Every year when I was little, I eagerly awaited the holiday specials on TV. They only ran once a year, and if you missed them, that was it. There were no videos or DVDs. You had your one shot to see Rudolph, or it was over. “There’s always Tomorrow” truly did not apply.
Like most people my age, I can basically recite these specials from beginning to end. The characters were one of the best parts about the season. Even today when I watch them, I beam a smile pretty much from start to finish. I sing along heartily to each song, anticipating precisely when each commercial break will happen.
This year, I have been thinking about the meaning these shows tried to convey. What were these shows trying to teach us? Were we supposed to be learning about charity and generosity? About the birth of Jesus? In truth, Jesus was barely mentioned. The characters in these shows all endured tremendous stress. What resilience lessons did we learn from Frosty, Rudolph, and Charlie Brown? My husband and I recently reviewed the old holiday specials and made a list of what we learned from them.
Frosty the Snowman
Doug: Frosty is about the terror of sudden death, and existential anxiety. There is always a threat of imminent catastrophe (melting). Yet, it is important to keep cheerful.”
Lise: “There is a magic hat out there, and it’s very important to have it. Also, beware of rabbits.”
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Doug: “The power of friendship; coping with bullying, Linus is the true hero here.”
Lise: “The sheer joy of dancing. It’s great to put on a show! Never give up on your plants, no matter how dead they look. Try singing to them.”
How the Grinch Stole Christmas:
Doug: “Greed, envy, and materialism are corrupting forces”
Lise: “Do not underestimate the strength of your small dog. Try tying fake antlers to his head and see what happens. Also, mean people literally have hearts that are way too small. Just ignore them and join a chorus.”
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Lise: Here I must pause full-stop. Rudolph is a hero to me, and I will not joke about him. This show was always my favorite. As I got older, I recognized my complete identification with Rudolph and his hero journey. He was mocked and abused by his peers growing up, due to his unusual appearance (check). His parents did not handle it well (check). He set off on his own, against terrible odds, making his way through treacherous conditions (check). He found his own band of friends, all of them misfits (check). There were a lot more misfits than he ever imagined (check). It turns out that his disability was a source of strength for others (check). But he remained loyal and true to his misfit friends and never forgot them (check).
I have never been able to watch Rudolph without crying.
I have told many people about my fixation with Rudolph, most of whom looked at me like I was very strange. Recently though, I came across an essay which explains my point of view far better than I can (you can read it here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/11/opinion/rudolph-christmas-queer.html). So Rudolph is a hero to more people than just me. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is about the triumph of courage over bullying, the strength that comes from welcoming difference, and the healing power of acceptance and love.
Doug: “Traveling in the fog is hazardous, and it’s important to have appropriate lighting.”
I hope this blog has brought you a laugh during what can be a stressful time. The holidays can be fun and meaningful, but they can also be fraught with high expectations, family pressures, disappointment, loneliness, social alienation, loss, financial anxiety…you name it. The older we get, the more the pressures and losses can mount. I hope that your holidays are peaceful, and that you have times of contentment and joy. As they say at the end of the masterpiece that is Rudolph: “Have a holly jolly Christmas, and when you walk down the street: say hello to friends you know, and everyone you meet.” (click here for a bit of Rudolph: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Em2Ixvefo)
See you in the next year!
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.