Oh Christmas Tree …

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Happy December to you! Maybe it is because Thanksgiving was so late this year, but it is hard to believe that we are less than a month from Christmas! The reality of that sunk in this weekend as I did a couple shifts at Cars 108 and we are playing all Christmas music.

One song always really sticks out to me each Christmas, mainly because it really isn’t a Christmas song – Linus & Lucy (AKA the Charlie Brown theme) from the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun song that immediately makes be think of Charlie Brown and the gang, but it is a song that is used in basically every Charlie Brown special. Personally, the soundtrack to the Charlie Brown Christmas special is one of my favorites.

O Tannenbaum is the instrumental that kicks off the album. Many know the song as simply “Oh Christmas Tree”. (In case you were wondering, a tannenbaum is a fir tree). It’s one of my favorite versions of the song. I had the chance to hear it over the weekend and it got me to thinking about the Christmas Tree. I recently had the chance to go through a bunch of family pictures and I was surprised at how many of them included the Christmas tree. This blog is sort of a “pictorial” blog featuring some of those pictures.

As I looked through the pictures, it was fun to see the various decorations and the toys under the tree. Bear with me, as some of the years I am guessing on …

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The above picture is of my dad in 1951. He would be 5 here. As I look at this picture, I see a little of me, my brother, and my oldest son in my dad.

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The above picture is my mom. Just a guess, but this is probably from 1953 or 1954, as she looks 5-6 years old here. Tinsel seemed to be really big in the 50’s! Wonder what that “Little Painter” set is worth today….

On Leave

The above picture is my dad, home on leave from Vietnam. The date is 1967. I really have no idea what that tree is made of. Eventually, my grandma had a ceramic tree that my mom made that stood about that high that she put there in the window. This one looks … fluffy. There are pictures of my dad with both his mom and his dad next to this tree too.

My folks told me that the local paper used to put names and addresses of servicemen who were overseas in the paper for people to send letters. Both of my parents were from the same city and my mom sent my dad letters. With letters, occasional pictures were sent back and forth, too.

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I think the above picture is one my mom sent to my dad. I am not sure. I am not sure because I don’t know where this was taken. It would seem to me that this would be a picture that she would send to my dad overseas. At any rate, some things stand out, though. Note the “sunbust” clock on the wall – I know my grandma had one of those. Also, note the cool Hi-Fi with the ceramic cat on it. This was a record player and radio. It probably also played 8 track tapes and stored records. I know my dad, and my grandpa had one of them, so again, not sure when this is.

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I know for a fact that this was taken at my grandma’s house. I know this because of the fireplace and the huge wooden fork and spoon on the wall behind the TV. In my lifetime, I don’t recall my grandparents ever putting a tree on the TV, so I am guessing this is before I came around.

I was born in May of 1970. I was 7 months old for my first Christmas. I am thankful that my folks took lots of pictures. A few of my favorites all come from 1970, all for different reasons.

Great Grandpa Becker 1970 (2)

The above picture is my and my great-grandpa. He passed away shortly after this. It is the only picture I have of him and I.

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I am not 100%, but I believe this picture was taken in my mom and dad’s apartment. My dad can correct me if I am wrong. I remember that stuffed Bugs Bunny to my right very well.

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I am pretty sure that this is at my grandma and grandpa’s house. What I love about this picture is a little foreshadowing. One of my favorite sports to participate in is bowling. I love that I am propped up next to a balling ball bag in this picture.

7 mos with Mom (2)

This is absolutely one of my favorite pictures of my mom and me. It was taken at my grandparents house, probably Christmas Eve. I love this picture so much, because it reminds me of another … which I will share in a few pictures.

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The above is obviously from the same year. This time, I am with mom and dad. My grandma always kept her house hot, so mom took off her vest. Dad, who is ALWAYS hot, must not have felt it was too warm, because his is still on here.

GRANDPA PIZZO C (2)

One more from the same year (and you won’t have to look at that brown bowling ball bag anymore!), here is my and my grandpa. I always loved this picture of us. I was his first grandchild, and you can see just how happy he is here.

Grandpa and Grandma Davidson Christmas 1970 (2)

These are my mom’s parents – Grandma and Grandpa D. The date on the picture says 1970, but another scan from my brother says 1967. Not really sure. It could easily be 1970, though. It is one of my favorites of them. The tree is in the corner where my grandpa’s recliner used to always be.

Jodi and Keith Christmas 1972

The date on the above picture is October of 72, which means I am 1 here. This is at Grandma D’s house. That is my Aunt Jodi holding the bear. Note in the background, another Hi-Fi. My grandpa used to have big band records I used to listen to on it.

1975

The above picture was taken at our old house on Brandywine. I am about 4 here and my brother is probably just 2. The thing that stands out in this picture is the ornaments on the tree. See those diamond crocheted things? Yeah, my mom made them. She had many hobbies (I have an entire blog ready about her various hobbies through the years) and this particular year, she was crocheting everything! I remember a maroon vest that she made for me! At any rate, those ornaments were two squares, with a piece of an egg carton in the middle, and a tail hanging down. I am sure she made these for many people. I remember seeing them on other family members Christmas trees, too.

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A year later, same house, and same ornaments! You can see them a little better in this picture! I am probably 5 here, while my brother is 3. This would be the last Christmas at this house, as we moved the following year. A couple things (besides the ornaments) stand out in the picture. First, there is the organ I used to play, and mentioned in the blog about my music lessons. Next, I remember the Ernie and Big Bird stuffed animals! Then there is that picture above the organ – it’s two horses. I think everyone in my family had that picture!! Finally, and this should get my wife’s OCD going, note that I am wearing the pants from one pair of PJs and the shirt from another in this picture! Good Lord!!!

Mom, Chris, & Keith Xmas 79

The picture above has to be from 1977. My grandma bought us each a set of Star Wars figures that year. I think there were like 20 issued the first year. I remember my grandma having trouble finding the Jawa figures! This picture would have been Christmas morning, and we had gotten the figures the night before at grandma’s. If I remember right, we had the big Han Solo and Jawa dolls (pictured here) and Boba Fett and Princess Leia, too. What I love most about this picture is that my mom is in it wearing this yellow robe. I have written about her yellow robe in previous blogs. She wore this thing SO much that it was stained and had tears and holes in it. She loved this robe. Eventually we bought her a new one for Christmas one year and she wore that. We assumed that she threw this one away, but after she passed away, we found it in the back of the closet! I have a “memory bear” made out of this robe.

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The above has to be from 1978. If you can look past my brother’s golf pants and my wacky shirt, you will see a Tie Fighter and X-Wing Fighter. You can see the tree set up on the TV, but cannot really see the amazing display on my grandma’s mantel. Every year, she put up angels, Santa, reindeer, trees, snow and more. There was one piece that always stood out – a little mouse that was in a flower arrangement that I sent her when she was in the hospital. She put that up every year!

Keith Doctor Doctor game

It obviously took my folks awhile to develop film! This is from Christmas of 78, and was not developed until August of 79! First, I love how skinny I am in this picture! Second, I remember having the sliding wooden doors that covered the doorwall. I also remember the bad paneling in the living room! I can see the Polaroid camera on the TV, the candy jar, and the glass candle sticks that my mom had. I wish I could make out more of the presents under the tree, but I remember really wanting this game. I also remember that star on the tree. It was made of hard plastic and the ends were very sharp! It could probably be used as a weapon!!

Grandma and Grandpa Xmas 79

The above picture is of my dad’s folks, my Grandma and Grandpa P. This was in 1979 – I remember that was the year that everyone was taking Polaroids! At family gatherings, everyone took pictures and wrote their last name on the bottom, so they knew what pictures belonged to what family! A couple things I notice right away: The tree topper, I never understood just what the hell it was! It wasn’t a star, it was just this spaceship shaped thing that lit up! I remember the musical angels on the wall. They moved from room to room as I recall. Grandma’s beehive hair! She wore it this way for SO long!! I also notice the pack of cigarettes in my grandpa’s pocket – you could bet they were either Lucky Strikes or Pall Malls. It looks like he is wearing a bracelet in this picture. I don’t remember him wearing one, but he did here. Just love this picture!!

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The above is from 1980. This is my brother and me, with my cousins Arin and Melissa. This is at my Grandma and Grandpa D’s. A couple thoughts on this one – I am holding the very cool Coleco Head to Head Baseball game which I loved! I do not remember that bear I am holding! This is probably the year that my grandpa bought me my cribbage board, too! What is sad about this picture, is knowing that my grandpa would pass away in less than a year after this picture was taken.

mom dante

Jumping many years ahead now for the above picture. Remember the picture of my mom and me by the tree? It reminds me of this picture. Here is my mom and Dante’. This may not have been her last Christmas, I think Dante is 2 here. She loved him so much and I see the same joy in her smile here as I do in the picture of her holding me.

boys at trailer

The above picture is about a year or so before my divorce. I just love this picture because these two guys (no matter how much they may fight) really love each other. This was such a spontaneous picture and it remains one of my favorites of the boys!

boys last year

The above picture is from last Christmas Eve morning. Christmas Eve was always bigger than Christmas on my dad’s side of the family. The fact that I get the boys every Christmas Eve Morning to open up gifts is so special to me. I cannot wait until they can celebrate it with their sister. They are going to be such great brothers to her.

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The above picture is from 2018 (on the right) and 2017 (on the left). When we first got Moe (left) he got up in the tree! When Maizey came along last year, the fact that she was almost in the same exact spot as Moe the year before made me laugh. So I put together this comparison picture. It still makes me laugh!!

sam at tree

This picture (along with the song I mentioned earlier) was the reason for this blog. As I mentioned, so many favorite pictures involve the Christmas tree. I took this picture of Sam just the other night. It was her idea. The silhouette of her baby bump against the lights of the Christmas tree is just beautiful!! I posted it on Facebook (she did, too) and mention how I cannot stop looking at it!

The reason is that it brings about so many feelings: Feelings of love for my beautiful wife. Feelings of joy and nostalgia – because it is Christmastime and the Christmas Tree. Feelings of excitement and anticipation – because the baby will be here soon. Feelings of happiness – because the picture brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

In the years ahead, I hope that more and more wonderful pictures will be captured near the Christmas tree … so I can reflect on them, too!

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My Top 20 Favorite Christmas Characters

Growing up, I loved watching all of the various Christmas specials that were shown on TV every year.  With the availability of almost all of them on DVD, we can watch them whenever we want – even if it’s not during the holiday season!  My brother and I would sit in front of the TV and watch Jimmy Durante tell us the story of Frosty the Snowman, Fred Astaire delivering mail while telling us about Santa, and Burl Ives shared the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I don’t care who you are or how old you are, if you have kids – it’s still just as special watching these specials together.  I even know some people my age who have no children – they find themselves watching them on TV, too!

Technology has come a long way from when these TV specials were made!  Today, the cartoons and animation are above and beyond what these classic specials had.  While some of the specials were animated – most of the favorites were done by Rankin and Bass and were done in stop animation.  It had to have taken a long time to shoot these specials for sure!  What make these so memorable are not only the stories and songs, but the characters and the people who voiced them.

There were some pretty talented voice actors and big stars who provided voiced for these iconic characters!  They had many memorable lines, too.  Here now, are my Top 20 favorite characters from the Specials of Christmas Past (and Present):

20 – Jingle Bells (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Jingle Bells (right) is the #1 elf at the North Pole.  He is partnered up with Jangle Bells (left) and they remind me of a Laurel and Hardy type team.  Jingle is the smart one, Jangle – not so much.  Together, they get in some trouble while trying to find some Christmas Spirit. It’s Jingle who suggests they call Mrs. Claus for help.

19 – Sally Brown (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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One thing that I loved about the Charlie Brown Christmas special is that the voices are done by real kids.  As someone who has had to record children for commercials and such, I can tell you this is no easy task.  You often have to feed them lines one at a time and edit them together.  This is obviously what happened with the girl who plays Sally. Listen to her say  – “Will you please write a letter to Santa Claus for me?” next time you watch it … you can hear the edits.

I love Sally because in her letter she gets on Santa’s good side by asking how his wife is and then goes on to say she has included a list of things she wants and for him to “note the size and color” of each item.   LOL!  When Charlie Brown questions her – she tells him that she just wants her “fair share”

18 – Doc Bobbin (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Santa is sick, so Mrs. Claus calls the doctor.  This guy is just miserable!  He’s cranky and angry!  He’s an example of someone with no Christmas spirit.  He tells Santa he’d be surprised if anyone still believed in him and is just plain rude.  His appearance is a short one, but my favorite line from him is “Nobody cares a hoot and a holler for you (Santa) or Christmas!”

17 – The Grinch (How The Grinch Stole Christmas)

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The Dr. Seuss classic – not the new one or the Jim Carrey one! This guy reminds me a lot of Ebenezer Scrooge.  He’s a mean one, as the song suggests, and yet in the end, he finds the true meaning of Christmas and he is a changed Grinch.  It’s a bonus that the great Boris Karloff is the narrator for this cartoon.

16 & 15 – Mr. and Mrs. Claus (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Mickey Rooney and Shirley Booth!  What’s not to like?  Mickey played Santa in Rankin/Bass’s Santa Claus is Coming To Town and did and amazing job.  It’s a treat to hear him revisit the role – his vocal inflections (while acting like he has a cold) are perfect.  The playfulness of Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus is just as good.  She is our story-teller and plays and all important part in the story.

14 & 13 – Rudolph and Hermey

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Now, to be honest, I wasn’t going to include Rudolph in this list.  However, when I thought about Hermey (the elf who wants to be a dentist), I felt that Rudy should go with him.  These two are here because they are truly a “couple of misfits”.  They are different and you know what?  That is ok!  Be different!!!  Be spectacular!

Recently there have been rumblings about the lessons taught by this Christmas special, and in all honesty, the talk is annoying to me.  Something offends everybody and everybody is offended by something these days!  Hey!  Get a grip!  In order for the wonderful ending of this tale to mean anything – there had to be mean reindeer and a mean elf!

12 – Professor Hinkle (Frosty the Snowman)

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Here is a nasty man.  He is a crappy magician and he has no idea how important his hat really is!  He’s on the list because he is voiced perfectly by Billy De Wolfe.  One of my favorite lines of his is: “When you’re grown up, you’ll realize that snowmen can’t come to life!”  Oh, how wrong he was!

11 – Lucy Van Pelt (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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Lucy is a real piece of work.  She bosses everyone around, has an opinion about everything, and is a know it all.  She’s also kind of a jerk.  So why is she on the list?  Because of all the things I just mentioned and this quote: “Look, Charlie Brown, we all know that Christmas is just a big commercial racket.  It’s run by a big Eastern Syndicate, you know?!”

Maybe it is not run by a syndicate – but one thing is for certain – Christmas is, and continues to be, a big commercial racket!

10 – Santa Claus (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Ok, yes … Santa is already on the list.  That, however, is the Mickey Rooney Santa.  This Santa is different and is played in a whole different way.  I agree, he was a jerk to Rudolph.  However, he does come around at the end and Rudolph saves the day.  Why is he #10?  He says one of my favorite lines: “Every year I shine up my jingle bells!”

Take that however you want.

9 – The Head Elf (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Just like the above Santa, this guy was kind of a bossy jerk!  Think about it, how many bosses have you had that were jerks?  That is what some bosses are good at – being jerks.

At any rate, this guy gives Hermey a hard time.  Not only does he have a workshop to run, but he also has to run Elf Practice!  I mean – how else are elves gonna learn how to wiggle their ears, go “hee-hee” and “ho-ho” and “important stuff like that”?  He was probably thankful that Hermey’s dental practice was able to get him in so soon after Christmas……

8 – The Winter Warlock (Santa Claus is Coming To Town)

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Voiced by Keenan Wynn, the Winter Warlock is yet another character who has a change of heart.  He is a mean man who is frigid and cold – that is, until Kris Kringle gives him a toy.  The ice and cold melts away to show he is really a gentle old man.  He tells Kris he really is a mean and “despicable creature at heart” and tells Kris how difficult it is to “really change”.   Kris tells him that changing from bad to good is “as easy as taking your first step” which leads into the great song “Put One Foot In Front of the Other”

7 – Linus Van Pelt (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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Linus is Charlie Brown’s friend.  He is often there to give him insight on issues that he is dealing with.  He often prompts Charlie to think about things a little differently.  It is Linus who says the crappy little tree that Charlie Brown picked out isn’t so bad and just needs a “little love”.

It is also Linus who gives an amazing little speech about what Christmas is all about quoting from the King James Bible Luke 2: 8-14.  Linus, who carries around his security blanket at all times, does something really unique while reciting these verses.  To the casual observer, it may go unnoticed, but I think it is amazing how this kid who needs this blanket so badly, drops it when he says “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy”.  That’s powerful.

With so many people offended by things, I am truly amazed that there isn’t an uproar about this special because of Linus’ speech.

6 – Sam the Snowman (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Voiced by one of the familiar “voices of Christmas”, Burl Ives, Sam the Snowman tells us Rudolph’s story.  He’s like a gentle old grandpa telling us the story.  Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without hearing Burl’s version of Holly Jolly Christmas – which is just one of the songs he sings in this special.

He tells us the story with bits of info (First castle to the left) and humor (“haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?”) Even though he is telling a story, he still is frightened by certain parts of it (the Abominable Snow Monster of the North), enough so that he hides under his umbrella!

I have to admit, I often find myself singing lines from Silver and Gold every year when I trim the tree.  As a kid, I remember making a snowman and then sliding behind him, making a trail – so it looked like he glided into place …. just like Sam.

5 – Charlie Brown

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How many of us can relate to Charlie Brown – not just at Christmas, but all year round? He tells Linus, “I’m just not happy. I don’t know the way I am supposed to feel.” While this is a real issue for many people, Linus tells Charlie Brown that he is the only kid he knows that “can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem”.

He’s a “blockhead”, but he means well.  He tries and he fails – but he never stops trying.  He is the director of the Christmas play and louses up the production, but in the end, it all comes out ok.  He buys a scrawny tree, and his friends make it something special they wish him a Merry Christmas.

Charlie is a simple kid and we are all a little bit like him.

4 – Burgermeister Meisterburger (Santa Claus is Coming To Town)

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Voiced by the great Paul Frees – this guy is a presence on screen!  Just what the hell is a Burgermeister?  Well it is a sort of mayor – he is an executive.  Our Burgermeister is the head of Sombertown (why would anyone want to live there?).  He makes it clear that he hates toys and children too, apparently!

The story could have gone very differently, as the baby Claus shows up on his doorstep and he orders his soldier to “Get the brat out of here!”  Good thing the soldier, Grimsley, loses the baby on a sled and it shows up at the Kringle house…..

He isn’t all bad – he does love playing with a yo-yo!

3 – Yukon Cornelius (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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How can you not love Yukon Cornelius’ sense of adventure!?  Here is a guy who is out looking for gold and silver!  He is on the hunt with the mindset of striking it rich!  He knows no fear!  He makes his own rules!  He isn’t afraid of that Abominable Snow Monster of the North, whom he downplays by calling him Bumbles, and actually attacks him.  Sadly, he goes over a cliff with the monster during the attack.

He is a scene stealer and there is a sense of sadness when he tumbles off the cliff, but he is friggin’ Yukon Cornelius!  He shows up later with Bumbles to everyone’s amazement!  How did he survive?  Well…..Bumbles Bounce!!

2 – Heat Miser (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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He’s Mr. Green Christmas!  He’s Mr. Sun.  He’s Mr. Heat Blister.  He’s Mr. 101!

To me, when you talk about the Miser Brothers from The Year Without a Santa Claus, everyone knows Heat Miser first.  Some would say that he should top this list.  I can see your argument and it’s a good one – but a close one.

Voiced by George S. Irving, Heat Miser obviously doesn’t care about Santa.  He asks Mrs. Claus is Santa is “out doing another commercial” for his brother.  He describes Santa a “traipsing around in that stupid sleigh of his!  Stirring up cold winter breezes and causing everyone to think fondly of snowball fights and – urgh – ice hockey!”

Not only does he not like Santa, but he certainly does not care too much for his brother!

1 – Snow Miser (The Year Without A Santa Claus)

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He’s Mr. White Christmas.  He’s Mr. Snow.  He’s Mr. Icicle.  He’s Mr. 10 Below!

The Snow Miser tops my list.  He’s just a bundle of energy and damn funny!  Voiced by Dick Shawn, he conveys a carefree attitude and is just a fun dude.  When he is summoned by his mother (Mother Nature), he and his brother are arguing and they are told to stop.  His response is “If I can’t have any fun, I might as well leave.”   While he and his “hothead” brother don’t get along, he loves Santa and Mrs. Claus.  He tells “Mrs. C” to make sure she brings him with her next time she comes and they’ll have “a blizzard”. He is a friendly, loveable, and fun guy who loves “chilly humor”.

I have always been amazed that when radio stations play Christmas music, they will play songs from various Christmas specials, but they never seem to play the Miser Brothers songs….and that is just sad! You mention the Miser Brothers and the first thing that happens is someone starts singing their songs!

Closing thoughts

As I look at this list – there are some good guys and bad guys.  Maybe there are more bad guys than good … I don’t know, I didn’t count.  Here is an observation, though that fits into what’s going on today.

Without bad guys, there can be no heroes.  You kind of need bad guys, bullies, and jerks to make the end of the story a happy one.  Good conquers evil!  Good wins over bad!  Sure, the bad guys may be doing things that we don’t agree with, but they are necessary to the plot to get us to the happiness at the end!  Imagine A Christmas Carol without Scrooge!  Imagine It’s a Wonderful Life without Mr. Potter!  It feels better and more special when the good guys come out ahead….doesn’t it?

What characters are your favorites?  Who is missing from my list?