Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Christmas in July 2019 ANNOUNCEMENT

Happy Summer! The annual Christmas in July party I host each year on this blog is happening soon. If you've been around awhile, you may remember that each year the summer time party is a little different. I try to do something special in July each year because we all get very busy in December and it's fun to have a get-together when we aren't in the midst of the holiday season. This is the sixth year we've come together to do this--THANK YOU for joining in again!

This year I'd like to repeat the mini-questionnaire as a way to spark a dialogue and to have everyone get to know each other  better. I was inspired to try this approach from what I saw (and participated in) quite a few years ago on the website Kindertrauma. With their blessing, I've adapted the questionnaire to fit our needs. We did this last year too--remember all the fun answers?  Click on the links to see the 2014 recap, the 2015 recap, the 2016 recap, the 2017 recap, and the 2018 recap.

This is how we do it: Answer the following five questions as completely or as briefly as you like.  Everyone is invited to take part--long-time readers, other bloggers, casual TV fans, or just the curious passer-by.  ****Everyone should feel free to join the Christmas in July party.******

Copy + Paste the questions below in an email, answer them, and email it back to me.  Send your responses in immediately and I'll email you back with a number. That number is your confirmation that I received your answers and it is your place in the queue. I will begin posting the responses starting on July 1st--and roll them out in the order received. (DON'T put your responses to the questions in the comments below--email them in). Email your responses to: joanna @ 1701 press dot com

Don't worry about photos either--I'll take care of that. And, duplicate answers are part of the party experience--don't exert too much effort trying to find rare examples for your answers. If you want to change your answers after you email them to me--please resist the urge. Instead, add comments to your own post when it goes up in July.

The Christmas in July party is supposed to be fun and entertaining so don't sweat your responses.  Don't spend hours on it--just go with the responses that come easily. Get creative and have fun with it!

If you think you need a little help, feel free to flip through your dog-eared copy of the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV--or put a copy on hold at your local library. You can also use the search box on this website (not easily visible on a mobile device but it is top right of the screen for computers) or click through the archives on this website (along the sidebar on the right).  Christmas TV memories will come flooding back, I'm sure.

Whether you send in a response or not, please feel free to follow along throughout the month of July.  Reading other people's responses is half the fun. I want to encourage everyone to leave comments too--it makes people feel good to know their entry is being read by others. If you like, please use the Christmas in July 2019 badge on your website or social media posts to let others know what you are up to!

2019 Christmas in July badge

Let's get this party started:

Christmas in July 2019: (insert your name--and your website/optional)

1. What is your favorite Saturday Night Live Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year's sketch?

2. Do you most look forward to watching holiday episodes from series? Specials? Movies? Animation? or, all of it?

3. What's your favorite soundtrack from a holiday program? (it doesn't have to have been officially released as an album--just what program features your favorite collection of music?)

4. What one program are you patiently (or impatiently) waiting for me to review on this blog?

5. What change in Christmas entertainment have you noticed over the years? Do you like the trend?

Since I'm hosting this party, I'll be glad to be the first one to jump in and lead by example. Isn't this fun already?

Christmas in July 2019:  Joanna Wilson from

1. What is your favorite Saturday Night Live Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year's sketch?

My favorite is a silly one--I think it's from 1986. I like the alternate ending to It's a Wonderful Life. Mr. Potter (played by Jon Lovitz) is given a violent response to his greed by the angry residents of Bedford Falls. Dana Carvey as Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey and Jan Hooks as Mary are hilarious. A close second favorite is also from the 80s. It's the Gumby Christmas special with Eddie Murphy as Gumby and Joe Piscapo as his musical guest Frank Sinatra singing cartoon theme songs.

2. Do you most look forward to watching holiday episodes from series? Specials? Movies? Animation? or, all of it?

I definitely look forward to seeing all of it but I most enjoy the variety music specials. I always watch Christmas in Rockefeller Center and other music specials on PBS.

3. What's your favorite soundtrack from a holiday program? (it doesn't have to have been officially released as an album--just what program features your favorite collection of music?)

This is a tough one for me because I listen to a lot of Christmas music. But I really enjoy listening to old-fashioned music I learned about from watching Christmas variety specials, like old Perry Como, Andy Williams and Bing Crosby holiday records. Most of the Christmas songs from their variety specials they recorded for albums too so there's quite a bit of them.

4. What one program are you patiently (or impatiently) waiting for me to review on this blog?

It is weird for me to answer this question but I have been meaning to write about 1986's John Grin's Christmas for quite some time.

5. What change in Christmas entertainment have you noticed over the years? Do you like the trend?
The popularity of the formulaic, romance Christmas TV movies--the kind Hallmark Channel makes--have come to dominate the industry. Now the other networks follow the lead and make very similar romance movies. I miss the abundance of Christmas TV movies with more general topics (besides romance), such as children's stories, family issues, grieving loss, starting over, finding meaning in one's life, etc. When I look back to the Christmas TV movies aired on the major networks of the 1980s, 90s, and 00s, I see that cable networks don't make movies with general topic storylines anymore. I miss them.

Do you have any questions about Christmas in July 2019?  Ask below in the comments.

Send in your responses today!  Thanks for playing along and Merry Christmas in July.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her most recent book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Degrassi Junior High Christmas (1988)

These days I'm quite busy finalizing the updated, 2nd edition of the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV for its eventual publication next year (2020). I may not be writing as many essays here on the website but I'm still working hard on Christmas TV history.

Today I decided to take a break from the encyclopedia and share my thoughts on the third season Christmas episode of Degrassi Junior High entitled "Season's Greetings." Are you familiar with the Degrassi franchise? Degrassi Junior High ran for three seasons and the characters continued for two more seasons as Degrassi High. The series was a joint venture between the Canadian CBC and American PBS (WGBH in Boston). If you've never seen it before, Degrassi is a fun mix of what feels like an Afterschool Special with a teen drama. It's a one-of-a-kind, soap-style (its stories unfold across episodes and season) series that takes on topical issues for its teen characters. Most of the action on the series takes place on school grounds. Degrassi Junior High and High originally ran from 1987-91. In 2001, the franchise started again (on cable TV in the United States) as Degrassi: The Next Generation and ran for 14 season, and then Degrassi: Next Class for four more seasons, ending in 2017. I have to confess that I'm a huge Degrassi fan and have watched the entire run of the series. (I've seen it all except the precursor Kids of Degrassi Street).

Yick Yu (left) and Arthur Kobalewsky (right) in the cafeteria.

In the Degrassi Junior High third season episode "Season's Greetings," there are several storylines. The primary story is a conflict between Arthur and Yick. It's the last day of school before the holiday break and best friends Arthur and Yick want to exchange Christmas gifts. But Yick makes a comment about Arthur's family's recent windfall of money (Arthur's mother won more than a million dollars in the lottery at the start of season 3) revealing his insecurity about exchanging gifts with someone who is more wealthy. Arthur is tired of Yick's comments about his family's money and the two teens begin fighting.

Dorothy gets Yick and Arthur reminiscing about their friendship.

Arthur's younger cousin Dorothy overhears the boys arguing and tries to mediate. She reminds them about the past experiences they've shared in the two years since they met. What follows is a clip show of Arthur and Yick segments from past episodes as the boys flashback to highlights of their past adventures together.

Viewers see clips from:
--S1E1 "Kiss Me Steph" the episode in which Yick meets Arthur when he releases him from a locked janitor's closet on the first day of school.
--S1E3 "The Experiment" in which Yick turns in Arthur's sister's school paper to test the fairness of teacher Mr. Raditch's grading.
--S1E7 "The Best Laid Plans" in which Yick acquires the porn video "Swamp Sex Robots."
--S1E10 "Smoke Screen" in which Arthur accidentally breaks Yick's heirloom vase.
--S1E11 "It's Late" in which Arthur helps Yick ask Melanie out on a date for the first time.
--S2E3 "Great Expectations" in which Yick encourages Arthur to telephone talk-radio show host Dr. Sally (Sue Johanson) to ask questions about his maturing body.

Spike (blonde in center) sits with her friends at lunch worrying about the exams she just took.

In another storyline in "Season's Greetings," we see Spike in the cafeteria with her friends worrying about passing her exams. She explains since she's become a teen mother, most of her time is taken up caring for her baby and she doesn't have much time left for studying. Spike's friends remember how she was kicked out of school during her pregnancy and know how important it is for her to return and finish her education. They encourage her to hang in there despite her frustration. (Didn't I mention that this series resembles an Afterschool Special?)

Maya (foreground) and Kathleen pass through the cafeteria too.
Maya and Kathleen share a brief scene in this episode too. Kathleen asks Maya about her Christmas plans and Maya explains that she celebrates Hanukkah. Both of these characters will have more significant storylines later in the run of the series and in Degrassi High. (Maya will share more about her feelings of being a teen in a wheelchair. Kathleen will experience her mother's alcoholism, develop anorexia, and years later she'll deal with a violent boyfriend).

School maintenance worker Louella is played by Susin Nielsen--one of the series' writers!

In a minor storyline, the school furnace is broken and the heat is making everyone uncomfortable. The school maintenance worker Louella is trying to fix it but she needs a part she requested months ago in order to get the furnace working properly.

Wheels (left), Snake (center), and Joey Jeremiah (right).

Joey and Snake feel awkward around their friend Wheels. His parents were recently killed when a drunk driver hit their vehicle and Wheels is still grieving. Knowing he's having a hard time adjusting to living with his grandparents, Joey invites Wheels to come to his home for Christmas dinner.

This is the first time most of Spike's friends have seen her baby.

After she's beckoned to the principal's office, Spike returns to the cafeteria with her baby Emma. This is the first time most of her friends have ever seen or met her baby. While the teens fuss over the infant, the baby's father Shane is seated several tables over. Spike has kept Shane away from the baby--he's never even seen Emma before! He knows he's not welcome to gather with the others but he wants to meet his daughter for the first time.

Shane and daughter Emma.

With some convincing, Spike eventually allows Shane to see his daughter--she even allows him to hold the baby for the first time. This is actually a very big moment in the on-going series and an emotional point in the storyline about Spike's pregnancy and her motherhood which has been unfolding for two seasons. Degrassi series fans know that this is a pivotal moment too. The 1988 Christmas episode is Emma's first time on-screen. The character of Emma would eventually go on to inform Degrassi: The Next Generation--as the twelve year-old girl enters junior high herself!

Yick learns a lesson about gift giving and "it's the thought that counts."

The episode's story ends with Arthur and Yick reminding themselves about the good memories they've shared. They finally agree to exchange gifts. It turns out that Yick's fears of receiving an intimidating gift from his newly rich friend were unfounded--he unwraps an eyeglasses strap. It's an inexpensive gift and one he desperately needs.

Do you remember seeing this Degrassi Junior High episode from 1988? Do you have another favorite holiday episode from a teen drama? How about a favorite holiday episode from an Afterschool Special? (yes--there are several!) Feel free to share your comments below.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

New York City Christmas/Pop Culture Travel Destinations--Part 2

You know I love to travel and document my stops at Christmas/Pop Culture destinations. These posts are some of my most popular ones on the website. Here are some of my favorite Christmas/Pop Culture travel destinations:

Mary Tyler Moore/Peanuts in Minneapolis, MN
Little House on the Prairie in Walnut Grove, MN & DeSmet, SD
John Denver statue/Mork & Mindy House in Colorado
Perry Como's statue in Canonsburg, PA
Dean Martin's hometown of Steubenville, OH
Rosemary Clooney's home in Augusta, KY
The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA
It's a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls, NY
Lucille Ball's birthday celebration in Jamestown, NY
A Christmas Story House & Museum 5k Run in Cleveland, OH
The Waltons Museum in Schuyler, VA
"Twas the Night Before Christmas" & "A Child's Christmas in Wales" in NYC-Part 1

Why New York City? I've been doing more research at the Paley Center for Media.

I've made a couple more trips to New York City and found myself looking for more pop culture destinations with a Christmas tie-in. New York is filled with film and TV shooting locations. Christmas TV movies set in New York quite often use the ice rink and the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center as establishing shots.

Look familiar? The tree lighting ceremony & concert in Rockefeller Center has been a nationally broadcast NBC TV special since 1998.

Ice skating and Christmas go hand in hand. In December, I had to grab a quick selfie down on the ice while skating.

I also love statues. NYC has many, but my favorite with a Christmas/TV connection is the Ralph Kramden statue standing outside the Port Authority bus station (Ralph was a bus driver!)

Life-size Ralph Kramden statue at Port Authority.

Up close: "The Great One" Jackie Gleason

In the reflection of the windows and my glasses you can see the taxis (not buses!?) along 8th Avenue.

Christmas TV fans know that The Honeymooners made several holiday episodes over the years--both Christmas and New Year's. I wrote about the 1955 Honeymooners' Christmas episode HERE.

A screen shot of the opening of the series. The address for Felix and Oscar is clearly visible: 1049 Park Ave.

A quick Google search told me that it was the correct address for the original exterior shots of their residence.

In February, I easily found another TV destination--the Park Avenue apartment building used in the opening of the 1970s TV series The Odd Couple. Capturing snapshots was a bit tricky as Park Avenue is a divided boulevard with landscaping. It was a challenge to find a clear view of the building--but I was determined! On the TV show, Oscar and Felix had a doorman and the building still has one. As I continued getting closer to the structure for my photos, he was watching me. I tried to exclude him from my shots. He must see TV fans like me there all the time! (I told myself).

A full shot of the building reveals the exterior hasn't changed much since the 1970s.

I wonder what Felix & Oscar's rent would cost today?

The entrance where Felix stabs Oscar's discarded cigar on the sidewalk with his umbrella, and hands it back to him. The green awning has changed somewhat. I swear I can hear that Neal Hefti theme song.

I previously wrote about the 1970 Christmas episode of The Odd Couple HERE.

Do you like to stop at film and TV travel destinations too? How about ones with a Christmas connection? Tell me all about it in the comments below.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701

Monday, January 7, 2019

Year in Review: 2018


Every January before I move on to new content, I like to take a moment to reflect on the previous year. Below, you'll see that I collected the top five most popular essays from this website written in 2018. I never really know which discussions are going to be popular, and which ones ignored. Did your favorite discussion from 2018 make the top five? I know I don't say it enough but THANK YOU for reading and following along with this website. I wouldn't have a top five without you. Now, on to the list.

Click on the essay titles below for the link.

From my vintage vinyl collection with a Christmas TV or film tie-in.
#5. Christmas Records: Part 1

I've been collecting LPs and CDs with a Christmas TV or film tie-in for many years. Only recently has it occurred to me to share about some of the records in my collection. This discussion from last January was the most popular but I went on the share more of my collection, including Part 2, Part 3, and Christmas music on CD. Since writing these discussions, I've acquired several more interesting film & TV Christmas records--enough to create Part 4. If this is your thing too, hold tight. More coming soon. Do you have any cool Christmas records?

Sing along "Now the world don't move to the beat of just one drum...."

#4. Diff'rent Strokes Christmas (1982)

I was pleasantly surprised to see this breakdown of the fifth season episode "Santa's Helper" from the family sitcom Diff'rent Strokes make the top five list. If you grew up watching the antics of brothers Arnold and Willis Jackson, then you know the charm of the series. I also admire the work of actor/comedian Garrett Morris who guest stars in this touching holiday story. It's also nice to see that one of my discussions from Black History Month stood out from the rest of the year too. Make sure you come back and check out the new discussions this February too--I'm doing up Black History Month again, honoring outstanding Christmas programs that feature African-Americans, just like I do every year.

Rocky Mountain High at Red Rocks, just outside of Denver.

#3. Colorado Christmas: John Denver

My travel essays to pop culture destinations with a Christmas film or TV tie-in have been some of my most popular essays on this website for the past couple years. I love doing them and so I'm glad you like reading about them. This third most popular essay from last year details my stop in Denver, Colorado to visit the statue honoring the life and music of John Denver. That same trip also took me to Boulder where I located the house used in the exterior shots of filming the TV series Mork & Mindy. What's your favorite John Denver Christmas program? Which is your favorite Mork & Mindy holiday episode? I can't decide either.

I wrote three more essays on pop culture destinations last year--did you see them all?

Minneapolis, MN--the Mary Tyler Moore House and statue, and Schulz' Peanuts statues in St. Paul.

Little House on the Prairie destinations in Walnut Grove, MN and DeSmet, SD--I'm just a Laura Ingalls Wilder nerd at heart!

And, New York City's Christmas pop culture destinations which included a visit at the final resting places of actor Jerry Orbach, and Clement C. Moore--the author of the poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas." I also made a stop at the favorite watering hole of writer Dylan Thomas, who wrote "A Child's Christmas in Wales" which has been wonderfully adapted for film and TV several times. Yes, I did quite a bit of traveling last year. Whew!

#2. Netflix #DVDdress Project

Last year, Netflix's DVD subscription service was celebrating their 20th anniversary and I persuaded them to sponsor my collection of Netflix paper envelopes to be turned into wearable art! I wrote about the experience and Netflix revealed the photos of the dress in November. The fashion designer I hired worked hard for months transforming almost 700 red paper envelopes into a dress inspired by Rosemary Clooney's red gown seen in the finalé of the 1954 movie White Christmas. As a Netflix subscriber for 13 years, I had saved over 1,5000 envelopes from the research that I do writing about Christmas on TV and in film. This project brought all my interests together into one experience. I was invited to take the photos of the dress at The Rosemary Clooney House museum in Augusta, KY--the white building seen above. The project ended up going viral across the internet and was even shared on Pee-Wee Herman's website and social media. To keep that all in perspective, this was only the second most popular essay in 2018.

Remember which TV special the wicked Burgermeister Meisterburger appeared in?

#1. Top 5 Rankin/Bass Villains

As a part of the Classic TV Blog Association's blogathon on TV villains last year, I created a list of my top five favorite Rankin/Bass animated Christmas evildoers. It was super fun to put the list together so I'm happy so many people enjoyed reading about them too. If you haven't yet read this one, you'll be pleased to discover that I went further than discussing only five baddies.

Curious about past Year in Review essays? Check out the 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 Year in Review posts again. May your new year be filled with peace and joy.

Coming in a number five, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby singing together in 1957.
Curious about the all-time most popular posts from this website? Clearly TV variety remains a nostalgic favorite. Check out the links:

Andy Williams Christmas Shows
Halloween is Grinch Night
Waltons Christmas Cast Reunion from 2011--the 40th anniversary of The Homecoming
Judy Garland Christmas Show (1963)
Frank Sinatra Show Christmas (1957)

Thank you for reading all year long. Please feel free to leave questions or comments below.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701

Friday, December 28, 2018

Christmas Podcasts 2018

It's the most wonderful time of year again, and I have been lucky enough to be invited to participate by giving commentary on Christmas entertainment for several podcasts. Below are introductions to each, with a link to help you find where to listen. Each one is quite different so feel free to listen to all of them or choose which one(s) appeal to you.

The Retro Room with Joe Strupp.

I appeared on The Retro Room's Episode 9: Christmas TV Time.  Strupp's new podcast about classic entertainment provides this summary of our conversation: "Holiday specials on television are as traditional as Santa Claus and re-gifting. But why do they return year after year and how did many of the favorites come about? And was the most famous Christmas movie really a box office dud when it first hit theaters? We tackled all of these questions, and more, with TV Christmas historian Joanna Wilson, author of several books, including The Christmas TV Companion. Check it out and Ho-Ho-ho!"

HERE's a link to The Retro Room's episode 9.

Tis the Podcast

The threesome from Tis the Podcast invited me to breakdown and discuss the 2007 yuletide episode of the TV horror/drama Supernatural. This in-depth reading produced some interesting conversations. The podcast's title You Fudging Touch Me Again, I'll Fudging Kill Ya is a humorous, direct quote from the TV episode. We recorded the conversation to coincide with Halloween--a dark episode that mixes Christmas and horror elements. Here's a partial summary of the podcast from their website: "Happy Halloween, Christmas fanatics! Spooky month draws to a close this week, as the elves discuss Season 3, Episode 8 of the television show, Supernatural, entitled "A Very Supernatural Christmas"! Joining their conversation is special guest Joanna Wilson, of amongst many other things. Much like the Winchesters' classic 1967 Chevy Impala takes them to many unexpected places, talking about the brothers' hunt for an "Anti-Claus" this week steers the discussion to down many different, lively avenues as well - from The X-Files to Fruitcake to The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy to Rankin/Bass' different versions of Santa Claus."

Listen HERE to the conversation on Supernatural.

Woo-Hoo Wednesday with Johnny Holmes

Once again this year I joined Johnny Holmes in a delightful conversation about our favorite Christmas TV programs and movies. The show has already aired on internet radio station Radio Once More but is now available for listening on-demand. This year we discussed my Netflix DVD dress project, 1954's White Christmas, 2004's Polar Express, and the TV movie 1973's Miracle on 34th Street. Classic TV fans will enjoy the nostalgia of our discussion on the Andy Williams Christmas shows, and the holiday installments of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Gilligan's Island and the Twilight Zone. We also discuss the 1968 Rankin/Bass animated special The Little Drummer Boy.

Listen to our conversation HERE on Johnny's website The Holmsey Blog.

Made for TV Mayhem Show

Another annual tradition I enjoy is joining the team on The Made for TV Mayhem Show in a conversation about Christmas on TV. This year our conversation--Episode 41--focuses on 1978's Rich Little's A Christmas Carol. Is this one you remember as being weird? Yeah--we talk about that too. Here's more about the podcast from the website: "Happy Holidays! Here’s our episode dedicated to Rich Little, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Wacky Wall Walkers and Truman Capote?! Yup, it’s all here and we hope you enjoy our discussion on Rich Little’s A Christmas Carol (as well as our talk on the weirder Christmas TV offerings)! Nate went all bah humbug on us and had to drop out at the last minute (boo!), but we’re joined by our very good friend and holiday expert Joanna Wilson (yay!), and she helps me unwrap the LSD headtrip that Rich Little brought into our living rooms oh so long ago!"

Listen to that conversation HERE.

Last summer I participated in a fun Christmas Trivia game too! Hosted by Brian Earl of the podcast Christmas Past, the participants include Thom Crowe from Tis the Podcast, Tim Babb from Can't Wait for Christmas podcast, Lee Cameron from My Christmas Stocking, and myself. It was a lot of fun. Watch the video above.

 Reel Travels

And, last spring I was invited to join travel writer Lisa Iannucci in a conversation about my Christmas/pop culture travels. In episode #8, I discuss some of my favorite travel destinations to further connect with Christmas entertainment.

Listen to the Reel Travels podcast again HERE.

If you missed it last year, you can find all the links to the 2017 Christmas podcasts HERE.

THANKS FOR LISTENING! Please feel free to leave comments here or at the links for each of the podcasts.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701

Friday, November 30, 2018

Rugrats Chanukah (1996)

Rugrats animated TV series began in 1991.

I've been re-watching quite a few of the classic Nickelodeon series again. Most of them stand the test of time, and I'm already feeling nostalgic about those 1990s original TV programs. You may have seen that I discussed the Rugrats 1992 Christmas episode "The Santa Experience" on the website a few weeks ago--HERE's that link again. And, a few years ago, I reflected on the 2001 Rugrats Kwanzaa episode too--HERE's that link as well. Since next week begins the Jewish celebration of the season, I thought this would be the ideal time to return to the 1996 episode "A Rugrats Chanukah."

Rugrats title card. "Chanukah" or "Hanukkah"--however you spell it, it means the same.

"A Maccababy's gotta do what a Maccababy's gotta do!"

The episode begins with Tommy's Grandma Minka reading the story of the first Chanukah to the babies. As she reads from the storybook about the Greek army's take over of the Jewish kingdom, the babies imagine themselves as the characters. Tommy sees himself as the leader Judah Maccabee--or Judah  Maccababy, as the young boy first learns about his culture. Grandma Minka is interrupted by her daughter Didi making potato latkes in the kitchen, and the babies overhear Tommy's Grandpa Boris jealously talking about his rivalry with Sholomo, the man playing the smaller role of king in the upcoming synagogue play but whose photo appears in the local newspaper about the event.

Lil doesn't like the taste of the clay dreidel while Tommy eats his fair share of chocolate coins.

What will happen if Angelica can't watch her favorite holiday TV special "A Very Cynthia Christmas?"

Tommy and his friends are trying to make sense of the world around them, while they play with a dreidel, eat chocolate coins, marvel at the menorah filled with candles, and talk about the gifts Tommy has been receiving for the past week. Angelica can't be bothered with the babies questions. Her attention is focused on watching holiday TV specials and especially "A Very Cynthia Christmas"--an animated special that features her favorite doll.

Stu's giant menorah features a spinning Star of David and flashing lights and whistles.

Tommy's father Stu is busy too. He's in the garage building a giant, mechanical menorah for the synagogue festival. Stu wants his son to be proud of his heritage, but Didi fears Stu's good intentions are creating a decorative nightmare that is in poor taste. The babies continue to hear Grandpa Boris complaining about Sholomo, and they mishear Boris saying "the meaning of Chanukah" as "the Meany of Chanukah." The babies fear Boris' conflict with a meany. The babies decide that Grandpa's meany needs to be put down for a nap--like they are when they grow irritable or cranky. Those sweet, adorable babies!

The sights and sounds of the Chanukah Fair.

Later that evening, the parents take the babies to the Chanukah Fair at the synagogue. The babies are in awe of the music, food, games, booths, and crowds at the fair. The highlight of the celebration is the seniors' Chanukah play so everyone takes their seats in the auditorium. Stu and his father haven't arrived yet--they are towing a trailer with the giant menorah and stuck in traffic. They're caught in the Christmas parade downtown!

There is little acting up on stage!

When the play begins, the audience is attentive during the stage production of the story of the first Chanukah, with Boris playing Judah Maccabee and Sholomo playing the Greek king. The two real-life rivals bring added tension to their roles and the characters wage battle on the stage. The babies don't understand the the context but they can sense the conflict, so they rush the stage to defend Tommy's Grandpa. Unable to control them, Didi places the babies in the nursery elsewhere in the synagogue. There, they find Angelica who also has been placed in the nursery because she was caught trying to follow the janitor into the men's room to watch his portable TV set to see "A Very Cynthia Christmas" special. Sholomo and Boris continue their fighting on stage until the curtain is dropped to allow the women's choir to perform.

Angelica knows just how to convince the babies to do what she wants them to do.

The men in conflict take their fight backstage.

Backstage, Sholomo and Boris, rivals since their childhoods in Russia before migrating to the United States, finally confront their feeling about each other. Boris admits he's jealous of Sholomo's business success, and Sholomo confesses that he focused on his business because he was never able to start a family and be blessed with children, like Boris was. The two old men admit they have been fools and promise to be friends.

The babies see Angelica crying as she being held by the Meany of Chanukah!

Mastermind Angelica recruits the babies to help her escape the nursery so she can continue her pursuit for a TV set. The babies are still set on finding the Meany of Chanukah and putting him down for a nap. After their escape, Angelica finds the janitor asleep in front of his portable TV set. Sholomo finds the babies unsupervised backstage and picks up Angelica before she hurts herself climbing towards the TV set. Angelica lets out a screaming wail and throws a tantrum. She is prevented from getting her way once more.

Sholomo continues the story of the first Chanukah.

The babies decide in the moment to confront the Meany by asking him to read them a story--this will surely calm him and put him to sleep. Boris too responds to Angelica's crying and he helps gather the babies around for Sholomo to read to them. The story picks up where Grandma Minka had left off--after Judah Maccabee defeated the Greek army, the Jews find that the temple's oil lamp which is supposed to be an eternal flame has a limited amount of oil remaining. There's only enough oil to burn for one day but it will take longer to acquire more. The miracle of the season is that the lamp burned for eight days, long enough for the oil to be renewed and keep the lamp burning.

The entire audience enjoys the story too.

Meanwhile, Stu sets up his flashing, spinning menorah before the audience and it ends up exploding into pieces, causing the stage curtain to collapse over the wreckage. As the elderly Sholomo continues his story of the first Chanukah with the babies, the curtain falls and the audience can now hear it as well. Everyone gets to enjoy "the meaning of Chanukah." An added bonus is that Boris and Sholomo have made their peace as well.

Sholomo is voiced by the great Fyvush Finkle.

If you haven't seen many Chanukah TV specials, I can tell you that most of them are aimed for young viewers, and nearly all of them share the religious story of the first Chanukah with a historical explanation for Judah Maccabee, and the miracle of the burning oil lamp that lasted eight days.

The rabbi directs the play. The character is voiced by Ron Leibman (who also plays Rachel's father on Friends.)

Why do I include Chanukah TV episodes, specials, and movies in my research and the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV? Because initially I found that there was quite a bit of overlap between some of the Christmas programs to acknowledge and honor Chanukah as well. For the stand-alone Chanukah programs, I saw that the focus was on the miracle of the season, family, traditions, and peace and love--just like the best of Christmas TV programs too. I decided to add Chanukah TV programs to the encyclopedia and my discussions here to honor the different religious meaning behind the season and to recognize the common respect and traditions both celebrations offer. I hope you find that the Chanukah TV programs listed in the encyclopedia add to your meaning of the season as well. The book Tis the Season TV also includes TV programs and movies about Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and New Year's celebrations too. Happy Chanukah!

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701

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