Christmas TV Memories

Right before Christmas, back in the days when Americans didn’t believe that the holiday could be cleansed of its religious roots, the week or so leading up to the big day was awash in thematic fare. Every drama and sitcom acknowledged Christmas in a very special episode and variety shows had glittery specials.

And there were movies. Lots of old movies. Jimmy Stewart and Alistair Sims.

When I was in kindergarten, Jonny Whitaker of the sitcom Family Affair, was the little “it” boy as far as movies and specials went. He did Disney and he starred in an adaptation of a children’s Christmas book called The Littlest Angel.

It was horrific really when I recall it. A little shepherd boy named Michael falls to his death chasing a butterfly along a steep mountain path. His parents have no idea he is dead when he travels back from heaven to retrieve a box of treasures to give to the newborn baby Jesus though his mother “feels” him hug her and clutches her heart in fear.

The point of the story was that even the smallest of us can be important in the grand scheme and that God loves all of us regardless, but I remember even today watching that little boy fall and knowing that his parents would be heartbroken when they discovered what had happened.

Consequently, it shouldn’t surprise me that so much of what Rob and I watch with Dee is littered with dead parents and dead or dying children. That is the stuff that makes our tummies tighten and is an easy dramatic reach for most writers. Why mess with success.

On a whim, I searched for a clip from the original show and, of course, I found it. When I was five and six and seven, I really liked this movie. I watched it every year along with Rudolph and Charlie Brown and J.T. and that scraggly cat. I wonder at myself these days because I can’t believe I associated such sadness with the joy of Christmas in a positive way.

8 thoughts on “Christmas TV Memories

  1. I only knew “The Littlest Angel” as a story, not as a movie. As an adult I bought a beautiful picture book of the story, tender and bittersweet. My children, especially my daugher, enjoyed the story as well.

  2. Alistar Sims is the man but don’t forget the version starring George C. Scott. It’s masterful. Aside from those two, you can forget the rest. Jim Carey, that idiot, has some nerve even throwing his hat into the ring.

    Watched A Charlie Brown Christmas on DVD the other night. Do you remember when you had just ONE SHOT to see that thing? If you missed it, you had to wait an entire year to see it again.

    1. Oh, I couldn’t forget George He is Scrooge for me. But that version is a teaching memory not a childhood one. I was a closet history teacher and December was Dickens and the Industrial Revolution culminating with George’s Scrooge right before the break for the holiday.

      I haven’t seen the new version with Carrey.

  3. Wow. I don’t know how I missed seeing this jewel from our childhood. It’s pretty awful — I do remember reading the book, though, and thinking it was terribly sad.

    Actually, my mother hated this kind of thing and we weren’t allowed to watch most of the kids’ programming that came on at Christmas. The old movies — It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street — were fine, but I had to beg to watch Rudolph and Charlie Brown. Forget about Frosty and Santa coming to town!

    As I think about it, I wish I had the same control over the TV that my mom did.

    1. The sad thing is that at the time, I loved that movie. Watched it every time it was on. My parents were strict and lax at the same time. We watched all sorts of stuff that left horrible impressions but at the same time, I saw (and read) all manner of things that other kids were sheltered from and I am better for it. A little white girl living in the whitest town in Iowa could have grown up to be a different person if not for my parents contradictions in parenting.

  4. johnny whitaker?!? oh, my… what a blast from the past… i had forgotten (blocked?) this charming little tear jerker from my memory banks, but like you, it was a holiday staple… and ol’ Herman Munster as an angel?!? delightful!

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