About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The House Without A Christmas Tree (1972)

In the last several months, I've spoken and written a great deal about the Christmas TV movie The Homecoming and the TV series The Waltons and its Christmas episodes.  When I was growing up, there were two TV movies that we looked forward to seeing again and again: The Homecoming of course, and The House Without A Christmas Tree.   Last year may have been the anniversary of the debut of The Homecoming (click here to see what I wrote about that) however this year marks the 40th anniversary of The House Without A Christmas Tree.

This poignant and dramatic made-for-TV movie is based on an autobiographical story written by Gail Rock.  It takes place in the small town of Clear River, Nebraska in 1946.  Ten year-old Addie Mills doesn’t understand why she can’t have a Christmas tree.  Her whole life, she’s never had one.  She fears her unemotional father doesn’t love her.

Addie and her grandmother discuss why her father is so emotionally distant
Though Addie pesters him about it, her father explains to Grandma that Christmas trees are a painful reminder of his wife who died when Addie was a baby.

Addie doesn't understand why she can't have a Christmas tree like everyone else.
At school, Addie has the opportunity to bring home the classroom Christmas tree since she doesn’t already have one.  After bringing it home and decorating it as a surprise, Mr. Mills becomes upset when he sees it.

James yells at his daughter Addie for defying him and bringing home a Christmas tree
James makes the excuse that he doesn’t want people to think they are too poor to have a tree.  Later that night, Addie drags the precious tree over to the home of a classmate she knows is less well-off and whose family is without a tree for the holiday.  Addie leaves the tree on their doorstep with a note marked "from Santa Claus."

The Cott family become the recipients of the 5th grade classroom tree
The next day, Mr. Mills recognizes the tree in the neighbor’s home and knows what Addie has done.  Finally recognizing that Addie isn't responsible for his bitterness with Christmas,  James brings home a Christmas tree.  But Addie is uncertain how to react.  When her father goes to the attic and retrieves a handmade star to place on the top of the tree, she finally gives in to her father's goodwill gesture.  Addie learns that the star ornament is one her mother had made for Addie’s first Christmas tree before she died.  Warning: don't even bother to resist it--this movie is definitely a tearjerker!

Addie's star handmade by her mother

The cast includes: Jason Robards as James Mills; Mildred Natwick as Grandma Mills; and Lisa Lucas as Addie.  The House Without A Christmas Tree is directed by Paul Bogart.

Addie (Lisa Lucas) and her best friend Carla Mae (Alexa Kenin) in school.
Some viewers may recognize actress Alexa Kenin in the role of Addie's best friend Carla Mae.  Kenin also appeared in numerous Afterschool Specials, the sitcoms Facts of Life and Gimme A Break!, as well as the teen movies Little Darlings and Pretty in Pink before her untimely death in 1985.

Molly Shannon's Mary Katherine Gallagher Christmas sketch also includes guest stars: (left) Rosie O'Donnell and (right) Whitney Houston
I'm not the only one who remembers this classic TV movie.  It has cast a long enough shadow to become part of a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live.  In the 1996 Christmas episode, cast member Molly Shannon as her reoccurring character, Mary Katherine Gallagher, the klutzy Catholic school girl,  steals the spotlight in the school's pageant rehearsal and quotes one of Addie’s monologues from this 1972 film.

Am I the only one to see a similarity in appearance between Lisa Lucas and Liz Lemon (Tina Fey)?

The House Without A Christmas Tree went on to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama - Adaptation by Eleanor Perry.  It was so popular and critically acclaimed that three more TV movies based on the characters by Gail Rock were created: 1973’s The Thanksgiving Treasure, 1975’s The Easter Promise and 1976’s Addie and the King of Hearts.

The House Without A Christmas Tree is available for viewing on DVD as well as Youtube.  It is one of my favorites on my Youtube channel: TistheSeasonTV.

Watching The Homecoming and The House Without A Christmas Tree were annual events in my house when I was growing up in the 1970s.  What Christmas program do you remember looking forward to watching every year when you were a child?


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. She is currently updating and expanding the encyclopedia for a 2021 release. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

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


  1. I absolutely loved this movie as a kid. I was lucky enough to find it on DVD this year. (Hugs)Indigo

  2. Thanks for commenting. It's good, isn't it? Sometimes I just mention the title and my eyes begin to tear up. I want to watch the other TV movies with Addie in them--I need to make the time to do that!

  3. This is one of my favorite Christmas TV memories while growing up in rural Upper Michigan in the 70s. It's even more poignant now as an adult living in New York City....

  4. I have honestly never heard of this show before, although once you have mentioned it, I'm curious to find out. In my days, we used to watch movies like home alone.

  5. I remember watching this along with The Homecoming some time around 1972. Two of my favorites that I still watch every year. I have both books they were based on as well.

  6. I Was 8yrs old,when it came out. Yes,it was a tradion to watch both. On Directv it had played on Ch.364 Inspratinal chan. Why is no one replaying H.w/out Xmas tree? Id hoped perhaps the Hallmark Ch would play such.Wasn't it spnosered by Hallmark&or Kraft? Both had longer heartwarming commercials&Kraft would show diff easy holidayrecipes?Id no idea it was on VHS,let alone DVD? I need to buy a copy so that my Adult Dauggter&5yr old Granddtr both can watch.I'm thrilled,to have found what you've posted! Thanks&Happy Blessed New Year!

  7. I was born in 1968 so I was four when this movie came out and nine years old when they stopped playing it in 1977. When I was younger I used to get so excited when the TV Guide came out in December. I used to go to 8:00pm for every day of the week to see what Christmas specials were going to be on that evening, then it was straight to bed at 9:00.

  8. This was my favorite Christmas movie growing up and every year I think about it. I have not seen it in years but hopefully I will find the movie.

  9. Did this movie play O Christmas Tree song??,I'm trying to remember if it's that movie show??

    1. Yes, Addie and her friends sing it in the kitchen when they are getting ready to go caroling. Her Dad is not happy.

  10. I had the Scholastic Edition of the book and I absolutely loved it.