It seems like the holiday season is the perfect time for reflections, especially in 2020, which will likely go down in history as the year with an asterisk.
Social media lit up like a Christmas tree back in October when we learned the perennial Peanuts favorite “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” was not going to appear on network TV for the first time since its debut on October 27, 1966.
People were aghast – what a letdown! They knew their children would be disappointed too, especially in a year that was already fraught with frustration. After all, not everyone has cable, nor streams their entertainment. I’ve not turned on the TV in almost eleven years since I cancelled my cable.
I was already a “big kid” when the first Peanuts TV special aired.
There have been many Christmas specials for kids over the years. In 1965, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, which was based on Charles Schultz’ comic strip characters, made its debut. I was nine years old and I don’t recall watching it, but we still lived in Canada at that time, so perhaps it was not shown on our network stations.
But I sure remember the TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.
Growing up, we had a ritual during the school year. After dinner on school nights, I sat at the kitchen table to do my homework. With the exception of National Geographic specials or a nature show, every night my after-homework routine was a bath, hop into my PJs, then off to bed.
There was only ONE Christmas special that my folks permitted me to stray from that rigid weeknight routine and that was the annual airing of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. I was no stranger to the characters in this wonderful children’s story, having read the book many times and I even had a bright-red, 45 rpm vinyl record that I got to play on Mommy and Daddy’s record player (with supervision of course). Gene Autry’s 1949 recording will always be the best version of this song in my opinion.
The movie “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” debuted in 1964 and because this was an era before VCRs, DVD players, streaming or cable TV, if I was going to watch this animated show live, there had to be an exception to all the rigid rules and regs in the Schaub household. So, one time a year we had an easy dinner that night … sometimes even a Swanson’s TV dinner, a rare treat in our house since Mom was all about having a hot, home-cooked dinner on the table seven nights a week. Homework was done and checked, then I ran into the living room to park my bum in front of the TV set. In the photo above, I am sitting next to the TV, my baby picture displayed on top of the console and the “Reader’s Digest Abridged Version” volumes on a shelf beneath it.
With rapt attention I watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” while Mommy and Daddy read the newspaper, except periodically I would hear my mom humming to the song “Silver and Gold” by Burl Ives or I’d hear an off-key rendition of the title song coming from the kitchen.
Even when I got older, I continued that ritual of watching “Rudolph” for many years and began including “Frosty the Snowman” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” as my go-to movies for getting into the Christmas spirit, even if I was cramming for exams in college, or had other events swirling around in my life. This was “must-see TV” long before that phrase was coined.
My folks loved the grown-up Christmas TV specials – I guess I did too.
It was a one-TV household for many years with a black-and-white set in a wooden console that took up residence in the living room. Saturday nights during the holiday season, there were specials featuring crooners like Andy Williams, Perry Como and Dean Martin. My parents never missed one of those shows. We would crowd around the TV to watch the singers, clad in heavy ski sweaters, with plastic snow twinkling down in the background and pretty young women clustered all about. We’d be munching on “Nuts-and-Bolts” a snack mix Mom always made during the holiday season. I searched to see if “Nuts and Bolts” was just a salty snack in the Schaub household, but it seems it is a “Canadian thing” … you probably know it as “Chex Mix” or “Doo Dads” here in the States. Mom made a batch for my dad, garlicky like he enjoyed it and a plain version for us. So we munched and crunched away while enjoying the annual holiday specials.
Flash forward a few decades or so.
Television viewing habits at the Schaub household sure changed circa 1989 when the first VCR was brought into the house. Suddenly I could tape my favorite holiday shows to watch them anytime. Because I’m a saver, not a thrower, I still have that original VCR tape where I put a sticky note on the box … maybe some of you have never seen a VCR tape?
Wow … now I could transport myself back to being a kid again by watching my favorite holiday shows anytime I wanted!
Then Mom surprised me by ordering the boxed set of “Rudolph” and “Frosty” (my all-time personal favorites) from Blockbuster Video one year for Christmas.
Sadly, I’ve not seen those shows in ages … in fact, I not only stopped watching TV but unplugged the TV set. Perhaps these two shows are just the ticket to garner a few smiles in this extraordinary and certainly forgettable year. I know the story lines by heart and the songs as well. Heck, I could probably recite some of the conversations had by Rudolph and Clarice, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius, even the roar of Bumble, as well as the chatter between Frosty and Wendy. I must confess there are portions of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” I know by memory too. I laugh at myself as I’ve never watched the classics “White Christmas” or “Miracle on 34th Street” to completion, but I make no apologies for this holiday faux pas.
Taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane is a chance to remember the good times … surely simpler times and chock full of fun memories. There is joy in the journey, whether it is walking along a path or revisiting the past.