About Christmas TV History

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Answers #6 and 7

Last month, I opened the door for you to ask me questions. Need to see that request again?  Here ya go.  Several of you stepped up and I've been working on responses.  Thank you for your patience.  I'll respond to two questions in this space today. Here's Question #6:

In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Shermy laments: "Every Christmas it's the same: I always end up playing a shepherd." In Christmas Is, Benji asks "Why do I always have to play a stupid Shepherd?"
I think the idea of a kid getting stuck as the shepherd every year predates Peanuts. I vaguely recall some kid making the same complaint in a B&W movie I saw years ago, although I cannot recall what it was.  Any idea where this cultural riff comes from? Is it lost in the mists of time?

Also, decades after Lemon v. Kurtzman, Christmas entertainment still imagines that our public schools can put on Christmas pageants complete with nativity. Witness Edith Ann's Christmas (Just Say Noel) or the Boondock's Christmas episode. Isn't it odd how strong the notion of a Christmas pageant persists, even though most of us have never actually been to one?

Well, I suppose it's a part of our culture--and not just at Christmas--that most everybody that participates in a stage play or pageant likes to be the star and have the leading role.  I don't know who first made a complaint about portraying a background character such as a shepherd. Off the top of my head, I remember a cute but brief Nativity pageant in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945). It's not exactly a Christmas film but it is frequently aired during the holidays. Maybe someone else has a better answer?

And to respond to the 2nd half of your question: I think the key word is "imagines." I don't know why TV and film writers do what they do.  Many of us have been to Christmas or Nativity pageants in places like churches or community centers--and I suppose TV writers are appealing to those common experiences.  To be fair--the example of The Boondocks episode is complicated.  In that episode, viewers never really know what Huey's play is about--only that it includes a Black Jesus.  The play is eventually cancelled by the PTA board--and when Huey's teacher Mr. Uberwitz moves forward with the production, he is fired.  If you watch the episode again, you'll see one of the characters in the play is dressed as a Japanese samurai--so I'm not sure about the play's religious intent or what the story is about anyway. What is clear from The Boondocks episode over all is that it is meant to address issues of racial identity.  But I know what you are saying--there are fictional stories on TV of children in school Christmas and Nativity plays when that isn't legal.  Next, you'll be telling me there's no such thing as Santa Claus?

What does everyone else think?  That's what the comments section is for. Thanks Kevin for your question.  I hope I addressed at least part of your query.

Next up: Question #7 from Maryam:

How much contact do you have with the nostalgia channels? I would love to see them all do blocks of holiday programming or ALL holiday programming throughout the holiday season, or at least through the month of December. We have access to ME-tv, GET-tv, Cozi, LAFF tv, RETRO tv and i know there are more. How come they don't get in on the holiday festivities and bring back old holiday variety shows, music specials, sitcoms, tv movie specials, cartoons that are NEVER shown anymore? It seems like there is a wealth of nostalgic holiday programming that should be available to be shown during the holiday season. Make it happen please!

Make it happen, indeed.  I love your faith in me, Maryam! I wish I had more control over holiday TV programming.  Let me address your desire for more Christmas entertainment.

There is a wealth of holiday programming from the past and I join you in wanting to see more of it each year airing on television. At the same time, the people who make these decisions on programming aren't always as knowledgeable about what's out there as you and I.  These networks are also working within budgets to pay for the licenses to air special programming.  That being said--both MeTV, GetTV, and AntennaTV do broadcast fantastic older programming during the holidays.  Or, at least they did last year.  I'm expecting the same this year.  Let's also pay close attention to the promotions by Cozi, Laff, RetroTV, Movies! and Grit in the coming weeks to see what they are doing this December.  Most of those announcements are coming very soon. (I know that RetroTV in the past several years hasn't aired special holiday programming--but I'm ever hopeful.)

I typically write about the best of the classic holiday programming each year--usually in November.  Here's last year's announcement.  I'll be doing that again, soon.

I also share the best of daily TV listings during the holidays on my Facebook page Tis the Season TV--and I like to focus on classic TV programming. I'll be starting that again in a few days.

Thanks for you questions Kevin and Maryam.  New Christmas TV movies are debuting this weekend.  Is everybody ready?  Happy Halloween.

Did you see my response to Answer Time #1, Answer Time #2, Answer Time #3, Answer Time #4 and Answer Time #5


  1. Perhaps showing a public school hosting a Christmas pagent/nativity scene is just one of the many way we romanticize Christmas. For example, has there ever been a holiday movie or tv show that somehow didn't feature snow? Yet, actual snow coming down from the sky on Christmas day has happened once where I live in recent memory and it complicated travel plans and made the day much more hectic than it needed to be. I know we're fine without ever having a White Christmas again, but I'll watch it on TV every year.

    1. Excellent point. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

    2. I agree. I think Ed's right. And, Christmas pageants are still something churches and religious schools can, and still do, put on. I remember fondly an Amahl & the Night Visitors production at my old Presbyterian church. But, it is, I think, largely, a romantic vision that blends Christmas past and Christmas present.

      Lemon v. Kurtzman aside, some of my favorite Christmas shows have a Christmas pageant at the center. From Charlie Brown to Vicar of Dibley.

      Down in SW Ohio we have had a few white Christmases. I am sure Joanna has seen a few in Akron.

    3. Yes--Akron sees its share of white Christmases. I've even seen a few white Halloweens, white Valentine's Days and white Easters.

  2. LOL. I told someone once that one of the reasons I love ELEMENTARY is that they have actual WEATHER on the show: rain and snow. In TV land otherwise it is sunny all the time unless it's Christmas (it snows) or there's a funeral (it rains).

    I went to public school in the 1960s and we did indeed have nativity plays; we got the monthly play magazine--remember those?--and there was always a nativity-based play or two. Rarely, however, were they about the actual nativity. They might be about a wise man, or something like Amahl where a child wants to give a gift to the baby Jesus.