Throughout my college years, whenever my friends and I would get together to celebrate Christmas festivities over hot cocoa and peppermint schnapps, talk would inevitably lead to our favorite holiday TV specials. We’d talk Rudolph and Frosty, A Charlie Brown Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
But there’d be mutterings about yet another special, one for which we could only remember bits and pieces, because unlike Rudolph and the other standards, this one hadn’t aired in years. Bear in mind, this is before the Internet was widely available, which meant looking something up on IMDB and Amazon was impossible, what with neither of them existing. So the one bit of information – a song called “Heat Miser” sung by a flame-haired little man – was no help. We’d weep for the brilliant piece of children’s television that we’d never see again. True, our emotions were likely heightened by all of the schnapps. But still.
I never imagined these words would be typed by my fingers, but thank God for ABC Family, which has once again brought this long-lost holiday special – the Rankin Bass production of The Year Without a Santa Claus – back to the airwaves. It is our good fortune that in this age of 19,487 channels, most are desperate for programming. And the network’s “25 Days of Christmas” is running a ton of all-time favorites (as well as that horrible live-action Grinch movie and a rather disturbing Tom Arnold vehicle, but let’s not go there).
For the uninitiated, The Year Without a Santa Claus (or TYWASC, as its known in freaky fan circles) tells the tale of a year, long ago, when Santa – convinced no one cares about Christmas anymore (and in bed with what appears to be either the flu or menstrual cramps) – decides to cancel Christmas. Mrs. Claus, along with head elves Jingle and Jangle, hatches a scheme to change Santa’s mind, and as you might imagine, all hell breaks loose. In this scenario, hell includes baby reindeer Vixen being disguised as a dog (and humiliated) by having her antlers covered with Jangle’s dirty socks, and then being abducted by the dog catcher in Southtown, USA. Trust me; it’s not any less confusing on the screen.
The plot, in a nutshell, is this: If it snows in Southtown (which appears to have a Miami-type climate), the mayor will proclaim Christmas a national holiday for Santa. And in trying to make this happen, Mrs. Claus brings us face to face with the showstopper of the hour.
We are introduced to Snow Miser, a tall, thin, big-nosed icicle of a man who apparently runs the weather for all of the Northern Hemisphere. He (literally) does his song and dance (“I’m Mr. White Christmas, I’m Mr. Snow….”), and when Mrs. Claus asks him to bring a snowstorm to Southtown, he says he’d be happy to oblige, but she’d first need his brother’s approval, since that city is in his territory. It was at this point where I started noticing the subtle similarities of the Miser brothers and pharmaceutical reps. But I digress.
Heat Miser greets Mrs. Claus with his own production number (“I’m Mr. Green Christmas, I’m Mr. Sun…”), and while it’s very similar to Snow Miser’s in both melody and lyrics, this version has more oomph. It’s jazzier, and it kind of makes you want to do a striptease. There’s also something about Heat Miser’s huge head of flaming hair – and that of his wee minions – which outdoes the Snow Miser’s performance.
Heat Miser, being the rotund hothead he is, stubbornly will not allow for snow in his area unless he gets a sunny day at the North Pole. Much name-calling ensues (“tooty-fruity brother” and “flaming fool” were bandied about, which is either playfully bold or bigoted, I’m not sure which, considering this show was produced in 1974). So Mrs. Claus is forced to pull off the gloves and go straight to their mom…Mother Nature, of course. After maternal chastising, lightning bolts being ominously thrown and dutiful sons becoming complete momma’s boys, an agreement is negotiated.
Several musical numbers are featured in TYWASC – so much so that it often feels like a community theater production. And as a fan of Waiting for Guffman, I mean that in the best possible way. But not surprisingly, besides the Miser numbers, most of the songs are forgettable. That is, until Santa reads a letter from a little girl who’s crushed that he’s cancelled Christmas. Her feelings are expressed in a truly lovely rendition of “Blue Christmas.” There’s something plaintive and touching about the drawing the little girl makes of her sad face gazing out the window of her two-dimensional house, with a fat blue tear on her cheek. Even the big man in red gets a little weepy.
It’s this letter that ultimately convinces dear old St. Nick that taking a holiday at Christmas would be nonsense. There’s a montage of reindeer being prepped, toys being packed, and the sleigh gliding right down Santa Claus Lane in Southtown, USA (which is nicely timed with the next song of the show – “Here Comes Santa Claus”). Townspeople clap. Everyone smiles. All is well and good and happy.
That’s when things get a little strange. Suddenly there’s a scene with Santa springing out of bed, singing about how he, “dreamed unhappy things.” This is followed by the delivery of toys and kids opening gifts and freaking out over new bicycles. So, what I get from this last scene is that the rest of the show, much like that infamous season of Dallas, was all a dream. Whuh? O…kay. I completely missed that plot point as a kid.
As an hour-long special, TYWASC doesn’t quite hold up in terms of songs and story. It would be nice if the Miser brothers had a holiday special all to themselves – and there’s no doubt it would be massively popular. But thanks to their few brilliant moments of hot- and cold-running silliness, not to mention a warm dose of nostalgia, The Year Without a Santa Claus still merits a pause.
The Year Without a Santa Claus is scheduled to re-air December 24, 2005, on ABC Family. Check your local listings. Trish Doherty mocks, sasses and gives finger puppets the power of speech at and i was the echo.