tried it. I just-I don't like the hotness and I don't like those spices. It's just not my thing.
Josh: Yeah, you would not like mulled wine then.
Chuck: Yeah, but I love wine.
Josh: Yeah, not mulled.
Josh: You know, I read this article from, like, 1940, I think, in The New Yorker. It's about this bar, the oldest bar in New York, and it was talking about how some of the old-timers would take their mugs of ale and put them next to the potbellied stove and heat it up to, like, coffee temperature, and drink their beer like that, which I'd never heard of.
Chuck: I think back then they were like, "I'm cold and I want to be drunk, so let's just do those two things."
Josh: Yes, which is what mulled wine was, too.
Josh: So with mulled wine, you typically want to use, like, a dry red, like maybe a shiraz or a zinfandel.
Josh: Which I didn't realize were dry.
Chuck: Oh yeah.
Josh: Okay. You want to add a little citrus. Usually you fortify it with something like brandy. Other people use port sometimes.
Chuck: Yeah, my big pour of port.
Josh: Exactly. And then spices, despite Chuck's tastes.
Chuck: Yeah, clove and cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, the traditional Christmas drink spices that I just-clove I think might be what ruins it for me.
Josh: Oh really?
Josh: It sticks out for sure.
Chuck: And then the citrus, it's just not my thing. I don't like sangria either.
Josh: Yeah, I could see that you wouldn't. Some recipes say you might want to sweeten this a little bit, so add some honey, add some sugar, do something like that. And that's the beauty of mulled wine. It's like you can just kind of start with some wine and add a little bit here or there until you come up with your own concoction. But we'll give you like a basic mulled wine recipe. I think we got it from Grape.com.
Chuck: That sounds like a good place to get a mulled wine recipes.
Josh: Yeah, it sounds like authoritative. So you want to take one bottle of dry red wine.
Josh: I'm guessing a 750.
Chuck: Yeah, probably.
Josh: You want six ounces of brandy. That's a lot of brandy.
Chuck: That is a lot of brandy.
Josh: So it's getting just better and better by the second, this recipe is. One orange, sliced into rounds; two lemons, sliced into rounds; half cup of honey.
Josh: Three cinnamon sticks.
Chuck: Refer to our cinnamon episode.
Josh: Yeah. Six whole cloves.
Josh: One teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg. That's delicious.
Josh: And then maybe some ginger, if you want. You combine everything in a large saucepan-and this is very important, Chuck-you heat it slowly, and you don't let it boil.
Chuck: Yeah, don't just crank that heat up to high.
Josh: No. And as it starts to steam a little bit, it's done. You serve it in mugs and enjoy.
Chuck: That's right. And I was reading this bit you sent about the Charles Dickens Pub in Worthing, England, and they serve mulled wine by the glass, and it sounded like a really neat thing until I saw that they use a microwave to heat it up.
Chuck: It's like, man.
Josh: They take six ounces of Spanish red wine, add one ounce of berry cordial-which I'm curious what berry. Elderberry?
Chuck: I don't know. English berry.
Josh: I guess.
Josh: And they pour it over an orange slice with a cinnamon stick and two cloves and then, like you said, they put the glass in the microwave.
Chuck: And then they ruin the whole experience.
Josh: [LAUGHS] In the traditional Dickensian microwave-
Chuck: [LAUGHS] Oh yeah.
Josh: -that featured so prominently in Oliver Twist.
Chuck: But hey, at least they're trying.
Josh: Yeah. And you can try, too. Let us know how your mulled wine recipe goes.
Chuck: I think in Oliver Twist you're right, "Please, sir, may I have some more?" And he says, "Well, let me get it out of the microwave first, then you can have some more."
Josh: Yeah, that was the original line and Dickens crossed it out. So it won't hurt our feelings if you pause us to go make some mulled wine and then come back and listen to the rest.
Chuck: So Josh, let's say you're a little kid.
Chuck: And you want to write a letter to Santa Claus. Are you allowed to do so, sir? And, if so, when did that start?
Josh: Well, it's pretty old. Have you heard of this Twitter account, TweetsOfOld?
Josh: They just take old, like, newspaper clippings and stuff and tweet them.
Chuck: Oh, so it's not supposed to be funny?
Josh: No, but it comes off as funny sometimes.
Josh: Some of the stuff these people said were funny, bizarre, random.
Josh: But around Christmastime, they do kids' letters to Santa, like old-timey ones.
Chuck: Oh, neat.
Josh: There are a lot of kids who were not just asking for stuff, they were also asking that, like, their siblings got nothing, which is hilarious.
Chuck: [LAUGHS] I was never like that.
Josh: But apparently-no, I wasn't either.
Chuck: I always, like-my brother and sister, I wanted us all to have what we wanted.
Josh: Right. At the very least, you realize that Santa would frown on that kind of avarice, you know?
Chuck: I was a good sharer, I guess.
Josh: So, apparently, though, as far as the United Postal Service is concerned, all of this started around 1912.
Chuck: Yeah, long time ago.
Josh: That's when they say they started really receiving a noteworthy amount of letters for Santa Claus. And, as we all know, Santa gets extraordinarily busy around this time of year, so he can't sit down and answer all these letters, so the Postal Service said, "Maybe there's another idea."
Chuck: Yeah, Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock said, "You know what? Why don't we write these kids back, and I'm going to authorize not just employees, but volunteers, regular citizens." You and I can do this.
Josh: Yeah, you can. You just have to go to your local post office, if it's a participating post office, fill out a little personal info.
Chuck: Put your fingerprints down.
Josh: [LAUGHS] Right. Stand there for a mug shot. And you'll get some letters from children that you can answer on Santa's behalf.
Chuck: Yes, it's called Operation Santa, and it's a pretty neat thing to participate in. I've never done it, but I might try to do it this year. They are now redacted, obviously, because they want to protect the anonymity of these kids and their families and the addresses, which is a pretty smart move. I think in 2006 is when they started doing that. But yeah, you can write to kids from all over the world, I guess, or at least all over the country. It is voluntary. As a post office, you don't have to do it, but if you live in a major city, there is bound to be a post office that's participating.
Josh: Yeah. And the USPS says they'll take all charitable organizations, groups, families, friends, whoever. Just come along and fill out your info.
Chuck: Yeah, we should do that one year for How Stuff Works.
Chuck: And get, like, the whole company to sort of take part.
Chuck: That'd be neat.
Josh: And since its territory reaches the North Pole, the Canadian postal service maintains a postal code specifically for Santa.
Chuck: Oh, nice.
Josh: They use letters in their postal codes, so Santa's is H0H 0H0, which spells "Ho, ho, ho."
Chuck: Nice. Ho, ho, ho.
Chuck: All right, buddy. I am glad you stumbled upon this because I had never heard of it, and it is now my favorite thing ever.
Josh: We have to thank Snopes for this one, or Barbara Mikkelson is-just hats off to her. She's almost singlehandedly written the Snopes website. Do you know that? Yeah.
Josh: She's good.
Chuck: Well, this is the story of the Christmas pants, and it is true. And basically it goes like this. There are-it's a brother and a brother-in-law, Roy Collette and Larry Kunkel.
Josh: Great Minnesotan names.
Chuck: Sounds like a Christmas villain name.
Chuck: Old Man Kunkel's house.
Josh: [LAUGHS] Yeah.
Chuck: So when did it start? 1964, Larry Kunkel's mom gave him a pair of moleskin pants, and he said, "These aren't so good in Minnesota because they freeze and get kind of stiff."
Josh: "And I can't walk."
Chuck: Can't walk. So, as a joke, he gave them-regifted them the following year to his brother-in-law, Roy. And this started what I think is one of the best back-and-forth practical jokes ever.
Josh: Yeah, for more than 20 years, they would send them back and forth. And at first, it was just kind of like, "Haha, here they are again. Here they are again." Well, eventually, I think after the first couple years, it was Larry Kunkel who took the pants-
Chuck: It was Collette.
Josh: Oh, was it Collette?
Josh: He took the pants and rolled them up and stuck them in a three-foot-long, one-inch diameter pipe, and then wrapped that up and gave that to Larry Kunkel and said, "Good luck. Here's the pants."
Chuck: Yeah, and so that obviously inspired a "oh yeah, brother-in-law? I'm going to one-up you," and it became a game of one-upmanship each year, and eventually there were some rules-most notably, the pants could not be destroyed. The game was over if the pants were destroyed.
Josh: They had to remain intact.
Chuck: What were the other rules?
Josh: There were some that they had to be legal and moral methods.
Josh: Supposedly they wanted to use junk parts as much as possible, but I don't think that rule panned out all the time because they clearly spent a lot of money over the years entombing these pants in various things.
Chuck: Yeah, so let's talk about some of these methods. Like you said, it started out pretty basic: stuffing them in a pipe. Then, I think the following year, wrapping them in wire and then giving-basically the whole idea is to make them super hard on the receiver to get to.
Josh: Right, so he can't give them back.
Chuck: Yeah, exactly, because you would win, I guess, if you were like, "I just can't get these pants," the other guy would win.
Josh: Exactly, yeah. And he would have to keep the pants forever.
Chuck: How about this one? One of them had them-I think my favorite one was one of them had them put in a Gremlin car and had the car compounded to a-you know when you compound a car to a little tiny square?
Josh: Compacted, yeah.
Chuck: And the pants were inside a compacted Gremlin.
Josh: Yeah, a 1974 Gremlin that was crushed into a three-foot cube. And it weighed 2,000 pounds, and it was in the glove compartment of the Gremlin when it was crushed.
Josh: Yeah, that was a pretty good one. It got even bizarre. I guess Kunkel had the pants put into a 17-and-a-half-foot long red rocket ship filled with concrete that weighed six tons. It was five feet in diameter. And the pants were put in there, somewhere inside, in one of the 15 concrete-filled canisters inside the rocket.
Chuck: Pretty good.
Josh: Not bad.
Chuck: One year, 1982, Kunkel had a hard time getting the pants out of an eight-foot-high tire, two feet wide, filled with 6,000 pounds of concrete, with the smarmy note on the outside, "Have a good year."
Josh: Yeah, terrible.
Josh: Another year, Collette had to get the pants out of a station wagon that was filled with-this is mind-boggling to me-170 generators that were all welded together, with the pants located somewhere in the middle.
Chuck: Yeah, but you don't know where.
Josh: No, and Collette had to get it in there. And, I mean, these things were welded together because you-and you couldn't just, like, rip this apart because if you wasted the pants, you lost.
Josh: So he managed to get it out of there.
Chuck: 1985, what toy was popular in 1985?
Josh: Let's say Rubik's Cube.
Chuck: The Rubik's Cube. So Collette had an idea and made a four-ton Rubik's Cube in 1985 made of concrete, baked in a kiln, and then covered it with 2,000 board feet of lumber, and the pants were inside. And then you had to solve the cube, and he did so, because that came before the generator.
Chuck: I love these dudes.
Josh: So the end of the pants came along in 1989, and Collette apparently had a buddy in Tennessee who ran a glass manufacturing company and said, "Hey, you know all that scrap glass you have? Why don't you melt it down and let's encase the pants in it." And the friend said okay.
Chuck: Yeah, 10,000 pounds of jagged glass, and let's go drop it in his friend yard.
Josh: The problem is that a chunk of molten glass broke the canister that had the pants in it and just turned them-just disintegrated them.
Josh: So the pants were put into an urn instead, the ashes of the pants were put into an urn and given to Kunkel that year. Collette conceded defeat.
Chuck: Yeah, along with an epitaph that said, "Sorry, old man, here lies the pants. An attempt to cast the pants in glass brought about the demise of the pants at last." And apparently Kunkel still has that urn, and these are two of my favorite dudes in the world now. I can't imagine carrying on a joke like this for that long. They must have worked on this for a couple of months out of the year, at least.
Josh: Oh sure.
Chuck: You know? They probably started on January 1st, devising the next year.
Chuck: You know? This is great. And all true. Somebody should make a movie about that, a Christmas movie.
Josh: It's a new holiday classic.
Josh: Hey, Chuck, you know how people are like, "Don't you dare write Christmas as Xmas"?
Chuck: Yeah, some people are very offended by that.
Josh: They are very offended by it. Well, it turns out that it's not so offensive to write Christmas as Xmas, and if you do write Christmas as Xmas, you shouldn't pronounce it Xmas; you should pronounce it Christmas.
Josh: And there's pretty good reason why.
Chuck: Yes, there is a good reason, because it isn't an X.
Chuck: And it is not meant to take the Christ out of Christmas.
Chuck: Never was.
Josh: And we have our friends at the Straight Dope, Featuring Cecil Adams, to thank for this one.
Chuck: That's right. What is it, Josh?
Josh: Well, that X is the Greek letter chi, C-H-I, and chi, when you see it spelled out in a word, you're supposed to pronounce it the "kuh" sound, like "Christmas," or "Christ."
Chuck: That's ch-right.
Josh: Yeah. So for a very long time, I think even before the Middle Ages, that term or that X was used to abbreviate Christ.
Chuck: That's right, it's not a new thing.
Josh: No, so if you write X and then M-A-S, what you've just done is taken the abbreviation for Christ and substituted it for the Christ in Christmas, so it's still Christmas and there's still Christ in Christmas, as far as that X is concerned.
Chuck: And that's the straight dope [LAUGHS].
Josh: So, Chuck, we're going to finish with a Christmas story.
Chuck: That's right.
Josh: I didn't realize this, but the guy who wrote the gold standard classic Wizard of Oz-
Chuck: Directed Porky's?
Josh: L. Frank Baum.
Josh: He also wrote a long Christmas epic story called The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.
Chuck: Yeah, it was long, wasn't it?
Josh: Yeah, very. I mean, it was a book-length thing. But it basically tells the story of Santa Claus. And we're going to read "When the World Grew Old." It was a chapter from that. And basically Santa Claus has spent his whole life-
Chuck: Is this the setup?
Josh: Yeah, if you'll indulge me.
Chuck: Oh, of course.
Josh: So Santa Claus has-he was found in the woods as an orphan and raised by Ak, the god of the woods, and he proved himself to be Santa Claus, doing all the Santa Clausy things he's famous for. But now he's become an old man with white hair and a white beard and huge cheeks that are still jolly, but he's at his deathbed.
Chuck: Oh man.
Josh: And Ak goes to the other immortals, gods of the woods and the rivers and all of that stuff, kings of the gnomes and all people like that, and gathers them and says, "Look, man, this guy, if there's ever been a human being who's earned immortality, the gift of immortality, it's this guy. He loves kids, he makes toys for them every year. He's just a great humanitarian. He created, like, the Christmas as we understand it. Now, let's give him the mantle of immortality." So they talk about it and debate back and forth, and they finally agree and they go to Santa Claus's deathbed and they bestow him with immortality, and this picks up the next morning when Santa wakes up, after thinking the night before that he's going to die.
Chuck: "When The World Grew Old."
Chuck: "The next morning, when Santa Claus opened his eyes and gazed around the familiar room, which he had feared he might never see again, he was astonished to find his old strength renewed and to feel the red blood of perfect health coursing through his veins. He sprang from his bed and stood where the bright sunshine came in through his window, and flooded him with its merry, dancing rays. He did not then understand that what had happened to restore him the vigor of youth, but in spite of the fact that his beard remained the color of snow and that wrinkles still lingered in the corners of his bright eyes, old Santa Claus felt as brisk and merry as a boy of 16, and was soon whistling contentedly as he busied himself fashioning new toys. Then Ak came to him and told of the mantle of immortality and how Claus had won it through his love for little children."
Josh: "It made old Santa look grave for a moment to think he had been so favored, but it also made him glad to realize that now he need never fear being parted from his dear ones. At once, he began making preparations for making a remarkable assortment of pretty and amusing playthings, and in larger quantities than ever before, for now that he might always devote himself to this work, he decided that no child in the world, poor or rich, should hereafter go without a Christmas gift if he could manage to supply it. The world was new in the days when dear old Santa Claus first began toy-making and won, by his loving deeds, the mantle of immortality, and the task of supplying cheering words, sympathy, and pretty playthings to all the young of his race did not seem a difficult undertaking at all. But every year, more and more children were born into the world, and these, when they grew up, began spreading slowly all over the face of the earth, seeking new homes, so that Santa Claus found each year that his journeys must extend farther and farther from the Laughing Valley," which, by the way, is in the North Pole, "and that packs of toys must be made larger and ever larger."
Chuck: "So, at length, he took counsel with his fellow immortals," Larry King and the others, "how his work might keep pace with the increasing number of children, that none might be neglected. And the immortals were so greatly interested in his labors that they gladly rendered him their assistance. Ak gave him his man Kilter, the silent and swift. And the Knook Prince gave him Peter, who was more crooked and less surly than any of his brothers. And the Ryl prince gave him Nuter, the sweetest-tempered Ryl ever known. And the Fairy Queen gave him Wisk, that tiny, mischievous but lovable fairy who knows today almost as many children as Santa Claus himself," and Larry King gave him suspenders. "With these people to help make the toys and to keep his house in order, to look after the sledge and the harness, Santa Claus found it much easier to prepare his yearly load of gifts, and his days began to follow one another smoothly and pleasantly. Yet after a few generations, his worries were renewed, for it was remarkable how the number of people continued to grow, and how many more children there were every year to be served. When the people filled all the cities and lands of one country, they wandered into another part of the world. And the men cut down the trees in many of the great forests that had been ruled by Ak, and with the wood they built new cities, and where the forest had been were fields of grains and herds of browsing cattle."
Josh: "You might think the master woodsman would rebel at the loss of his forest, but not so. The wisdom of Ak was mighty and farseeing. 'The world was made for men,' said he to Santa Claus, 'And I have but guarded the forests until men needed them for their use. I am glad my strong trees can furnish shelter for men's weak bodies and warm them through the cold winters. But I hope they will not cut down all the trees, for mankind needs the shelter of the woods in summer as much as the warmth of blazing logs in winter. And however crowded the world may grow, I do not think men will ever come to Burzee nor the Great Black Forest, nor to the wooded wilderness of Braz; unless they seek their shades for pleasure, and not to destroy their giant trees."
Chuck: "By and by, people made ships from the tree trunks and crossed over oceans and built cities in far lands, but the oceans made little difference to the journeys of Santa Claus. His reindeer sped over the waters as swiftly as over land, and his sledge headed from east to west and followed in the wake of the sun. So that as the earth rolled slowly over, Santa Claus had all of 24 hours to encircle it each Christmas Eve, and the speedy reindeer enjoyed these wonderful journeys more and more."
Josh: "So year after year, and generation after generation, and century after century, the world grew older and the people became more numerous and the labors of Santa Claus steadily increased. The fame of his good deeds spread to every household where children dwelt. And all the little ones loved him dearly; and the fathers and mothers honored him for the happiness he had given them when they too were young; and the aged grandsires and granddames remembered him with tender gratitude and blessed his name."
Chuck: The end. Well, not the end-the end of that chapter.
Josh: So that's it. That's our Christmas show, Chuck.
Chuck: That's right.
Josh: Merry Christmas to you.
Chuck: Merry Christmas, buddy. Happy holidays to everyone out there.
Chuck: On Dasher, on Dancer.
Josh: On Donner, on Blitzen.
Chuck: We have Comet and Cupid and-
Chuck: [LAUGHS] And the Kraken.
Josh: [LAUGHS] And Cthulhu.
Chuck: That's right, and Rudolph up front.
Josh: Happy holidays, everybody.
Chuck: We'll see you next year.
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