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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Specials

Well, it's almost Christmas. Are you getting as excited as I am?

I haven't had much of a chance to even scratch my nose these past few days. That probably won't change much before the 27th. It's the usual "hustle and bustle" of the season that leaves us all in a state of 'happy exhaustion' - well, with emphasis on one or either of those words for some.

I've been having some interesting conversations with people about those Christmas Specials on television.

You know. "Children's specials" - which have some really adult themes. By 'adult' I don't mean sexually explicit. I mean some concepts and notions that are a bit more sophisticated than one might expect a small child to understand.

At least, that's what some have said as we've talked about "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," or "The Island of Misfit Toys," or "Frosty the Snow Man," "Charlie Brown's Christmas," "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," or any one of the hundred of television programs, VCRs and DVDs that are available for children.

Most people I've spoken with maintain that children are more fascinated by the animation or 'claymation' than they are able to understand either the story line or some of the more ethical themes inherent in the story.

I disagree.

I think most kids "get it". They understand what they may have already experienced - in themselves or others - from participating in the infraction of a rule or feeling left out or 'different' and the importance of being loved unconditionally.

One of my personal favorites is Jim Henson's "Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas." It's also our family's favorite.

It's a sweet little story which takes place in a poor little village known as "Frogtown Hollow". It was written in the early 70s by Russell Hoban. Henson adapted it for his Muppets and Paul Williams wrote the really charming music.

The best part is that you can hear an echo of that wonderful short story by O Henry, "The Gift of the Magi".

This story story tells of Emmet Otter and his Ma, a widow who scrapes by on the small amount of money she gets from doing laundry and that Emmet gets from doing odd jobs around their home of Frogtown Hollow, despite both of them often being cheated, notably by Old Lady Possum and Gretchen Fox, the mayor's wife.

As Christmas approaches, they hear of a talent contest in the nearby town of Waterville, and separately decide to enter to buy nice presents for each other -- a nice guitar for Emmet, or a piano for Ma. However, in a twist on The Gift of the Magi, they must sacrifice each other's livelihood for the talent contest -- Ma hocks Emmet's tools for dress fabric, while Emmet turns Ma's washtub into a washtub bass for a jug band.

Our children have grown up watching this story, and it shows. Our Christmas presents - which we exchange on "Little Christmas" (the Saturday or Sunday on or before The Epiphany) - are not about extravagance but meaning.

Yes, we have a "wish list," and yes, we try to honor what each person has written, but what I love most is, after someone has opened a present, someone will always give the gift of story about the present - why they got it, where they found it, why they picked that particular one, what the salesperson said. Like that.

I know some of our kids sacrifice - on some level - in order to buy each other presents. Some more than others. But, even more than the thing itself, is the meaning and the thought and the love that went into each present.

In "The Gift of the Magi" James "Jim" Dillingham Young and his wife Della are a young couple who are very much in love with each other but can barely afford their one-room apartment due to their very bad economic situation.

For Christmas, Della decides to buy Jim a chain for his prized pocket watch given to him by his father's father. To raise the funds, she has her long, beautiful hair cut off and sold to make a wig.

Meanwhile, Jim decides to sell his watch to buy Della a beautiful set of combs made out of tortoiseshell and jewels for her lovely, knee-length brown hair. Although each is disappointed to find the gift they chose rendered useless, each is pleased with the gift that they received, because it represents their love for one another.

O Henry's story ends with the narrator comparing the pair's mutually sacrificial gifts of love with those of the Biblical Magi:
The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. In a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.
So, here's my gift to you - a song from "Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas".

If you seek the child within, you may be surprised to find there the wisdom of the Magi. And, Love Incarnate, Love Divine may come down to you this Christmas, to dwell in your hearts in this season of Christmas and throughout the year.

Then, and only then, will there be "peace on earth and goodwill" to all.


Brother David said...

I was sure that I was hearing John Denver's voice there!

MarkBrunson said...

Oh, I loved Emmet Otter and haven't seen it in probably 20-25 years.

Standing joke in my family:

"No. I ain't hungry . . . I said I'm HAWNGRY!"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dahveed - Yup, you were. He recorded it after the movie came out. It's a lovely song - classic Paul Williams

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - there are some great lines. That's one of them. Those boys from the Riverbottom Nighmare Band are BADDASS!!!

walter said...

..The river is the spiritual movement that brings the many-diverse gifts; the awareness is the Magi; and Christ child is the discernment in Personal Freedom of a renewed goal. To wish Merry Christmas is to wish the birth in a discerned re-newed goal which in the ultimate existential analysis is The goal. And to offer the Child Christ is to experience The Sacramental Moment. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused and truthful. ILove my Little Girl, ILove my Girl, ILove my Brother.

Walter Vitale