About Christmas TV History

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Waltons Christmas (1978)

This much beloved family drama first aired on TV in 1972.

Last week I shared my review of the book Lessons from the Mountain, actress Mary McDonough's autobiography from 2011. Click HERE for the link to the book review.  Since I have the hit '70s TV series The Waltons on the brain again, I thought I'd remind everyone of the Christmas episodes of that series.  In November last year, I blogged about the 1971 Christmas TV movie The Homecoming and The Waltons episodes 1976's The Best Christmas and 1977's The Children's Carol.  Click on the titles to see those blog posts again.  Today I'm eager to share about the 1978 holiday episode of The Waltons entitled "Day of Infamy."

Mother and father Walton played by actors Michael Learned and Ralph Waite.

This episode tells the painful story of the difficult 1941 holiday season starting on December 7th, the same day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  After church on that fateful Sunday in December, Olivia and John go in search of a small Christmas tree for the family, Ben has a date, and Mary Ellen is excited to be packing for her trip to join her husband Curt in Hawaii.

Waiting for their parents to return home, the clan gathers around a car radio listening to the horrific news of the bombings across the ocean.

When the tragic news reaches the mainland, everyone gathers around the radio listening to the events as they unfold, dreading an unpredictable future and knowing that this world-changing event will mean the United States will now join the war.  This tension filled episode is also a nostalgic reminder of how much our common experiences have changed since the 1940s--we now are far more likely to turn to television and the internet for our world news rather than radios.

Mary Ellen and Verdie both await news from Pearl Harbor.  Mary Ellen is concerned about her husband Curt while Verdie worries about her son Jody who is serving on the USS Arizona.

But the news comes in slowly and the family members are held on edge waiting for word about Curt and the unfolding reaction by the American government and the upcoming military involvement.  Mary Ellen seems pragmatic as she keeps herself from panicking, not over-reacting before she hears the official word of Curt's possible safety or harm.  Though none of the other members of the Walton family feels much like preparing for Christmas, Mary Ellen insists that everyone carry on until they hear differently.

Insisting they begin decorating for Christmas, Mary Ellen shows her baby John Curtis the bird's nest she likes to put in the Christmas tree.  This is a reference to a scene from 1971's The Homecoming--remember it?

With still no news from Curt, Mary Ellen recalls her wedding day--a flashback to the fifth season episode "The Wedding."

Mother Olivia Walton worries that her sons will rush off secretly to enlist in the military--something Jim Bob, Ben and Jason discuss among themselves.

The following day, President Roosevelt delivers his now-famous speech, a declaration of war.  A telegram finally arrives: Mary Ellen’s husband Curt working as a doctor on the wounded soldiers was a victim of the attacks.

Jim Bob (David Harper) shares the telegram with his sister Mary Ellen (Judy Norton) knowing she would rather hear the tragic news from a family member.

John (Ralph Waite) hugs his mother (Ellen Corby) now understanding more fully how hard it is to see your own child march off to war, as she did when he served during WW I.

Though this episode is clearly not an easy story filled with the typical happiness of the season that we expect, it is still a human story--one about world events we either remember or can understand since many of us have experienced tension-filled, difficult holidays in our lives.  Stories like this remind us to have compassion for others during the holidays as many struggle with loss, grief or even depression while many are celebrating.  The Waltons provides an example of a family that comes together during their difficult times to help and support one another--an inspiring story at Christmas and all through the year.

The family that cries together, stays together.  Tears flow as John reads out loud from the letter Curt wrote to his baby son John Curtis just in case he never returned.

1 comment:

  1. How can I get a copy of the Walton's Christmas Special 1978?
    I did a commercial for Tide on the show and would like a copy