Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Tradition: Family Night at the Movies

A few weeks ago, Groupon had a deal for White Christmas at Sacramento's Crest theater. The tickets included admission, a large drink and a large popcorn for only $9. My sister, Lis, and I snatched four of them up quickly so we could relive a little family tradition.

White Christmas is my mom's favorite movie, ever. As kids we watched it year-round: first with her, and then as we got older, on our own. The weeks before Christmas when Mom would bake would always include a viewing (or two). I had the dance numbers memorized by the time I was in high school (especially the tap numbers in "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" and "Abraham"--love those). I would rewind and watch each number over and over again--I always wanted to be Rosemary Clooney's character, Betty Haynes, and I always envisioned Lis as Judy to my Betty. Over time, White Christmas became one of my favorite movies too. It's familiar and heart-warming like Disneyland; I accept the sticky-sweet parts because I love that something so positive and wholesome can make me smile and bring my family together.

We spent years trading the small lines from the movie as our dinner conversation. "Very funny," my dad would quip, "oh-oh-oh. The crooner is now becoming the comic." We prided ourselves on trivia and little-known history surrounding the movie long before there was such a thing as IMDB. At one point we started making trips downtown to see the movie on the big screen at the Crest, a restored theater from the late 1940's. Some years we'd ice skate before or after. We'd park and ride the light rail into town--that made it feel all the more like something exotic, something fancy. (Imagine, Sacramentans, that RT felt "fancy" to me as a child. It did!) In fact, I didn't realize until a trip to the downtown library in high school that one could actually get to downtown by driving there. In my mind it had remained inaccessible except through the portal we entered: the Watt Avenue RT station. We continued the tradition into our high school years, sometimes bringing a friend along or meeting my parents there.

The theater was often near-empty. We didn't care. My mom or Lis (elected family extroverts) would strike up a conversation with our row-mates about how long we'd been watching the film or what it meant to our family. We'd marvel at the details we could see on such a large screen (pre-DVD, Blu-ray) and mom would silently pass a handful of Mentos or swedish fish down the line. Good old fashioned family fun. In years when the theater showed It's a Wonderful Life (rival movie camp to ours) we'd groan and wait it out until the movie returned another year. Somewhere in the middle of waiting, marriages, babies, college, careers, and starting our own families (not in that order) the tradition kind of fizzled.

But last night we piled into the car--no spouses or grandkids, just the original four of us--in what felt comfortably (and strangely) like so many car trips of the past. (Lis even whined out a "she's looking at me!" from the backseat just for old times' sake.) I kid you not, we left at 4:30 for a 7:00 movie. I couldn't stop giving my mom a bad time about it. We finished our dinner and headed over. Mom was proud to be right since we actually needed to be there well ahead of the show. The Groupon brought enough people to fill the theater. I've never seen it like that: packed. They actually ran out of popcorn in trying to handle all the people who bought the special deal. Seeing it again with that many people was a new experience in itself; I realized that I have only ever seen it in relative quiet, so it was fun to be among people who laughed at all the funny parts, sang along (okay, I could have passed on the singing along) and just generally all felt the same affection for this movie that's been around for so long. Seeing a movie in a theater is just different.

Dad and I talked before the movie about how interesting it is that it has stood the test of time. I told him I think about that, especially as I foray into K's movie lists of old "must sees", because some movies seem so dated while others from the same time periods (or earlier) hold up to countless viewings. Dad's theory (and mine) is that a good story, a movie that doesn't try to be "hip" or cutting edge, one that's universal and straightforward, is just going to hold up. We joked that we didn't know if it was going to snow at the end this time or not. I am so glad that we returned this year. It felt familiar and new. Thankfully, it all worked out just as it should have: Bob crooned and dropped the white horse into the tree, Betty pouted but ultimately donned her beautiful red dress, Judy covered her neck with a turtleneck and her legs with almost nothing, and Phil danced with ease and contorted his face into a thousand goofy glances that could make Jim Carey swoon. The sleigh came out inexplicably over one eighth of an inch of snow. The General teared up... and once again I caught myself wishing I could be Betty Haynes, just for a second.


  1. Betty? I always assumed you wanted to be Judy! Had a great time, let's do it again!

    Love you,


  2. Such a great tradition! I think it has now become one of mine too. And you are right, seeing it on the big screen is so much better than on tv.

  3. I always pictured you as Betty and me as Judy too!

    This was a fun night. I hope we can keep the tradition going.