Originally published in The Huffington Post in 2008

There is a great American holiday tradition that flies under the radar annually. It’s not only funny, but heartwarming and wildly entertaining.

Every December 23rd, or the last weeknight before Christmas Eve, Late Night with David Letterman celebrates the holiday season with a special show that is not advertised or hyped. This show feels like a secret Xmas gift from Dave and the gang to me. I love this show as much as anything I’ve ever watched on TV.

While the longstanding traditions of the show don’t sound like much in isolation, taken together they make one of the most rewarding hours of television each year.

After the monologue and usual opening bits, the festivities begin in earnest when Dave pleads with Paul Shaffer to do his impression of Cher singing, “Oh, Holy Night,” just like she did on a Sonny and Cher Christmas Special, featuring guest star William Conrad, more than thirty years ago.

The impression is as absurd as the hilarious details setting up the historic musical recreation. Dave laughs with the joy known to lifelong buddies who can cause each other to burst into hysterics with the motion an eyebrow or the mention of one word.


1999 Performance


1983-1992 Compilation


The original

Next, actor/comedian/radio host/raconteur, Jay Thomas comes out to fulfill two sacred holiday traditions.

1) Jay Thomas tells the story of being a young long-haired “herbed-up” North Carolina DJ working a promotion at a car dealership and the ensuing car accident involving the Lone Ranger. The story gets better every year with each retelling. Once again you share Dave’s glee.


The first time Jay Thomas told the legendary story in 1998.


The final time Jay told the Lone Ranger Story


A couple more classic retellings for good measure

Jay told the story every year for decades. In 2012, Jay could not make the show. So in a surreal twist, John McEnroe stepped in to tell the story in his place.

In 2011, the story included “video of the original event.”

2) Following the retelling of the Christmas tale, Jay joins Dave in a challenge of throwing a football to try and knock the meatball off the top of the Christmas Tree. It doesn’t matter why there is a meatball at the top of the Christmas tree, all you need to know is that in 1998 Dave had NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde as his guest. It was the night before Christmas (Eve) and Dave challenged Vinny to knock the meatball of the tree. After repeated failed attempts by both Dave and Vinny, Jay Thomas, waiting in the green room to come on the show ran out on the stage, grabbed a ball and triumphantly hits the meatball with his first shot. Henceforth, a holiday miracle gets repeated each year.

Rest-in-Peace Jay Thomas (1948-2017)

Each year, the telecast ends with Darlene Love and a large ensemble singing Christmas (Baby Won’t You Please Come Home). Love brings down the house with the song from the classic album, A Christmas Gift to You from Phil Specter. Each year, Paul and Dave argue that this is the greatest Xmas song ever. They may just be right.

Every performance from 1986-2014. It starts during the 1998 performance when Cissy Houston, Roberta Flack, and Phoebe Snow sang backup vocals.

The final appearance in 2014

My gift to you is a reminder to set your TIVO, DVR or VCR for CBS at 11:35 PM on December 23, 2008.

Have a safe, happy, healthy and musical holiday filled with joy!


Sadly, The Late Show with David Letterman is no longer on the air. So, the annual celebration I write about above is no longer broadcast on television. As a consolation prize, here are two long lost Letterman Xmas classics in their entirety.

Jay Thomas attempts to knock the meatball off the Xmas tree

Wake the kids and phone the neighbors!

The last Late Show with David Letterman before Christmas Eve is one of the great unheralded annual holiday traditions in the United States (and wherever Letterman appears on the tee-vee machine).

You owe it to yourself and family to watch this Thursday night (11:35 Eastern & Pacific) Or set the VCR/DVR/TIVO.

I wrote about why this event brings me so much joy a year ago in The Huffington Post.

Read The Most Festive Night of the Year! to learn why I cannot wait for this show year after year after year. The tradition began in 1998!


Other coverage of this most joyous event!

Jay Thomas prepares to re-create annual Christmas miracle on ‘The Late Show with David Letterman.” (From the Nola.com, 12/21/10)

This may be Darlene Love’s 25th annual Xmas performance on Letterman! (NY Daily News)


Jay Thomas interviewed for Philadelphia NBC morning news show about his 2010 return to tradition

Darlene Love on David Letterman – Xmas 1995 – A tradition born in 1986!

Your school could benefit from a bit of holiday retail therapy

I often tell education audiences that there was a week, maybe ten days, in 1987 when your school had better technology than kids have in their bedrooms or backpacks. That was a historical accident that will never happen again. Wise educators not only leverage the talent, knowledge and expertise of their students, but their stuff too. It is incumbent upon us to not only build upon what kids know and expect when they come to school, but kids also own technology that they may enhance the learning process.

The holiday season offers a chance for some educational stimulus if you’re a savvy shopper. Here’s how…

Let Santa bring the iPod
Some schools are building iPod Labs. iPod Labs! I have no problem with the iPod, I own at least eight of them and am on my fourth iPhone. However, I have serious problems with the notion of iPod labs. 1) Didn’t we litigate the issues of efficacy regarding computer labs twenty-five years ago? 2) iPod Labs? Really? Does this mean that kids lineup from shortest to tallest once a fortnight to go visit the school iPods because they would never see one otherwise?

Are they then taught how to use an iPod? Are there iPod tests? Do some kids get a “D” in iPod?

When did iPods become worthy of study?

If your school believes that iPods hold educational value, especially the those capable of shooting video and monitoring physical activity, quietly suggest to parents that they get their children one as a gift that will be welcomed by the curriculum. There is no reason for schools to fetishize the iPod or spend limited funds on what kids might already own. Besides, the iPod is the ultimate personal technology. Sharing one stinks.

Great 21st Century educators spend 30 minutes per month at Toys ‘R Us
This has two benefits. 1) You find great toys that may enhance learning; and 2) Educators gain a greater respect for the world in which their students live. Hit the toy store, read the weekend sale circulars and you may find all sorts of cool teaching aids available for a song. Past holiday seasons have led to sub-$50 digital microscopes like the Eyeclops, low-cost video projectors, programmable robots, inexpensive drawing tablet, Hot Wheels cars capable of measuring velocity and more.

Sales!
Holiday sales are an opportunity to stock up on batteries and extra LEGO. Robotics brings S.T.E.M. to life, but who wants to build an elevator without a building around it? Stores often offer buckets of LEGO bricks as a loss-leader. Batteries are often discounted too. Stock up!

Hit the red tag table
Last year’s sales duds may be just the thing you need to bring your classroom to life. That slightly sad puppet or Teddy bear may be just the actor you need for video productions. That $14 Blue Man Group Percussion Tubes set can help score a podcast or be played by a robot your kids invent. Art supplies and creepy failed action figures may be just what you’ve been looking for and at “such a price!”

Become an Amazon.com Associate
Why should kids write book reports when they can review books on Amazon.com and have their reviews actually help others? Alternatively, ask students to write reviews of their favorite books, place those recommendations on your class web site, blog or Wiki and if you become an Amazon.com Associate, up to 6% of all purchases may be earned to purchase books for your classroom library. This may motivate student reading and provides an authentic audience for their writing.

Treat Yourself or a Colleague to a Book or Two
I have assembled a large collection of books that should interest creative educators and parents for The Constructivist Consortium. Peruse the virtual bookstore and Amazon will deliver the books to you in just a few days.

I also created a list of required reading for those interested in “school reform” for The Huffington Post. This article includes fifteen or so classics on school improvement.

Use your imagination and start shopping!

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