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Kicking Back With Jersey Joe: The Christmas Classics and the Books We’ll Never See Again

Remember when times were simpler?  When the names Rudolph, Scrooge, the Grinch, and even Jesus could put a smile on your face?  As a kid, they were all a part of Christmas and can be found in just about any bookstore this time of year.  But, sadly there are a couple books from my childhood that have gone out of print – never to return.  Let’s take a walk down the holiday literary road and look at some of my favorite Christmas stories from years past.


Definitely, one of my favorites.  I was even in a stage adapted version at the Pleasant Valley Golf Course in the late 90’s.  I’ve seen the animated Disney version with Scrooge McDuck a ton of times.  (Gee, wonder where his name came from?)

Charles Dickens, a popular novelist of the Victorian era, penned one of our earliest holiday classics.  Much of Dickens work had a theme of social reform or a lesson to be learned. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his greed at the expense of his friends and workers is still very valid in our capitalist society, today.  You could even compare Scrooge to a modern day Bernie Madoff, however Scrooge’s ending is much different than Madoff’s will be.

Three ghosts visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve seven years after the death of his business partner to show him the mistakes of his past, present, and future.  Scrooge learns from these lessons and abandons his life of greed in order to become a better person.

Dickens began work on A Christmas Carol in October 1843 and finished the book in six weeks.  It was released on December 19th after some delay with Dickens disagreeing with the publisher on how he would receive payment for his work.  He expected to earn £1,000 from the release, but due to high production costs he earned only £230, a small sum by today’s standards. The book cost five shillings to purchase and was an immediate hit with the critics.

Click on the book to purchase your copy!


Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was created in 1939 by Robert May as an advertising campaign for the now defunct Montgomery Ward department store chain.  Oh how my family used to love this store. We would spend hours and hours browsing there (and making me try on slacks).

The story tells of a ninth reindeer who is able to guide Santa’s sleigh with his light-up nose during a blizzard to deliver the toys on time for Christmas.

May was under orders from his bosses at Ward to develop a story that the chain could give away at little cost during the holidays.  In the years leading up to the release, the company would purchase books and stories as a giveaway promotion item.  Now they had their own story and a major hit on their hands.

The story became so popular, it was quickly turned into a stop motion cartoon (that just aired this past Tuesday) and was immortalized in song by Gene Autry in 1949 (although it was actually recorded by New York crooner Harry Brannon a year earlier). This story and its success is an example of great marketing that hasn’t been repeated in a long time.  In the days of cutbacks and money tightening, I challenge our current stores and advertisers to come up with another classic.  Olive, the Other Reindeer from the 90’s wasn’t it.


I would get so excited just hearing the promo for this when I was young.  I can recite many of the lines from the show by memory.  “All the noise, noise, noise!”  To me, this is one of the best Christmas stories out there.  The tale is fairly brief and the cartoon is a mere 30 minutes.

Written by Dr. Seuss, The Grinch was first published in 1957 both in book form and also inside the Christmas issue of Redbook magazine.  The Grinch is a bitter, angry creature who lives on the mountain above Whoville.  Angry and tiring of Christmas, the Grinch sneaks into town and steals all their  decorations and presents.  To his dismay, he may have stolen their goods, but not their spirit.  After seeing this, the Grinch has a change of heart, returns the gifts, and learns a valuable life lesson about becoming a better person.

The entire book, as with most of Dr. Seuss’ work, is written in rhyme.  The television adaptation is presented in the same manner.  Boris Karloff’s narration and the soundtrack have become a holiday staple.  For most of its television life, the special has been broadcast on CBS.

I was absolutely excited when it was announced that the Grinch would be heading to the movie screen starring Jim Carrey.  He seemed the perfect match to play the part.  It also made for a great date movie the weekend it opened.  I remember freezing outside the old Richland Mall Cinemas for the 7pm show.

The story was still the same, but parts of the movie lacked the quality of both the book and cartoon versions.  More liberties were taken to make the Grinch character funnier, even having his live action dog ham it up a bit.  To me, they were aiming at younger audience who didn’t really seem to be laughing, either.  At times, Carrey seemed over the top and the comedy misplaced.  The cartoon and book were funny, but with more of a purpose and not for slapstick or dumb laughs.

Click on the pic to purchase the book!


Before Scrooge, this was the biggest story of the season and still is.  When I think of the birth of Jesus, I can still see my grandmother’s antique manger from Italy that we still place under our tree each year.

The birth of Jesus is presented in both the books of Matthew and Luke in the Holy Bible.  The story details how his parents traveled to Jerusalem, but with no rooms available at the inn, his mother Mary is forced to give birth in a manger next door.  Could you imagine what would happen if this occurred today?  Say a Motel Six turns away a pregnant woman giving birth and she has to deliver in a barn next door?  The newspapers and lawyers would be all over this!   Fortunately, this story takes place in a simpler time on our planet where not everyone was out to make a buck.

This is one of the first stories that Sunday School kids learn and they are also taught that Jesus, not Santa is the reason for the season.

Yes, these stories bring back some great childhood memories for me.  I hope they also remind you of the days when you couldn’t wait for Christmas morn.  (Now, it’s that same feeling you get when you have a big income tax return check!)  Some of these stories have been passed down in print for generations.  Most have been adapted over and over in various forms.  Some keeping the classic theme, others blowing it completely.


But, there are two big books that are a part of my childhood that are now, nothing more than a memory.  Out of print, gone forever, they are something kids today will never experience and never understand.

Towards the fall, I would begin to watch our mailbox more and more closely.  I wasn’t eagerly waiting for Christmas cards, but I was waiting for both the Sears Christmas Wish Book and the JCPenney Holiday Catalog.

Remember those things?  They were huge!  Hundreds of pages that put the size of the Manhattan white pages to shame.  I think the Sears Christmas Wish Book would arrive first, but they both pretty much came in late August.  So many toys, in full color, on page after page.  I would take each and sit for hours staring and making a list, hoping that Santa would bring me gifts that I most likely was never going to see.

Every year, I would always ask for a US-1 race track.  (Now, that I live by the real life US-1, I’m glad I never got it.  If you drive the road in North Jersey, you’ll know what I mean).  The closest I ever got were a few knock-off Tyco race tracks that usually ended up in pieces in a box at the bottom of my closet by March.

Next, it was time to flip through the JCPenny Christmas catalog.  I always had a bit more of a chance here, since my mother often bought clothes from them.  I might even talk her into putting some holiday items on layaway.  Again, hundreds of pages of just about every kind of toy you could imagine!

I would also glance at the Montgomery Ward’s catalog as well, but it was never as complete as the other two.  We would never purchase items from a store that wasn’t in our area, so if it couldn’t be taken back, it wasn’t an option to buy.  I know I missed out on the great deals that Macy’s and Gimbles’ had, but sadly they weren’t local.

Growing up in the country, we didn’t have large toy stores to shop in.  Sure, we had a Circus World and a Kay-Bee Toys in our small mall, but the nearest Toys ‘R Us was hours away.  The internet was just a vision, so the catalogs are really all us kids had.

Thanks to the computer and Cyber Monday, these days are now just a memory.  Pity, before the days of point and click what you want you had to rely on a catalog.

The original Sears Holiday Wishbook ended production in 1993.  They produced a small flyer for a time that was available at the auto center and with online purchases.  A new 100 page version reappeared since 2007, but again is not the original.  They also have a virtual edition on their site that you can flip through on  As a real sign of how times have changed, my grandmother told me when she was a kid; they would use this catalog as toilet paper in the outhouse!

The standard Penny’s catalog ended production in 2009 as the company switched to more online advertising and smaller, more targeted flyers.  They still have a Christmas edition, but it’s not the big book of the past.

Next week, I’ll look at yet another holiday tradition that has disappeared as well, thanks to technology.

THE 411

What: The Sears Holiday Wishbook and the JC Penney catalog

Ended Production: Sears 1993, JC Penney 2009.

The other four books from various publishers.

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: is a site dedicated to displaying the original versions page for page of the Sears Wishbook.  It’s a cool look back at the past … and check out some of the crazy prices and products for sale!