The Christmas Eve Party

As I’m writing this, it’s 6:52 AM on Christmas Eve. I’ve got some spreading of Christmas cheer to do later this morning as I’m going to visit Dad, drop off a homemade cobbler to my brother, spend some time with Mom at the nursing home, make a stop at a store for a last-minute item, and drop in on a few friends for a few minutes along the way.

Running around on Christmas Eve is nothing new for me. When I was younger, I would tag along with my dad as he made his usual rounds on that day. He owned his own business, and back then, it seemed like all of his friends owned and operated their own businesses too. And since these were small businessmen, they were generally open on Christmas Eve as their livelihood depended on working as many days a year as possible.

But Dad would go around and visit each of them on Christmas Eve. I remember stopping by Popsicle Sweat’s used car lot, Billy Wayne’s auto part store, going to see Grey Preston at the local bank, stopping by Estel Venable’s gas station, and dropping in at the fire department, the rescue squad, and the police station as well. Some of my favorite memories of Christmas are these yearly trips around time spreading cheer.

Once all of that is done, it’s time to put the finishing touches on things for tonight’s Christmas party. We’ve got some family and friends coming over for what should be a very enjoyable evening/night. This too reminds me of one of my favorite parts of Christmas growing up…the family parties on Christmas Eve.

Growing up I had huge families on both my Mom’s side and my Dad’s. My Mom was one of eight children, and each of those 8 had a couple of kids. My Dad was one of fourteen! And each of those had multiple kids as well. I had tons of cousins and would see various ones of them throughout the year, but the family get-together on Christmas Eve meant that ALL of us would be together at one time. We ranged in ages from 7-17, so there wasn’t a huge disparity there.

On Christmas Eve, we would start by visiting my Mom’s family. It was always a simple dinner menu of Ham, some veggies, mac and cheese, and a plethora of desserts. The folks would sit around in the kitchen while all of us kids would be in the living room. We’d hoop and holler and go through the presents under the tree, waiting for one of the adults to come in and play Santa Claus. Usually, it was my Uncle Ernest who had a booming voice and was quite intimidating. He would walk in and get real loud, telling us all to get away from the tree or he wouldn’t be handing out anything. He’d then torture us by going through and finding all of the adult presents first and having us run them to the various recipients. He’d finally get through with that and move on to us kids.

With both families, there were so many kids that we drew names. You could count on getting one present from whoever got your name, and a little something from the grandparents as well, which was usually a shirt of some kind. Before we would leave for the other party we had to go to, my Uncle Jack would go out on the front porch and start lighting off Jumping Jack fireworks, and that always got all the kids in an uproar. That is a tradition I need to implement in my own family’s Christmas. I remember how much fun that used to be running from the unpredictable fireworks.

Then we would head over to my Dad’s parents for their party. You could always count on plenty of finger foods and desserts there like sausage balls, cocktail wieners, ham biscuits, cakes, pies, and homemade candies. We would draw names there too and that meant a couple of more presents before heading home. A few of the presents I got in those years stick out in my mind, so I must have enjoyed them quite a bit. I remember getting the G.I. Joe S.L.A.M. Tank, a Three Stooges VHS Tape, and a Popeye VHS tape at various times.

As time marched on and I got married, my wife and I settled into the tradition of going to her family’s Christmas Eve party. I’d sit and watch my kids running around with their cousins just like I used to do. And even though I seemed to hate it as a kid, I emulated my uncle Ernest. I’d go in the living room and tell the kids to quiet down and start picking out presents for the adults and have the kids deliver them before they get any of their presents. Life had come full circle.

Over the last five years though, her family has suffered many losses. Several of the older generation of the family have passed on, some of the younger generation have grown up and moved away, and the family Christmas party has shrunk quite a bit. My wife’s aunt hosted the family party for a couple of decades but these days don’t quite have the energy she once did, so she gave it up last year. At that point, my wife and I stepped in. We hosted a small gathering last year, and this year we’re hosting our first full-fledged family Christmas party.

This suits me just fine because now that my daughters are mostly grown, I expect they’ll be leaving home any year now, and I want to have this family Christmas Eve party tradition established with the hopes they’ll return each year with their families, thus carrying on the tradition I’ve known all my life.

Things are mostly set for a big night tonight, minus a few last-minute details I need to attend to. I hope that with all I’ve learned from the Christmas Eve parties of my past, I can create an atmosphere of holiday cheer and fun that the little ones at the party will be writing about thirty to forty years from now like I am this morning. Or at least have memories they fondly look back on one day. I guess that’s all one could ask for.

Folgers Coffee “Peter Comes Home For Christmas” Commercial

This commercial really got to me as a kid.  It probably had something to do with the fact that my old man traveled a lot, and there were times he would come in early in the morning like this.  Never at Christmas though.  He was always in town for that.  But whatever the reason, this commercial has continued to resonate with me for all these years since I first saw it air. 

I think it embodies the spirit of Christmas in the form I like to think of it.  Families being together, and enjoying simple things in life like a fresh cup of coffee is endearing to me.  I actually keep this commercial on my Christmas playlist on YouTube to make sure I see it every season. It very well might be my all-time favorite commercial.

The commercial debuted in 1985 and played during the Christmas season for two decades. Folger’s updated the commercial with a newer version in 2009.

McDonald’s Christmas Treats from 1988

For the Christmas season of 1988, McDonald’s was offering up not one, not two, but THREE limited-time offerings for the Christmas season.

There was the 9-piece or 20-piece Holiday McNuggets, which featured a limited-time orange sauce for dipping and came in a festive “gift” box inspired by the season.

There was also the frosty Eggnog Milkshake and the rarely seen Peppermint Sundae.

As much as my mom and I would go to McDonalds, I have zero memory of ever getting to try any of these fantastic-looking treats. Back in those days, the thought of egg nog grossed me out so I wasn’t missing anything there, and I’ve always been a die-hard caramel sundae man so I may not have given the peppermint one a try. But those nuggets with the orange sound amazing, and I’m very disappointed that I never got to try them.

1989 WWF Survivor Series Program

Since 1987, the WWF’s Survivor Series has been a Thanksgiving tradition. For a few years, it took place on Thanksgiving night, then moved to Thanksgiving Eve for a while. After that, it bounced around to a Sunday night that was close to Thanksgiving.

But the yearly event has always been a highlight of the wrestling year with its unique concept where teams of four “strive to survive” in elimination tag team matches. The 1989 edition featured five of these matches filled with the biggest superstars of the day.

In this time capsule, look back at the big event through the pages of its official program, and try to remember what the anticipation was for big wrestling events like this.

Willow Magic Cups From Wendy’s

Willow was a movie that captured my imagination in a big way back in 1988. When I first saw the trailer for the movie, I was excited as hell. Not even really knowing the whole plotline didn’t stop me from acting out adventures based on it before it even hit theaters. But that excitement was tempered by the fact that I knew the chances of going to the theater to see it were slim and none, and I could practically go ahead and strike slim from the options.

Usually, when I would get pumped up for a movie that I wasn’t going to get to actually see in the theater, I was comforted by the fact that there would be movie tie-in merchandise to enjoy. But when it came to Willow, I hadn’t seen a thing that was due to come out. That was until I saw a commercial advertising Willow-themed kid’s meals at Wendy’s. The box art featured in the commercial piqued my interest but the show stealer was the Magic Cups that you could get there.

I knew I wanted them when I first saw them. Mainly because they were for Willow, but also because of their “magic” ability. The cups had a base scene printed on them, but the rest of the scene became filled in when cold liquid was added to the cup. That was a cool feature at the time, and certainly was deserving of the moniker “magic cup”.

While I may have never been able to convince my parents to go to the movies with any kind of regularity, talking them into going to Wendy’s was pretty easy since it was a favorite for both of them. So on the next trip there, I got my Willow Kids meal and my first and only Magic Cup.

I never really cared much for cups that were offered by fast food places, but these Willow Magic Cups were one of the exceptions. I only managed to get one of them while they were available, but I held onto it for years. In fact, I held on to it so long and used it so much that most of the paint wore off of it. Once the paint was gone, so was the “magic”, but the memories remain.

Here is a photo I found online of the cup that I had:

The Evil Horde Fright Zone

The Evil Horde Fright Zone playset was released in 1985 for the Masters of the Universe toy line. It featured a caged cell, a dead tree that could capture action figures and a “snake” that could drag off unsuspecting foes. It wasn’t the largest playset the MOTU line had to offer, but it was a great companion piece to Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain.

I was still very deep into all things Masters of the Universe in 1985, and already had Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain. But the Fright Zone eluded me for some reason. Maybe my parents were suffering burnout from all of the MOTU stuff in the house or me running around yelling “I Have the Power!”. Whatever the reason, I never ended up with this.

While a lot of fans my age would rather have had the Slime Pit, the Fright Zone was where it was at for me. Maybe it was the Halloween vibe it puts off or the way it feels like an outpost in some far-off corner of Eternia, but either way, I wanted it then, and I wouldn’t say no to it now.

October 28th, 1989

You know how there are just certain days from your past that you remember more than others? Well October 28th, 1989 is one of those days for me. It was a Saturday, which meant cartoons in the morning, but it was what went on that night that made it memorable. Let me tell you about it.

I’ve talked about the yearly Harvest Festival we had every year at my elementary school. Well, in 1989, the Harvest Festival fell on Saturday night, October 28th. So all day long I was eager with anticipation of that night’s event. It was also the night of WCW’s first Halloween Havoc pay-per-view event, which admittedly, put me in a disadvantageous position of possibly having to choose one or the other to enjoy that evening. So my morning hours were wracked with nervous feelings. Not enough that I couldn’t enjoy my usual Saturday morning cartoons, but it still played on my mind throughout the day. Normally, I can make my mind up quickly about things, but this was different. This particular day offered a very hard decision to make.

But as the cartoons ended and the afternoon started to roll around, my Dad made an offer. Since he would be going to the Harvest Festival with us so he could play bingo, he wouldn’t be there to watch TV. He suggested that we set the timer on the VCR and record Halloween Havoc while we were out! Now keep in mind, this was still the era before we had one of the cable black boxes that allowed us to get all of the PPV shows at no additional charge. At that time, I was allowed to order every other wrestling PPV, and this was the show. I skipped WWF’s Summerslam that year because I had gotten The Great American Bash in July. So we got the PPV ordered and the time set so I wouldn’t have to miss Halloween Havoc after all. With that set, I could turn my attention to the Harvest Festival.

So I spent the afternoon playing with Construx toys while I counted down the time left before time to go to the Harvest Festival. You know how I know I was playing with Construx? Because I was already trying to build what my interpretation was of the Thunderdome cage that was to be featured in the main event of the wrestling show that night. As it turned out, I wasn’t that far off.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I really can’t remember my Halloween costumes from through the years. While that is true, I actually do remember my costume from 1989. I went as a convict. It wasn’t the most creative idea, but at least I had a costume. Time was getting close, so I got the costume on, but I still had a little time before we would be leaving.

It was in that short amount of time that I watched the only episode of the TV show “She’s the Sheriff” that I would ever watch. Since She’s the Sheriff was a syndicated show, and since it had already ended its first run, I probably had to have been watching it on my local Fox affiliate. I can’t tell you what episode it was that I saw that day, and since there are no full episodes on Youtube for me to embed, you’ll just have to make do with a video of the opening credits for the show.

So we finally got to the Harvest Festival and my first order of business was to take my Mom to the showcase and show it off to her. Our school had a big showcase display right across from the office in the main hub of the school. Back then, the top three classes at school all had a part of the Harvest Festival to handle. The 7th graders got to put on the yearly haunted house, the 6th graders were in charge of The Disco, or The Batcave as it was called in 1989, and we 5th graders had to put together the showcase. The theme for that year was antiques, and my Mom had donated her grandmother’s kitchen knife to be put on display with the other relics. The showcase wasn’t really anything special, but since we worked on it, I had to show it off.

Once I got tickets to the games in the gym, it was time to say bye to the folks and go run with my friends for the night while all the parents went to the cafeteria to play bingo. I used to think that would be so boring until I had kids of my own, and then it turned out that the bingo was the highlight of my night when taking my kids to these things.

My friends and I ran around and played games, toured the haunted house, and made several trips to The Bat Cave. Not to dance mind you, but to hear the music and hang out in the darkened room. No self-respecting 5th-grade boy could be seen dancing awkwardly in front of the girls.

But even as I was having all of this fun, my mind kept drifting back to home and the hard-hitting NWA action I was missing out on. The Festival was starting to wind down so I made my trip to the “general store” to buy some old-fashioned candy and got ready to go home to see how things were turning out in the wrestling battles.

The flaw in my plan was realized when we got home and the show was still going. So not wanting to get spoiled on anything prematurely, I waited until it was over, rewound the tape, and started the show!

I had been highly anticipating the Halloween Havoc show because the NWA had done such an amazing job building up not only the rivalries but the theme of the show itself. It had a Halloween setting and had an advertised main event of a Thunderdome cage match pitting Ric Flair and Sting against Terry Funk and The Great Muta. The promotion for the cage itself was fantastic as they boasted it would be the largest cage in history and would be electrified to make sure the competitors stayed inside.

But not only was the main event something I was really looking forward to but there were also several other key matches that night as well. The first meeting between The Road Warriors and The Skyscrapers was dubbed as The irresistible force meeting the immovable object, The Steiner Brothers taking on the mysterious tag-team only known as Doom, Lex Luger meeting Brian Pillman, and other matches.

It was hard staying awake that night to take it all in, but I fought my way through it, and watching that show capped off a great night in my young life.

After all of these years, it’s funny to think back about how a school event and a wrestling show could make such a lasting impression on me. But I think it has more to do with the current state of life we find ourselves in. So much responsibility with jobs, families, and the like, that sometimes our hearts ache to just go back, even if just for a little bit. And that’s what Retro Ramblings is for me. It’s my chance to go back, even if just briefly, to a simpler time. Thanks for taking a minute to make the trip with me.

And just for the record, here’s my ratings for the Halloween Havoc ’89 matches from that night:

  • Tom Zenk vs. Mike Rotunda – 2 stars
  • The Samoan Swat Team vs. The Midnight Express & Steve Williams – 3.5 stars
  • Tommy Rich vs. The Cuban Assassin – 1/2 a star
  • The Fabulous Freebirds vs. The Dynamic Dudes – 3.5 stars for the crowd atmosphere
  • The Steiner Brothers vs. Doom – 3 stars for the mystery
  • Lex Luger vs Brian Pillman – 4 stars
  • The Road Warriors vs. The Skyscrapers – 3 stars for the spectacle
  • Rick Flair & Sting vs. Terry Funk & Muta Thunderdome Cage Match – 4.5 stars for the whole experience

MTV Headbanger’s Ball Halloween Special from 1989

In case you’re staying in on this Halloween night like I am, you may want something to keep you entertained between visits from modern kids looking for free candy. And since you’re here at Retro Ramblings, then you must enjoy the finer things in life like stuff from the ’80s and ’90s. Well, I’ve got you covered on both fronts with this Watch & Listen feature.

It’s the 1989 MTV Headbanger’s Halloween special with Alice Cooper hosting! Not only is he presenting some of the spookier music videos and hosting segments in between, but this video also has all of the glorious 1989 commercials still intact as well. So feel free to make this your Halloween night entertainment, and take a little trip back in time while you do it. Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

The Yearly Harvest Festival at School

With fall most certainly in the air these days, and Halloween not too far away now, I thought this edition of Retro Ramblings would be a good time to talk about what used to be one of the highlights of my year…the annual Harvest Festival at my elementary school!


I’m using the term fall festival so more of you will know what I’m referring to.  But when I was in elementary school, ours was called the Harvest Festival.  Living in a farming community in the heart of the Appalachians, harvest time has always been a big deal to the people around here.  A good harvest was always a reason to celebrate, as the livelihood of most in this area depended on it.  The way nature works, the end of the harvest season lines up nicely with the Halloween season.  Thus, we had a Harvest Festival at school instead of calling it a Fall Festival, a Monster Mash, or other names I’ve heard these events referred to.

So you’ve probably been to one of these things.  The kids dress up, there are games and events, the parents wander around and congregate, and a good time is usually had by all.  Ours was always held at our elementary school and was the biggest event on the school calendar with the exception of the end-of-year banquet and graduation ceremonies.

The gymnasium was filled with cheesy carnival-type games where you could win prizes.  You know the kinds of games I’m talking about.  Like the kiddie pool filled with plastic ducks, and on the bottoms of a few of the ducks was some kind of indicator of a better prize than normal.  Everyone got something like a piece of candy or a spider ring just for playing, but if you pulled one of the special ducks, you may win something like a stuffed animal or the like.  So games like this littered the entire gym floor.  You had to buy tickets on your way in to use to play the games, and the money made from the sale of tickets was used for things around the school.

Our gym was connected to the lunchroom by a set of double doors, so it was easy to bounce back and forth between the two places.  The cafeteria was where the parents generally stayed.  There were concessions like hot dogs and pizza, and there was bingo all night.  And the bingo prizes were top-notch.  A lot of the businesses in town would donate really nice stuff to be given away, and this was another opportunity for the school to raise money.  I can’t even begin to remember what the bingo cost, but it wasn’t cheap.  But the price was small in comparison to how you would be helping the school, and the prizes you had a shot at winning.  I’m talking about stuff like brand new televisions, rocking chairs, a date night package with dinner at the restaurant and tickets to the theater….stuff like that.

We also had a haunted house as part of the event.  The 7th-grade class was always responsible for putting it on, and they would spend all week setting it up, and then they would dress up and be a part of the haunted house.  It was never too scary of an affair, but they tried.  We also had a dance room that some years was called The Disco, and other years was known as The Batcave.  But you could go there, the lights were turned out and black lights were in use, and there was a DJ spinning the hottest tunes of the time.  You and your friends…or your boyfriend/girlfriend could kill time together.

The whole event was great, and it was so much fun getting to run free and hang out with my friends in that environment for several hours on a Saturday night.  It was also cool that since it was usually the week before Halloween, everyone would dress up in their costumes to come. 

When I find myself drifting back to memories of elementary school, the yearly harvest festival is almost always the first thing that comes to mind.  But what about you?  Did you have anything like this when you were growing up? Share your stories in the comments section below.

Tom & Jerry’s TBS Funhouse Halloween Special

Looking back through all of my years on this earth, my absolute favorite bit of Halloween viewing was Tom & Jerry’s TBS Funhouse Halloween Special. It debuted in 1987 (before I had access to cable) and was repeated every Halloween season for a few years after.

Back in the late ’80s, Ted Turner and TBS launched Tom & Jerry’s TBS Funhouse.  It was an hour-and-a-half cartoon block every morning and afternoon where they combined Tom & Jerry shorts with Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, shorts from the Droopy library, and Popeye cartoons.  It was a really fun block with great variety.  During the holiday seasons, they kicked it up a notch and put together specials for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

These specials would usually air several times in the weeks leading up to the holiday, and they selected appropriate shorts to fit the theme.  Mixed in with the cartoon shorts were live-action bumpers filmed with Josh Jarboe and Audra Lee of the TBS show, Kid’s Beat.  They would dress up and tell jokes or give history about the holiday featured in the special.

In 1987, we got the first Halloween Special.  I didn’t have cable at the time, but my grandparents did, and rarely did they ever change the dial from TBS.  So when I was there visiting, I was treated to NWA Wrestling, episodes of Andy Griffith, and Tom and Jerry’s Funhouse.  I was lucky enough to be there one time and catch a commercial for the coming Halloween Special.  I got pretty excited about it, and my Mom actually took me back to their house when the special was on so I could watch it.

I remember being ecstatic about it, and really enjoying it, as it was a special filled with just Halloween shorts.  A year later when we had cable at our house, I was super excited when I saw a commercial on TBS advertising the special once again for the 1988 Halloween season!  I couldn’t believe it.  I was going to get to watch it again.  Not only did I watch it again that year, but I watched it every year it was on going forward.

I wish kids today had the opportunity to experience the anticipation of events like this.  Something that you just can’t get instantly, and that you have to wait for.  Things that are special for, and unique to the season.  There is just a certain feeling that can only be achieved by waiting for it, and old specials like this are one of those things.

Unfortunately for most people, 1992 was the last year they were able to view the special.  But all of you reading this aren’t “most” people. You’re part of the select few who can still view the original special in all its glory, as it’s been uploaded in its entirety to Archive.org! So I’m going to quit rambling on about it and post the video for you to watch if you like. I highly suggest you do so during this Halloween season.

Hot’n Devilish Chex Snack Mix Recipe from 1988

Here is another old recipe for you to try out at home in the modern age. I looked over the list of ingredients, and everything you need is still on the market today. This twist on the traditional snack mix looks really good, and should fit the Halloween season really well. I’ll be making a batch of this for Halloween night as my snack of choice while enjoying that night’s TV viewing. If you make this, drop a line in the comments with how it turned out.

1984 McDonaldland Fun Times Magazine Halloween Edition

It’s been a little while since I added any new scans to the archives, so what better way to make up for that than by posting a Halloween-related scan. There’s already a McDonaldland Fun Times magazine scan in the archives, but it’s from 1990 and wasn’t tied to a holiday or anything. But this one, oh my, this one is a Halloween-themed one and from the mid-80s, so it may be more in some of your wheelhouses. I hope you enjoy it.

Continue reading