About Christmas TV History

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bewitched Christmas (1970)

Of the four Christmas episodes on Bewitched, which one is your favorite?

Warning: the 1970 Christmas episode of Bewitched in my summary below contains images of blackface that are arguably culturally insensitive. However, what makes this episode worth talking about is that blackface here is not being used to dehumanize but to make a point about racial equality. How successful this story is in effectively sharing its intended message is up to each TV viewer to decide. Christmas TV history includes other instances of culturally insensitive images and story lines across a spectrum of offenses. I think it is important to examine these stories because in doing so, we examine ourselves and our culture. --JW


It's October and everyone seems to be looking forward to Halloween at the end of the month.  Talk of ghosts, goblins, monsters, and witches reminds me of my favorite TV witch, Samantha Stephens.  I've already shared my favorite Christmas episode of Bewitched--1964's "A Vision of Sugar Plums" which included guest stars Billy Mumy and Bill Daily.  Last month in Chicago at The Hollywood Show, I bumped into actor Bill Daily in the hallway and he wished me a good morning.  It was just a brief encounter but one that made my day.  Also while in Chicago, I was lucky enough to have my booth located next to actress Erin Murphy, the actress who played young Tabitha on Bewitched.  Of course, our talk turned to Christmas on TV and she proudly spoke about the 1970 episode "Sisters At Heart."  So I thought I'd it would be fun to share this special Christmas episode with a socially conscious message.

Lisa is spending the night at the Stephens' house while her parents are out of town on a business trip.

In "Sisters At Heart," Tabitha befriends the young daughter of one of Darren’s colleagues at McMann & Tate, an African-American girl named Lisa Wilson.  The two girls quickly become best friends and wish they were sisters. Unfortunately, another child on the playground suggests that they can’t be sisters because they don’t have the same skin color.

At first, Tabitha makes both girls white skinned.

Then Tabitha makes them both black skinned.  However, Lisa worries their mothers won't be able to recognize them.

Hearing this, Tabitha uses her magic to make the two girls look more alike in order to be sisters.  Eventually her spell causes Lisa to be covered in white spots and her own skin to be covered in black spots.

Tabitha's solution: their polka dots make them sisters!
 Once Samantha discovers her daughter's hijinks, she sets out to correct the matter.  However, overcoming Tabitha's spell becomes more complicated as the little witch doesn't want to change back.  While Samantha waits for help from Dr. Bombay, the little girls happily continue on as "sisters in spots."

Sam's magic isn't powerful enough to overcome Tabitha's wishcraft!

This gives Samantha an opportunity to talk to the youngsters about their common human bond despite their skin color.  The Stephens family continues to confront issues of race when a bigoted client of Darren’s fires him after mistaking Lisa to be his daughter.

The McMann and Tate office Christmas party is held at the Stephens' family home--all while Samantha races to change Lisa back to normal before her parents come to pick her up!

The party is held at the Stephens' home to show their client Mr. Brockway that Darren is a stand-up guy.
 The McMann and Tate client, Mr. Brockway (played by Parely Baer), had visited the Stephens home earlier in the story and after being greeted at the door by Lisa had assumed that Darren had a racially mixed marriage and fires Darren from the account.  When Mr. Brockway attends the office Christmas party, he eventually offers the job back to Darren despite his mixed marriage.  But Larry is offended by Mr. Brockway's subtle racism and tells him to take his account to another firm.  Mr. Brockway makes the claim "some of my best friends are negroes," and Samantha decides to show him how deep his racism runs.

Under Sam's magic, everyone Mr. Brockway sees has black skin.

Samantha is delighted in showing Mr. Brockway the difference between racial tolerance and acceptance.

After seeing himself in the mirror with black skin, Mr. Brockway flees the Christmas party.

This episode has a happy ending when Mr. Brockway returns to the Stephens' home on Christmas morning to apologize for his prejudices--and viewers are reminded about the holiday-appropriate moral lesson about brotherhood, kindness, and love. 

Lisa's parents.  Her father is played by Don Marshall--who also appeared in a classic episode of Star Trek in 1967.

This unique holiday story with a social message is based on a high school writing assignment from the fifth period English class at Thomas Jefferson High School, in Los Angeles.  The entire class is listed in the episode's closing credits!  Making this episode even more special, it won the Governors Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences the following year.  How cool is that?

The Wilsons and the Stephens together on Christmas morning.


  1. Amazing episode and since it is done well and with heart, it comes across perfectly.

  2. I have always loved this episode

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