The best of all Christmas traditions.

The best of all Christmas traditions.

Revisiting Childhood Movies Part X:

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street

  • Director:  Jon Stone
  • Writer:  Jon Stone  /  Joseph A. Bailey
  • Producer:  Jon Stone
  • Stars:  Carroll Spinney, Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Debbie Chen, Sonia Manzano
  • Studio:  Children’s Television Workshop
  • Awards:  Emmy – Outstanding Children’s Program
  • Length:  60 min
  • Genre:  Kids  (Christmas special)
  • Release Date:  3 December 1978
  • First Watched:  3 December 1978
  • Number of Times Watched as a Kid:  at least 5 or 6

I realized that my next post was going to be an RCM and that it would time for Christmas.  So I figured it should be Christmas themed.  But, I didn’t really have a Christmas movie that worked for this.  I didn’t watch Miracle on 34th Street as a kid, It’s a Wonderful Life I have already reviewed and Love Actually came out years later.  I could have reviewed the 1951 A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim.  But I kept coming back to my real Christmas tradition – watching Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.  Yes, it’s television, but it’s the best of all television, and so it seemed right.

As a Kid:  I would have been four the first time this aired.  I don’t remember it, probably because a few months before that we were in a horrifying car accident which I remember quite clearly and blocks out almost every other memory I have before we moved to California in 1981.  But it quickly became tradition in my household, perhaps because PBS had the good sense to continually re-run the show.  Ironically there was a second Christmas special airing that same year called A Special Sesame Street Christmas.  It was not produced by CTW and was roundly panned.  I have never seen it and didn’t even hear of it until decades later.  But this one continued to air and to air and we continued to watch it and watch it (as opposed to two other muppet Christmas specials I liked: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas and John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together, neither of which I think I have seen in over 30 years).

Part of the brilliance of it is that I love Christmas music and this special does a great job with it.  It makes fantastic use of “Feliz Navidad” to open the show, ensuring that it would remain one of my favorite Christmas songs to this day.  It has a very nice use of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” sung by Bert and Ernie.  And, it does what Sesame Street did so well – provide charming original songs.  When I first made myself a Christmas mix tape back in 1996 I was determined to get those songs for my tape.  What was available at the time was a CD called “A Sesame Street Christmas”.  It had versions of the three songs, but they were new versions that, unfortunately included Elmo and they aren’t as good as the originals, but at least I had them.

One of the songs is sung by Oscar and it’s called “I Hate Christmas.”  It’s a perfect little humorous Christmas song, worthy of sitting alongside “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” or “The Night Santa Went Crazy” as some counter-programming once the Christmas songs get to be too much for you.

The other two are songs that perfectly capture the Christmas spirit without being overly spiritual.  In that, they capture exactly what I love about Christmas.  I have no religious feelings centering around Christmas.  I love Christmas for the feeling of good cheer and happiness that tend to abound.  The two songs “True Blue Miracle” and “Keep Christmas With You” both center around those notions.  They are both good songs, are used well in the show, and continue to be among my favorite Christmas songs.

Kermit looking at the problem from another angle - still funny.

Kermit looking at the problem from another angle – still funny.

But there is also the story in the special.  Well, several main stories, all of them working well.  The first is Big Bird’s concern (fueled by Oscar) over how Santa gets down the chimney.  This leads to him trying to find out and ending up missing on a snowy Christmas Eve.  The second is a retelling of “The Gift of the Magi” using Bert and Ernie (not that I would know that – I didn’t know about the story until about 20 years later).  It works so well because of their friendship (and, in more of a Sesame Street spirit, it gets a happy ending).  Then there are Grover and Kermit, also trying to figure out how Santa gets in.  Finally, there is the most funniest part of the whole show – Cookie Monster’s attempt to send a message to Santa about what he wants for Christmas, except he keeps eating his means of communication.

"The Gift of the Magi" gets a happy ending - Sesame Street style.

“The Gift of the Magi” gets a happy ending – Sesame Street style.

It was everything I could have wanted in a Christmas special as a kid.  And it continued to work well for me as I grew older.  It even provided a teachable moment in our household, as the first year it aired after Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper died, my parents had to explain to my confused younger sister how he could still be on the show (they had already aired the episode where his death is explained to Big Bird).

As an Adult:  At some point, I think we taped Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.  But eventually we purchased a VHS copy, and even well into the 90’s I liked to watch it every year.  But once I had moved to Boston, I no longer had access to that copy.  In 2008, I found a VHS copy at a local store and we watched it with Thomas.  We continued to watch it all the way into March.  In fact, that’s how it’s been a lot of years.  When we visited my sister at Thanksgiving and they decided to watch a Holiday movie and Thomas got to choose, this is what he chose.

At times, I wonder if watching this so often is what has colored my memories of Sesame Street.  For instance, I think of Olivia as a constant character on Sesame Street even though she was only in about a dozen episodes when I was a kid and I think it’s because of this special.  I also love this special so much partially because there is no Elmo in it – it has the classic characters that I loved so much as a kid.

Santa answering after Cookie Monster has eaten the receiver will be funny until the end of time.

Santa answering after Cookie Monster has eaten the receiver will be funny until the end of time.

This special still works in so many ways, and I know because I have watched it maybe close to a 100 times since we bought our current copy.  It works because the song are still so magical.  It works because the characters still have such beautiful relationships.  It works because it is still so neat to see life-size characters of Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster and the Count grab Oscar and launch him flying out of the skating rink (that scene usually makes Thomas dissolve with laughter).  It works because Cookie Monster giving in to temptation and eating the phone, typewriter and pencil will always be hilarious (not to mention what he does at the end of the episode – another scene that paralyzes Thomas with laughter).

Most of all this special works because it is a reminder that what I love about Christmas is the feeling in the air (and it doesn’t think Christmas is the only holiday – there is a nice Chanukah greeting for Mr. Hooper), that we can all love each other, that we can find peace on earth.  It makes me think of my e-mail signature, a quote from RFK: “But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”  That is what I love about Christmas.  And Sesame Street was always like that – always a reminder that we should be nice to each other, that life is so much better that way.

So, in the next 24 hours we’ll probably watch Mickey’s Christmas Carol (if we can find it on tv).  We’ll definitely watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, the original animated Grinch and Rudolph (we all own three of these).  But tonight, the three of us will sit together and watch the best Christmas special of them all: Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.