By Steven Smith
When I was a kid I knew it was the start of the holiday season when "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" came on. I have a very vivid memory lying on the floor of our kitchen watching it on a small black and white television. We were the last family to get a color TV and had just moved into a new house. My father was in the military so we moved quite a bit and frankly, didn’t have much. The heat wasn’t working in the house and we didn’t have a couch so I laid down on the floor of the kitchen and literally watched "Rudolph" sideways lying on the pillow. It was the best show ever.
Everything I know and love about Christmas I learned from the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated specials. Charlie Brown was cool but always a downer and I liked the Grinch, especially his dog Max, but "Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town," "The Year Without a Santa Claus," and especially "Rudolph" hold a special place in my heart. "Rudolph" in particular as the Abominable Snowman’s roar STILL scares the crap out of me. It’s my recorded scream in the shower for "Psycho," play it anywhere and I get freaked out.
Rudolph was the perfect tale of being true to yourself, and as the weird Army brat kid who was always the new kid in school, this always rang true for me. I never considered myself a misfit but dug the song quite a bit. Yukon Cornelius always made me laugh and he sure knew a lot about the Bumble. Any info on how to deal with that monster was always important to me. Plus I always like when stop-motion animated characters fall into water. It’s a fun fantasy sequence.
"Santa Clause is Coming to Town" is one of the best origin stories by far (take note Wolverine) as it sews up EVERYTHING that a child accepts as rote for Christmas, but an older kid might wonder about. For instance, why is there a dead tree with lights on it in our house or what’s with the red suit? And reindeer fly? What’s a reindeer? They took a few liberties with what they looked liked. A couple. Every subtle facet, right down to using the chimneys was covered and everything made sense. Except for the random penguin tagging along. Topper added nothing to Kris’ equation but did come in handy for that killer dance sequence with the Winter Warlock. Sidebar: the Winter Warlock never scared me as much as the Abominable. MAN that dude is creepy.
As much as Rudolph is my guy and "Santa’s Back" satisfied most of my questions, it’s "The Year Without a Santa Clause" that let my little heart know it was almost Christmas. "Rudolph" aired first, then "Santa’s" animated entry into the Marvel Universe, and the final page was Santa wanting a day off. I backed this play as a kid. Santa was a badass with loads to do so why not give him some slack, but the main draw was always the Miser Brothers. The songs are the ultimate earwhig and have forever shaped the way I say “too much.”
It used to be if you missed one of these specials then you were SOL until the next year. Nowadays they air no less than two hundred times starting in August, but their charm and meaning are the same. The holiday season is about being good to one another, for goodness sake. Get it? Now, go out there and have a great Life Day.
Steven Smith still believes in Santa Claus and doesn’t care how you explain the alternative, listen to his podcast his podcast Going Off Track every week cuz he thinks you’ll like it, and wonders why there was never a Rankin/Bass story of Krampus. Look it up.