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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

This month's digest celebrates the sparkle of the season, Smithsonian Associates style. We've filled our digital gift bag with items that spotlight the most iconic of holiday films, the author who defined what a Dickensian Christmas is all about, and some beloved stories. (We've also tucked in a glorious collection of carols for your enjoyment.) Looking ahead to other seasons, preview the return of Smithsonian Summer Camp, and get tips from a top travel professional on the best ways to hit the road in 2022. Cheers!

It's Still Wonderful

The tale of how It's a Wonderful Life became a beloved classic film is as intriguing-and surprising-as George Bailey's extraordinary Christmas adventure in Bedford Falls. When the film was released in 1946, it was a box-office flop, won no Academy Awards, and was largely forgotten until it was rediscovered through endless airings on local TV stations beginning in the 1970s and on annual Christmas Eve broadcasts on NBC starting in 1992.

In a Monday, December 20 Smithsonian Associates Streaming program, Brian Rose, a professor emeritus at Fordham University, examines the fascinating backstory story of It's a Wonderful Life, looking at the challenges of how it was made, its surprisingly dark portrait of small-town life, and how it became the ultimate portrayal of holiday goodwill and cheer. (And if you need a conversation starter at a seasonal party, why not share a little-known fact: It's a Wonderful Life revolutionized how Hollywood created fake snow on film.)

Rose offers more insights into film history as he traces the brief but glorious golden age of Hollywood on Thursday, January 13 and examines how the star system shaped the industry from Mary Pickford to Mary Streep on Monday, March 7.

Learn More about It's a Wonderful Life

Unwrapping Dickens

Dickens's Dream (detail), by Robert William Buss, 1875

One book forever linked Charles Dickens to the holiday season. But his career-long collection of cherished novels in addition to A Christmas Carol made their author a sensation in the Victorian era-and an enduring storyteller whose works still captivate readers. Join author and humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson on Thursday, January 27 for a Smithsonian Associates Streaming discussion of three Dickens novels: Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and Nicholas Nickleby. In a program that includes clips from superb film adaptations of these novels, Jenkinson offers a serious but playful look at Dickens as he explores the fabulous and fantastic imagination of a timeless author.

Dive Into Dickens

Once Upon Time...

Brittany Warman and Sara Cleto

Does the holiday season bring thoughts of a cherished book you received when you were younger? Chances are that it might have been a volume of fairy tales. Though we connect the most famous fairy-tale collectors and writers with the Europe of hundreds of years ago, these stories can be found all over the world, including the United States. In a Tuesday, March 1 Smithsonian Associates Streaming program, folklorists Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman examine American fairy-tale traditions and stories including the Jack Tales of Appalachia, Black folk and fairy tales from the South, and the rise of the Disney fairy-tale empire. They also introduce some lesser-known fairy tales unfolding today and offer insights into how these supposedly "frivolous" stories profoundly permeate American culture and stay with us ever after.

Perhaps the beloved story The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats carries warm memories. The illustrated book quietly broke a color barrier when it was published in 1962: Its young hero Peter was the first non-caricatured Black protagonist to appear in a major title for children. The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation has produced a new documentary, Tell Me Another Story, that presents a lively portrait of the giants, past and present, who have advanced diversity in picture books over the past 100 years. The 30-minute film, which also examines the importance of multicultural literature for today's children, highlights creators from W.E.B. Du Bois, Augusta Baker, Pura Belpré, and Ezra Jack Keats to Pat Cummings, Marley Dias, Grace Lin, Christopher Myers, and Andrea Davis Pinkney. The documentary is available for free viewing on YouTube.

Register for the Program

A Gift of Music

Here's a digital stocking stuffer from all of us at Smithsonian Associates, a collection of Christmas carols recorded by the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society under the direction of Kenneth Slowik. Released in 1990, Sweet Was the Song gathers 22 traditional songs in period arrangements and features Dutch baritone Max van Egmond. We hope it adds some extra beauty to your holiday season.

Listen to the Recording

Summer Camp Is Back!

The Smithsonian's world is an incredibly wide and exciting one. And for curious and adventurous kids, there's no better place to be than right in the middle of it with Smithsonian Summer Camp. Whether on the National Mall or virtually from your home or vacation getaway, camps offer 1st through 9th graders one-of-a-kind opportunities to connect with the Smithsonian's museums and research-and meet the people behind it all. A diverse, creative, and experienced team of instructors have designed age-appropriate content that animates the Smithsonian, its history, and its collections. Through visits to museums, talking to experts, and creating projects and artworks, campers explore Smithsonian-focused themes including the natural world, space, art, design, history, world cultures, and so much more.

Registration opens in mid-February, but beginning Friday, December 17 you can view the complete listings of in-person and virtual camps, create or update your account, and sign up for e-mail alerts on camp updates. And remember, a gift certificate for a sure-to-be memorable Smithsonian summer experience will brighten the holidays for any young person in your life.

Preview 2022 Summer Camps

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