As I was walking through the store the other day my son excitedly pointed to what he, up until that moment, referred to as the spooky aisle. The spooky aisle, according to him, is where you go for the best of the best in halloween decor. They had the candy, the plastic caldrons, the jack-o-lantern baskets, tombstones, costumes pieces, and everything you might need for a an epic Halloween. That part of our store is expressly reserved for seasonal items, not just Halloween, every seasonal change in products happens there, it doesn’t matter which, they all go there. My son was excited because of the fake Christmas trees that were prominently displayed next to the wreaths. He was grinning from ear to ear and squealing, “Christmas, Christmas!” Since Thanksgiving decorations aren’t really a thing (They’re not!) I can understand why the went straight to Christmas, that’s not, however what I’m going to do. This is my best of list for holiday TV fun from my childhood and beyond. It’s not a huge list but I think it’s pretty comprehensive.
Peanuts: All the specials
I imagine there might be a whole generation of kids who don’t know what this means:
That was the graphic you saw every time a holiday special came on CBS, but I remember it especially when Charlie Brown was on. It was a genuinely exciting moment when that appeared on our screens because at that point we all knew the holidays were really upon us. Who doesn’t like the Peanuts holiday specials? From The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, A Charlie Brown Christmas, to the recent Peanuts movie. (I also love Race for your Life Charlie Brown and Bon Voyage Charlie Brown, however, not seasonal) They are great for all ages, and in that Charles Schultz way, great, simple, teaching tools for these cozy times of the year. They teach about togetherness, being true to yourself, kind to others and on and on. Even the Peanuts Movie that came out last year is about as harmless as you can get and as I recall it covers most of the holidays. The only thing I will say is they they are a little on the Christian side. Not a lot, but enough to make it a Charlie Brown Christmas and not a Charlie Brown Holiday Special. They are not like the Veggie Tales which include a Christian message that connects right to a passage in the bible, but they say “God” talk a bit of Jesus in relation to the Holiday. It feels less like it comes from some devout place and more like they are just a product of when they were made. The soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas starts playing in our house in November and doesn’t go off until January sometime. These are great holiday shows for kids, ones I suspect many still watch, mostly because their parents did.
Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman:
In doing some research I discovered that Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is the longest running holiday special on TV. That is has been broadcast every year since 1964. That says a lot of for a stop motion animated Christmas special which should have, at this point, been eclipsed by a Kung Fu Panda or Shrek Christmas special. Seems as though kids are still watching and that’s a great thing, because one of these has proven to be a lot deeper than it seems on the surface.
If you are in your forties I bet you remember sitting on your naugahyde couch with a roaring fire, in your real fireplace with actual fire not on video, watching these amazing nuggets of children’s pop culture. I still feel a special warmth and coziness when I think about Donner and his wife having baby Rudolph (Though I’m not crazy about the fact that she is only known as Mrs. Donner) and then his adventures with Hermey the Elf who wants to be a dentist. When the other reindeer see Rudolph’s nose and its glowing properties they make fun of him and are forbidden by their parents to be his friend. Hermey the Elf however sees a potential friend in Rudolph who has the same problem he does, he’s different. They both feel like misfits and they both try to hide their true nature That is pretty heavy stuff for something written in an era, when racially, we were just passing the Civil Rights Act. This could be a great way into a conversation about people’s differences, weather racially or sexually, and to use this special time of year to really delve into the good will toward each other stuff with your kids. There is a lot going on in this cartoon! Use it people! I will say there could be some scares when the Abominable Snowman, who they say hates Christmas and feeds on reindeer, appears but his real name is Bumble so, in the end, how scary can he really be.
Let’s remember that both Rudolph and Frosty are based on songs, so the narrative you get has a foundation in something that was very popular on the radio (The what?) a long time ago, and eventually became part of the American public consciousness. The reason I mention it is because it requires not just portraying a story in the song but creating characters that make an origin story for a character of the title. Nowhere is this more evident than with Frosty the Snowman, originally broadcast in 1969. In this, the titular snowman, is brought to life by a magician, named Professor Hinkle, and his magic hat. When he discovers that the hat has brought the snowman to life, naturally, he wants it back. The rest of the cartoon revolves around the chase to get Frosty someplace colder, the North Pole, so he doesn’t melt while being chased by Hinkle. Aided by a girl named Karen and Hinkle’s magic act rabbit Hocus, in the end, Frosty sacrifices himself in a greenhouse so Karen can be warm, melting before Santa can arrive to help. I know that makes it sound like Lars Von Trier’s Frosty the Snowman, it’s not. Santa, as Duex ex Machina, arrives just after Frosty melts, announces that he was made of Christmas snow, opens the door to the cold, making Frosty is as good as new. Santa takes him to the North Pole but promises he will return every year at Christmas to visit. It manages to avoid anything heavy and be as sweet as candy. If I had to choose between this and Rudolph I’d choose Rudolph. It’s got that amazing animation and a totally bizarre and fun story that also resulted in one of the best scenes in one of my favorite holiday movies to date.
Elf is a great Christmas movie. It’s about Buddy the Elf,(Will Ferrell) who is actually a human man raised as an Elf in the North Pole working for Santa after stowing away in his bag as an orphan baby. He is a 6 foot tall man living with a bunch of Elves, the situation does all the work with predictably funny results Buddy knows he is different and when told the truth about his upbringing by his Elf father (Bob Newhart in an amazing bit of casting), he decides to leave the North Pole and got to New York City to find his real father. When he is leaving the North Pole there is an amazing sequence where he says goodbye to a few creatures that are defiantly an homage to Rudolph. When in New York and after he finds his father(James Cann) and a lady to melt his heart (Zooey Deschanel) the movie becomes a series of scenes about Buddy’s Elf like ways that are based mostly on the fact that he was raised in The North Pole with Santa Clause and the fact that no one believes in Santa. He is kind, considerate, and basically a child with a great nature and he considers it his job to bring out the Christmas Spirit in everyone. Again, no mention of religion here. This is all Santa all the time and it works because it takes itself so seriously. Buddy has to believe so we believe and in the end, of course, we do.
The great thing about all of these is how inclusive they are. By their very nature they only want to impart a kind of cheer onto the world. We are at a point where being kind to each other is incredibly important, and if for a little time, some silly movie or show will add to my kids future capacity for that, I’ll take it.