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The best/worst Pa. holiday film no one talks about

Plus, the Pa. town that saved Christmas.

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Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.

December 23, 2022
Inside this edition: Bauble borough, holiday haters, tree trend, Kwanzaa clip, 2022 vision, kid-friendly, best? movie? ever?, and Happy Festivus to Dillsburg!  
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
Which Pennsylvania borough was dubbed "The Town That Saved Christmas" during a World War II-related shortage of holiday ornaments? 

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One thing worth sharing: Who hurt you, Pennsylvania? A survey by The Vacationer says Pennsylvanians are among the people most likely to dislike major holiday traditions, especially meals with friends or family, exchanging gifts, holiday parties, decorating, and baking cookies.

» One thing worth knowing: Speaking of traditions: The Pennsylvania Dutch may have popularized the U.S. Christmas tree, but Lancaster Farming reports they started out with very different trees

» One thing worth hearing: Kwanzaa starts the day after Christmas. The Philadelphia Citizen's Foodizen podcast has a guide to the Kwanzaa table and a rare Q&A with the founder of the pan-African holiday.

» One thing worth seeing: The Philadelphia Inquirer's stellar team of photojournalists was seemingly anywhere and everywhere in 2022.
Here's a look at the best images they produced.

» One thing worth doing: Be like Spud Marshall of Boalsburg and let the neighborhood kids design your next holiday lights display.

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A frame from the opening credits of "Trapped in Paradise" showing a closeup of a snowglobe and a miniature horse-drawn sleigh.
(Via Wikimedia Commons)

I was deep in my holiday movie binge earlier this month and approaching torpor when I came across a statistic that jolted my senses.

Cursory Google Trends research by CenturyLink had confirmed Home Alone 2: Lost in New York as Pennsylvania's favorite 90s holiday film.

While I prefer literally everything about the original, it could be worse: Wyoming went with Home Alone 3

Stepping outside of the 90s, just barely, more cursory Google Trends research identified (the possibly Marxist?National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation — another John Hughes joint — as the overall favorite.

But there's another holiday flick — one set in Pennsylvania, though not filmed here — that rarely if ever appears on any top ten lists. 

It's called Trapped in Paradise and some people, mostly me, think it's good. An unconventional masterpiece? No. Underrated? Yes. 

Of course not everyone agrees, and Joe Ramoni of Almost Cult Classics called it "one of the most [critically] reviled films of 1994."

Roger Ebert said it "should be preserved by the Library of Congress, as an example of creative desperation," but that could mean anything.

He added: "It plays like a documentary about a group of actors forced to perform in a screenplay that contains not one single laugh, or moment of wit, or flash of intelligence, or reason for being."

OK, that's slightly more definitive. 

Variety's review at the time was also not enthusiastic but did call it "an agreeable Middle American comedy" and "undoubtedly the first movie in which a horsedrawn sleigh is chased by a cop car on Christmas Eve."

According to IMDB, the cast even hated making it.

Now come the positives. 

Something of an anti-Hallmark plot, the movie has criminally inclined brothers played by Nicolas Cage, Dana Carvey, and Jon Lovitz robbing a Pennsylvania bank on Christmas Eve — their greatest obstacles being the weather and the irrepressible kindness of the locals.

Cage does his crazy eyes thing, Florence Stanley chews up the scenery with hoarse one-liner after hoarse one-liner, and then there's Richard Jenkins as the apoplectic FBI agent who's had it with everyone.

While I'll admit an armed robbery makes for unusual holiday film fodder, it's worth noting that National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation ends with an aggravated kidnapping, and Home Alone is just Die Hard for kids.

Trapped in Paradise, by comparison, is essentially a 111-minute tourism commercial that makes Pennsylvania look like Mayberry-lite. 

There is a real Paradise, Pennsylvania, in Lancaster County.

I've been there but found no communal embrace of this claim to cinematic fame like one would in Erie or Indiana County.

If there's any sign of the movie (slowly) approaching cult classic status, it's this: The promotional materials now go for big money online. 

And while there are other Pennsylvania holiday movies — some actually made here — only one has Nick Cage and a horsedrawn police chase.

If you've seen Trapped in Paradise or get a chance to, let me know what you think (Team Ebert or Team Deppen?). Or just tell me what holiday films are on regular rotation at your house this year.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the couch and torpor are calling.

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor 

Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED..
A notable quote about Pennsylvania or one made by a notable Pennsylvanian.
"... I am now convinced beyond a doubt, that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place in that line this Army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these three things. Starve—dissolve—or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can." 

George Washington on Dec. 23, 1777 describing abysmal conditions at Valley Forge one year after his famous crossing of the Delaware River
Our favorite photo of the week submitted by a PA Local reader.

Happy Hanukkah. Here's a menorah near Independence Hall, via The Inquirer's archive. Send us your photos or artwork, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A large menorah is pictured in front of Philadelphia's Independence Hall.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, became known as “The Town That Saved Christmas” during a WWII-era blockade that cut off German manufactured glass Christmas ornaments that were extremely popular in the U.S.

According to pawilds.com, Wellsboro’s Corning glass plant was converted to produce a torrent of Christmas baubles. Better yet, they came in boxes bearing an image of Santa Claus shaking hands with Uncle Sam.

In Wellsboro’s Penn Wells Hotel lobby there is an American flag created from the bulbs, a gift from the Corning Corporation.

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. And happy holidays to you and yours.
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