In my childhood, there was no greater symbol of affluence than a shelf full of store-bought VHS tapes. The concept was almost unfathomable to me, because my own collection of movies was comprised almost entirely of bootleg duplicates. Sure, we had a couple of store-bought films with their sturdy boxes and fancy covers, but the majority were labeled with masking tape and Sharpie.
Most of these copies were dubbed from rentals, but others were taped from TV. It was a thing in my family. I have a memory of my dad handing me a remote and showing me how to pause the recording during commercials. It was early enough that the remote was still attached to the VCR with a cord.
For special occasions, my dad would change the recording speed to Super Long Play, which would significantly degrade the quality of the picture and sound, but give you up to six hours of recording time.
And that is how our Christmas compilation tape came to be.
In December 1986, when I was two years old, my dad recorded four hours of Christmas shows off of CBS. Sure, there’s some static and garbled dialogue from time to time, and yeah a commercial or two snuck in, but it was our Christmas tape; one my brother and I watched every Christmas for the next 15 years.
What follows is a special edition of Does It Hold Up that reviews that compilation – commercials and all.
0:00 – 24:56 THE SNOWMAN (1982)
A pencil-sketched boy builds a snowman in his front yard, and at midnight, he looks outside and holy shit it’s come to life! The boy shows his new friend the human world and the snowman returns the favor by flying him to the North Pole to be a VIP in a snowman rager. They get home just as the sun is coming up, and when the boy wakes up at noon to recap their crazy night, the snowman is a puddle in the yard. The boy cries, no upside, roll credits.
– Dad is sitting by the fire with a piece of bread on a long fork? Do these people not have a toaster?
– The boy and snowman sneak into his parents’ room, turn on the light and do a fashion show, and the parents don’t wake up? Are they on klonopin or something? Whatever it is, it must be some heavy shit, because despite the parents appearing to be in their mid-30s, one of them has dentures.
– Hold on a second. This snowman knows how to ride a motorcycle? Five minutes ago he was fascinated by dish soap.
One of the coolest scenes in this short film is the intro, when the story is introduced by DAVID FREAKING BOWIE in a blue snowman scarf. Only in my copy, it cuts in halfway through Bowie’s monologue, so that part never made sense until I was much older and saw the clip in its entirety on YouTube.
DOES IT HOLD UP: This is probably my favorite Christmas cartoon of all time, which is fitting, because it’s also the darkest. Before I was even toilet trained, my parents would catch me dancing in the living room during the snowman orgy scene. I held back tears today when the kid finds his friend gone.
The animation and soundtrack is epic and truly a piece of art. They don’t make stuff like that anymore.
The story is really an allegory; you’ve got to make the most of the time you’ve got because everything eventually melts away.
…Unless you put all the pieces together and realize the kid got into the stash of his toast-eating, denture-wearing, motorcycle-owning parents and the whole story is one long acid trip.
24:57 – 48:23 A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (1965)
Christmas time is here for Charlie Brown and the gang. Charlie’s feeling depressed because he thinks nobody really understands the true meaning of Christmas. He mopes around, directs a shitty Christmas play, gets scammed into buying a pine branch disguised as a tree. Just as he’s thinking about stringing himself up with the tinsel, Linus pushes his Christian worldview on everyone and that somehow makes the crew forgive Charlie Brown for being such a loser. Final line of the show: “Charlie Brown is a blockhead, but he DID get a nice tree.” The End?
– Jesus, they are SO MEAN to Charlie Brown. If adults heard kids talking like that to each other now, they’d do mediation or something.
– And it’s not just Charlie Brown. The girl with the curly hair straight up DOGS Pigpen. Dude can’t help that he stinks. He’s going through the change and becoming a man.
Partial commercial break: “This program brought to you by Mounds, Almond Joy, and Peppermint Patties. And by Nabisco Shredded Wheat. No sugar, no —“ quick cut back to the show.
DOES IT HOLD UP: I guess. It’s a classic, but other than the BANGING soundtrack, I never really saw why. I never got into Peanuts the way others did. I don’t care what the kids say, that tree was awful. Charlie Brown’s misanthropic ass is lucky he didn’t ruin Christmas with that blockhead tree purchase.
48:24 – 1:11 FROSTY THE SNOWMAN (1969)
Some kids build a snowman, and it comes to life when they give it the discarded hat of a shitty magician. He’s happy for a minute but starts bitching about it being too hot and demands the kids buy him a ticket to the North Pole. But they can’t afford it because they’re kids, so instead they break the law and sneak on the train and go anyway. The magician, who realizes his hat is magical after all, also stows away so he can get it back. Santa has to intervene, the conflict is resolved, and every year, Frosty returns and they throw him a parade.
– As a gift to her class, the teacher hires what the narrator calls “the worst magician in the world.” What a passive aggressive Christmas present.
– The girl who goes with Frosty to the North Pole is named Karen. She’s so sweet and thoughtful in this one. Little did everyone know she’d grow up to be such a bitch.
– Frosty’s train ticket to the North Pole costs $3,004.96. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $22,027.54 in today’s money, according to the Bureau for Labor and Statistics. Either that ticket seller saw Frosty coming a mile away, or there are some serious issues with whatever rail company that town is using.
N/A. Dad was quick on the button for this one.
DOES IT HOLD UP: This special was created by Rankin & Bass, the same creative minds that developed all those stop-animation classics like Rudolph and Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town. It seems their forte is turning the lyrics of a classic song into a 23-minute TV special. Maybe they just didn’t have much to work with in the Frosty lyrics, because this plot is pretty lame. I remember the stakes being WAY higher when I was a kid.
Does not hold up.
1:11 – 2:09 CHRISTMAS EVE ON SESAME STREET (1978)
Big Bird is STOKED for Christmas, but Oscar the Asshole puts it in BB’s head there’s no way Santa can get down all those tiny little chimneys, so how can he deliver the presents? So BB has an existential crisis for the rest of the show, until he falls asleep, Santa comes, and all is great. Bada bing, bada boom.
Oh, you needed Jim Henson to fill AN HOUR? Uh, how about Grover and Kermit interview kids about how Santa gets down their chimneys? And as a bonus, we can do a Bert and Ernie version of “The Gift of the Magi.”
More? Linda can teach kids how to sign a Christmas song and Cookie Monster can try to ask Santa for more cookies. That’s still only 40 minutes? Shit. Let’s just hire some professional ice skaters and have them do tricks in Sesame Street costumes for the first 20 minutes of the movie. Whew. Christmas specials are hard.
– Seriously, what is Big Bird? Is he a kid? An adult? How is he able to live by himself but then when he goes to the roof for two hours the rest of the block puts out an Amber Alert?
– I was really confused as to why Bert and Ernie had to barter their prized possessions away for presents until I realized how much their huge-ass apartment on 86th street must cost.
– Look, I always get a little teary when the kids start signing during Bob’s song, and Linda tells him it’s his Christmas present. But like, HOW did she organize this herself? These kids presumably don’t speak ASL, so how did she even BEGIN to start on this present? It must’ve taken MONTHS.
– Mr. Hooper’s shop is equally confusing. What kind of fucking business is this guy running that he’s got cigar boxes and soap dishes for sale and willing to accept rubber duckies and paperclips as payments? It feels like a drug front.
N/A. Dad was really on a roll.
DOES IT HOLD UP:
This is a fantastic 30-minute storyline told in 60 minutes. It drags, but I’m still a fan. I love the vintage clothes, and the soundtrack slaps. Even the skating scene, which goes on way too long, has one of my favorite Christmas songs in it, “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano. I recently read an interview with Feliciano in The New Yorker where he said it took 10 minutes to write that song, and he recorded it in one take. “If you know where your song is going, you don’t have to fuck around with it too much,” the 75-year-old said.
My favorite side plot is Cookie Monster trying to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas. He just makes addiction so fun.
2:09 – 2:55 MICKEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1983)
Another situation where the main plot only takes 30 minutes, but CBS REALLY needed to get it to an hour, so before the main Dickens plot kicks off, there are three shorts that have very little to do with Christmas:
– Donald Duck bullies his small nephews by firing snowballs at them for 10 minutes.
– Mickey buys a Christmas tree infested by chipmunks and Pluto tries to eat them for 10 minutes.
– Goofy is SUPER hungover, but he’s scheduled to go skiing, so he falls down a mountain for 10 minutes.
The rest you know. Scrooge is played by Scrooge McDuck, there are three ghosts, Tiny Tim, yadda yadda yadda.
A partial 7-Up commercial where midgets (elves) are playing in the snow and getting messed up on 7-Up. Santa comes out and stamps their behavior. Tagline: 7-Up: The Feeling of Christmas.
Dang, Santa. 7-Up? That’s low, man. I thought you were a Coke guy.
DOES IT HOLD UP:
I know the Muppets do a solid feature-length “Christmas Carol,” and so does Mr. Magoo, but this one is my favorite. You just gotta sit through 30 minutes of recycled drivel to get to the goods.
— BOOTLEG BREAK —
The screen goes to snow and refocuses on a 1980s report from Channel 6 Action News. Cathy Gandolfo reports Santa Claus was on duty at the Deptford Mall today, and parents stood in line with their tots in tow to see him.
But that was not the case Sunday night, Cathy says, when some visitors claimed Santa left his important post a few minutes early.
We cut to Elliott Rosario, a mall security guard in his early 20s whom I share one mutual friend with on Facebook.
“There was this huge argument and um, so we was like — we had everything under control — until the guy picked up a pipe and chased me and the other guard,” Elliott says. “And uh, then the police department arrived, and they had it under control after that.”
Mall manager Lou Couch comes onscreen like a real scumbag wearing a trench coat and bucket hat. He tried to defend Santa dipping out early, saying he was hot and the helpers were tired.
“We had a couple of individuals who were being very vocal about it and I think perhaps antagonizing —“
— END OF BOOTLEG BREAK —
2:57 – 3:21 HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! (1966)
The Whos are prepping for Christmas, which really pisses off the Grinch because he has ill-fitting footwear. He decides to steal the whole town and blame it on Santa. He pulls it off, but then hears the Whos singing in their weird Furby language and all of a sudden understands the true meaning of Christmas. Unlike Linus, the Whos don’t have to be all preachy about it.
– Honestly, I don’t know why the Grinch is so salty. If I had costume making skills like his, I’d be making seven figures on Broadway.
– You can’t tell me there wasn’t one single Who in Whoville who wasn’t like, “I mean, he DID just try to steal our entire town. Do we really have to let him carve the roast beast like he’s some kind of fucking hero?”
Dad missed an entire commercial break on this one, which included:
– Navy officers impressing hot chicks by chewing Wrigley’s spearmint gum (Tagline: Get the little lift)
– Snuggle fabric softener with Snuggie the Bear offering his special edition glass Christmas ornament, because in 1986, a fabric softener ornament is incentive to buy more fabric softener.
– Promos for CBS Saturday shows Teen Wolf and Pee Wee’s Playhouse
– A message from actor Michael Catlin (from the soap opera Capitol, according to IMDB) telling us about the dangers of crack. “If someone offers you crack, just crack a smile and say no.”
DOES IT HOLD UP:
Duh. You can’t screw this one up…unless you’re Jim Carrey.
3:21 – 3:39 ’TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1974)
Santa decides to cancel Christmas for this entire town because some teenage MOUSE wrote a letter to the editor saying Santa is a fraud. The town tries to apologize by building a clock I think? I really don’t know.
Let me be honest: I never paid attention to this one when I was a kid, and I didn’t today either. I think it’s a combination of being at the end of the tape and the fact it’s just a shitty movie.
DOES IT HOLD UP:
It IS a Rankin & Bass joint, but pee yew is it a miss. What a way to end a solid Christmas marathon.