Christmas was great when I was a New Jersey kid of seven, eight and nine. Almost everything felt magical or tingly or transporting on some level. Mostly the aromas — the pine needles, oven-fresh turkey, hot gravy over mashed potatoes, warm pumpkin pie — but also the tree decorations, the store lights at night, the wrapped gifts, the chilly air, listening to Dylan Thomas‘s recording of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and watching Alistair Sims‘ A Christmas Carol, and those occasional visits to Manhattan with my mom (department stores, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall).
But the warmest flow-through Christmas vibes I’ve ever felt, topping even those of my impressionable years, happened at a post-Thanksgiving holiday party at Robert Towne‘s large Pacific Palisades home in late November of 1997. Yeah, I know — I mentioned this in a piece I ran after Curtis Hanson passed a couple of years ago. But what a night, what a fine English Tudor vibe on a grand holiday evening in which all the elements were in place.
The gathering was just the right size and full of people who mattered a great deal at that moment (Hanson, Jerry Bruckheimer, Phillip Noyce) and the aromas…my God! The place smelled like cinnamon and mistletoe and cigar smoke and turkey gravy and egg nog, and Towne and his wife Luisa had hired three professional singers to roam around and sing Christmas carols and I mean in perfect harmony, all dressed in top hats, shawls, bonnets, gloves and hoop skirts…classic Dickensian garb.
It was glorious. I remember coming down the big staircase and looking at this choice industry crowd having such a great time and saying to myself “everyone should experience this kind of perfect Christmas gathering at least once in their lifetimes.”
Because even the most poignant Christmas get-togethers with my own family weren’t this heartwarming, this extra-perfect. It was even better than a holiday feeling that filled my heart when I was in London in early December of ’80, when I was walking around and sensing how lucky I was to be in the Stockwell section at that particular moment. It was hardly a flush area of town but it felt exactly right as I settled into a quiet neighborhood pub and ordered a lager as I listened to “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” on the juke box.