About Christmas TV History

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Christmas TV Party 2014: Stephen Lind, PhD

"Lights, please?"
Christmas TV Party 2014: Stephen Lind, PhD  at Washington and Lee University

1) What is the first Christmas special you remember watching?
Walt Disney's Pluto's Christmas Tree is the one Christmas program I simply remember always remembering... even though I don't actually remember when I first watched it.  Of all the classics that have been so meaningful and so much fun for me over the years, it is the one that holds the oldest anchor in my mind.  Only a 6 minute short released in 1952, it has certainly been around for a long time, and I invariably saw it on TV as a child in the 1980s.  Perhaps we had the Little Golden Book adaptation, Donald Duck's Christmas Tree.

2) Name one Christmas program/movie you enjoy watching all year round.
A Charlie Brown Christmas  is simply my favorite movie, regardless of the season.  Of course, it's not actually a "movie," but rather is a television special aired in 1965... but that matters little to me (my favorite actor is Kermit the Frog, so perhaps I'm not one for the letter of the law).  It's one of those shows that I own multiple copies of, listen to the soundtrack from regularly, and actively enjoy watching at all times of the year (which is a good thing, because I am currently writing a book about the Peanuts franchise).  The style alone grabs me, and the boldness by which Charles Schulz was willing to gently but earnestly share from the Gospel of Luke is as important as it is impressive.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

3) Name one overlooked, or under-appreciated Christmas program.
The Muppet Christmas Carol is a rather well-known recent-ish (1992) Christmas program, but it surprises me each year that it is not as much of a national event as the airings of the other classics.  When I was in college, I had a copy of the video on an early MP3 player I owned, and I would play the video while driving home from Virginia to Michigan.  The songs are just outstanding (find "It Feels Like Christmas" on YouTube and tell me you disagree.  The harmonies!), the lines are hilariously witty with significant fidelity to Dickens' original, and the Muppets have such a visual flare that I could picture the whole movie without taking my eyes off from the winding Appalachian roads.  This is easily #2 for me behind A Charlie Brown Christmas.

4) Send us to 3 places on the internet.
ReligiMedia -- this is my (occasional) blog in which I discuss religious content in mainstream entertainment.  Do subscribe, and watch for a "Christmas (in the 1960s) in July!" post. www.Religimedia.com 

JRPC -- the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture recently published some of my research on religion in classic Christmas specials - "Christmas in the 1960s: A Charlie Brown Christmas, Religion, and the Conventions of the Television Genre."  It's an academic journal that your local library will likely have access to, or you can purchase the article online. http://utpjournals.metapress.com/content/w552ht473484w376/

Bronner's -- If you've not been to Bronner's Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan, you need to go.  It is reportedly the world's largest Christmas store, the grounds covering a total 27 acres.  The building itself is 7 acres of all-Christmas, all-year-round (except Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year's Day).  If you go, be sure to purchase an ornament and have it personalized.  It is the quintessential Bronner's experience.  Afterward, you can find ornaments for everyone on your Christmas list... they have one of just about everything.  Then treat yourself to dinner at Zehnder's or the Bavarian Inn.  If you make it during the winter, be sure to schedule your trip during the annual ice festival.  www.Bronners.com  

Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean

5) What are your 3 favorite Christmas episodes of a TV sitcom or drama?
Mr. Bean: Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean (1992).  It's important that television producers feel the freedom to responsibly reference the spiritual meaning/history of Christmas (which is alive and well in the real lives of many many viewers).  That doesn't mean it can't be funny, though.  Mr. Bean's nativity scene is pretty funny.. complete with Daleks and a T-Rex.

ALF's Special Christmas (1987).  Haa!  He kills me.  (Actually, this one's a rather touching extended episode.)

The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Alan Brady Show Presents (1963).  Rob and Laura are a smash in their singing and dancing numbers, as always.  


  1. As simple as it may seem, A Charlie Brown Christmas, I think, is far from it. Not only has it lasted the test of time (in prime time on major network TV) but it continues to to speak to me as an adult. I'm looking forward to reading your upcoming book!

  2. Stephen I loved your post! You shared so many things I feel similarly about. Pluto's Christmas Tree had such a big impact on me as a kid too...I love when Chip & Dale are inside the tree. Reminds me of being a kid, laying under the tree and looking up at the lights and ornaments, only this put you right into it.

    A Charlie Brown Christmas is definitely my favorite special as well. It is always the first thing I watch at the start of the Christmas season to kick things off. I listen to the soundtrack all year though...nothing puts me in a happy mood quite like Skating and Christmas Time Is Here in a reflective mood.

    I used to live only an hour away from Bronner's and we went every year. I agree, it is quite a spectacular place that every Christmas lover should visit at least once. We went back to Michigan last year on vacation and it was one of the places I had to go, even if it was June. :)

    I'm glad you also brought up Alf's Christmas special. I really should have added it to my list (I forgot so many when writing it up). It's surprisingly touching, plus I love the whole cabin in the woods setting. One of my favorites, for sure!

  3. Very interesting choices, Stephen. I particularly want to check out that JRPC article, and your blog sounds like it would be right up my alley. (Pause, check link.) Yes, I think I'm going to enjoy reading that.

    And on Muppet Christmas Carol, I've always been impressed by how straight Michael Caine played Scrooge. There must have been a temptation to ham it up a bit, to play to the absurdity of acting opposite Muppets, but Caine never falls into that trap. He turns in a performance that would stand out in any "straight" version of Christmas Carol.

  4. I really watched the Muppet Christmas Carol this past holiday season and was struck by how good it actually is. And as for the place it Michigan - WOW!

  5. I'm glad there's so much insightful appreciation for Muppet Christmas Carol here. Stephen, I love that you chose Pluto's Christmas Tree! And I can't wait to read your book about Peanuts.