About Christmas TV History

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Christmas in July 2019: Sleepy Kitty Paws

Christmas in July 2019: Sleepy Kitty Paws of https://sleepykittypaws.tumblr.com (twitter @SleepyKittyPaw)

1. What is your favorite Saturday Night Live Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year's sketch?

This is an easy one, because while I adore Jon Lovitz's original Hanukkah Harry skit, "The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Christmas," my all-time favorite is now actually one from last season with Matt Damon and Cecily Strong as harried parents reliving Christmas morning, called "Best Christmas Ever." I don't think a sketch has ever quite captured the anxiety, stress and chaos that is Christmas with children, as well as the inevitable fondness of memory, quite so clearly. Plus, it's absolutely hilarious.

2. Do you most look forward to watching holiday episodes from series? Specials? Movies? Animation? or, all of it?

Well, as a dedicated Christmas viewer, I watch it all, but have to say the animated specials and my holiday movie favorites are what most make it "feel" like Christmas in our household. I've shared before that we do a sort of televised advent calendar, watching a special or holiday series episode every night between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. It's just not Christmas until Prep and Landing, Rudolph, Frosty, The Grinch and Charlie Brown grace our screen. Viewing Love, Actually is an annual "Thanksgiving Eve" tradition, just as is watching Polar Express, the first movie my eldest ever sat through and now a whole-family fave, on Christmas Eve before bed.

While I'm not as fond of Hallmark's ever more homogenized version of the formula, I've still got more than a slight soft-spot for cheesy, made-for-TV Christmas movies, which I start watching long before we carve the turkey. Basically, from the first week in November, straight through New Year's, the bulk of our family viewing—be it movies, TV series or specials—is holiday themed. It's one of my very favorite things about the season.

3. What's your favorite soundtrack from a holiday program? (it doesn't have to have been officially released as an album--just what program features your favorite collection of music?)

I already mentioned what a tradition Love, Actually is in our household—I've probably seen it close to 30+ times at this point—and even though the soundtrack isn't exclusively holiday-themed, every song on it now reminds me of the Christmas season. The feelings all these tunes evoke, from joy to melancholy, really encompasses the range of emotion a typical holiday season includes.

The opening title song from Mavis Staples from Christmas Vacation is also something that can make it instantly feel like the holidays for me. Just those few opening musical bars, and, "It's that time, Christmas time is here, Everybody knows there's not a better time of year," sum up what the holiday means to me.

And, while it's not a full soundtrack by any means, the James Corden-sung The Greatest Gift, from the 2016 Sainsbury's Ad (LINK: https://youtu.be/bq5SGSCZe4E, has become one of our family's all-time favorite Christmas songs. We all sing along and my kids will run into the room when they hear it start to play. Family dance parties to this tune are some of my favorite Christmas memories.

We actually have a whole cache of commercials, mostly British, that we watch every season, as if they were specials. UK retailer John Lewis is especially known for their multi-minute masterpieces, all wonderfully set to music. One of my favorites is 2014's Monty the Penguin (LINK: https://youtu.be/RSxOjBIjyhI).

Another can't miss commercial that makes a non-Christmas song feel oh-so-holiday is Cineplex's 2016 Lily and the Snowman (LINK: https://youtu.be/ZC9vB5AUU2M), a heartbreaking, yet ultimately uplifting, short film, more than a commercial. It provokes more emotion in 3 minutes than most 2 hour-long movies, and the music—Follow You, Follow Me by Adaline—is an absolutely integral part of that.

4. What one program are you patiently (or impatiently) waiting for me to review on this blog?

Not sure I have a definitive answer here, but maybe take time to dive into some of the aughts and 2010s content? It really was a banner time for made-for-TV holiday fare, with great specials like Prep and Landing, Phineas and Ferb's Christmas Vacation, How Murray Saved Christmas, Olive the Other Reindeer, Robbie the Reindeer and The Happy Elf, to name just a few. As well as the heyday, in my mind, of the made-for-TV cable Christmas movie. Every one of my favorite in the genre has been made since 2001, including Holiday Switch (Lifetime), Holiday in Handcuffs (ABC Family), Three Days (USA) and A Family Thanksgiving (Hallmark), among others. (See a full list of my holiday favorites, here: https://sleepykittypaws.tumblr.com/post/132091660499/top-25-made-for-tv-holiday-movies)

5. What change in Christmas entertainment have you noticed over the years? Do you like the trend?

A few friends and I have always loved sweet and silly, and oh-so-cheaply-produced, made-for-TV Christmas movies, and as they grew ever more ubiquitous (and similarly titled), I started keeping lists, so we'd know which ones were new, and what we've already seen. In 2015, I started putting that list online, so it was easier for all of us to readily access. At that time, the number of new movies per season had already escalated to what we felt was an overwhelming 20-30 total per year. How naive we were.

Last year, there were 85 original, made-for-TV movies airing across cable, Netflix and Hulu, and that number doesn't include other VOD options or myriad of other new, non-movie holiday programming out there. This year, I think the 100-movie threshold will be crossed, with more than 40 coming from the Hallmark channels alone. (And, if not in 2019, then in 2020 for sure.)

And the definitive lesson I have learned from this is…There absolutely CAN be too much of a good thing. I find Hallmark's increasingly identical offerings more and more rote and joyless, despite their pop culture popularity; with scripts so similar and utterly stripped of life and spark that not even the most charming of actors can rescue them from saccharine sameness. I'm not looking for hardcore or dark in my holiday viewing material—quite the contrary—and little makes me happier than a sweet, silly Christmas rom-com, but I think Hallmark's factory farming approach to holiday movies has made them a bit of a slog, with only rare glimpses of the fun and frothy dose of holiday spirit I used to tune into them for.

So far, Lifetime and Netflix are doing a great job creating cute Christmas content, with a little more diversity of story (and cast), that I still truly enjoy viewing, but I fear, as goes Hallmark, the made-for-TV holiday movie behemoth, so goes the rest of the field. Fingers crossed I'm wrong, as I'd hate to lose something that, it may sound crazy, but has been so much a part of my Christmas joy over so very many years.


  1. I love Prep and Landing! I think the Phineas and Ferb special is great, but the Pixar specials are pregnant my favorite recent entries.

    1. Know it's sacrilege to the '60s classics, which I do love, but the PREP AND LANDING series may be my all-time favorite Christmas specials.

  2. Kicking myself that I forgot to include the NATIVITY! soundtrack in my list. Super charming British Christmas film that has become one of my all-time favorites and the music has become part of our Christmas tradition. Super catchy and cheerful, they're making it into a stage show this year in the UK.

  3. "Prep and Landing" has definitely earned its place among the classics in our home. I love the opening with Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song".