Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What Makes a Christmas Special?

What makes a TV special or movie a Christmas special? If you think about it, many Christmas shows and movies are set in December but have little or nothing to do with Christmas. By the way, everything listed here is worth watching, even if it has little to do with Christmas.

In the 19th century, Charles Dickens felt that Christmas had declined and decided to revive it. He wrote a series of novels set during Christmas starting with A Christmas Carol. Christmas is central to the book and the numerous movie adaptations.

I finally saw the Gum Drop Kid last night. The song Silver Bells is from this movie. Most of it is set in New York in late December. A small-time hustler, played by Bob Hope, has to raise money fast in order to pay off a gangster. He sets up a fake charity and sends out hoods dressed as Santa Clause to solicit contributions. Other than a couple of scenes with snow and the guys dressed as Santa, it has little to do with Christmas.

Likewise, White Christmas. Some veterans hold a fund-raiser for their former commander. It takes place at Christmas and they sing White Christmas. In fact, the movie was written to cash in on the popularity of the song which actually came from the movie Holiday Inn. This movie had production numbers for all the holidays but is remembered for White Christmas.

Christmas in Connecticut is set during Christmas. The plot revolves around a woman who writes a column about cooking for her husband and baby but who is actually single and cannot cook. It could be moved to another holiday with a few script changes.

Its a Wonderful Life is set at Christmas but could easily be moved to New Year's Eve.

In The Bishop's Wife, an angel comes to Earth to help a bishop. He ends up spending most of his time with the bishop's neglected wife and convincing a major donor that it would be better to give her money to charity than pay for a new cathedral. Christmas is a backdrop.

While Christmas Story takes place during December, most of it could have taken place at any time. Winning a lamp shaped like a leg has nothing to do with Christmas although it has become a symbol of the movie. The quest for a Red Ryder BB gun is one of many plots.

How the Grynch Stole Christmas, both the tv show and the movie, are outright Christmas movies. The celebration of Christmas is the catalyst and the spirit of Christmas brings about the resolution.

All of these movies were set around Christmas. Movies and programs featuring Santa Claus up the ante.

Christmas, or at least Santa Claus, is central to A Miracle on 34th Street. We never do find out for certain if Chris is a delusional old man or Santa Clause.

Most of Santa Claus the Movie takes place at Christmas but, surprisingly, the climax takes place in January. Note - although I included it on my list, this is not a very good movie. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is more watchable.

The original song Frosty the Snowman did not have anything to do with Christmas. That was added in the TV special.

The current movie, Arthur Christmas takes place on Christmas Eve. The plot revolves around Arthur's struggle to deliver a toy that his father (Santa) overlooked.

Only a few Christmas specials make any reference to Christ. A Charlie Brown Christmas is unique by including a nativity play (which never gets off the ground) and a reading from the Bible. The message is that there is more to Christmas than commercialism. The made-in-China plastic Charlie Brown trees are a horrible mockery of the special's message.

NBC made two stop-motion specials set during the nativity. The first was based on the hit song The Little Drummer Boy. The second was a sequel.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this? Not many. A few Christmas movies feature a life-changing event. Many more are simply set at Christmas. Christianity is seldom part of a Christmas movie although some sort of spiritual event might be. Romance is more common than spiritual awakening.

Outside of Santa Claus, what sets good Christmas movies apart is some sense that this is the time to care about friends and family.

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