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Important Life Lessons Learned From Holiday Specials

There's always tomorrow for jazz hands and bird cannibalism!

We’re in the final countdown to the 25th. Holiday movies and specials fill the television networks. A million movies about princes, Christmas, switching identities, magical artifacts like snow globes and calendars, and learning to appreciate your wacky family for the weirdos they are have sprouted on Netflix and other online services.

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I just want to watch The Grinch—no, not the Benedict Cumbergrinch, also no, not Grinch Carrey. I want old, animated, Boris Karloff-narrated Grinch. It’s harder to find than it used to be. I want animated specials like Mickey’s Once and Twice Upon a Christmas (the first one is better!), claymation specials like Rudolph and Jack Frost, and The Year Without a Santa Claus, and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.

That animated thing with the mouse family of clockmakers? I want that, too. Every year I watch them, and every year I start overanalyzing them a little bit more. I’ve been watching some of them since I was practically an infant, so I feel that there has been time for them to soak into my psyche and teach me a little bit about life.

1. There’s Always Tomorrow. – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

rudolph the red nosed reindeer

(image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution)

This song is sung by Clarice, a young reindeer who becomes Rudolph’s girlfriend. The melody always stuck in my head because it’s catchy and pretty, and the singer has a lovely voice. What’s more, it has an encouraging message: Don’t give up on your dreams, because you can always try again tomorrow.

Personally, I always took this more to mean that if you stay up working on whatever it is until today becomes tomorrow, then you just might make that deadline! But don’t listen to me, I’m just someone who overthinks my entertainment instead of finishing papers. I’m a terrible role model.

Also, the scene where Clarice tells him that she thinks he’s cute is exactly how it feels when someone I think is cool tells me I’m pretty.

2. I’m Too Much, and That’s Okay. – The Miser Brothers From The Year Without a Santa Claus

Few things entertain me as much as the Miser Brothers. In The Year Without a Santa Claus, Santa isn’t feeling it one year, and Mrs. Claus and some elves and a reindeer all get out there trying to help him get his Santa groove back. Mrs. Claus gets the dubious honor of visiting with Heat Miser and Snow Miser. She outright calls Snow Miser a “big ham,” which has cracked me up since I was a kid.

Snow Miser is clearly the cooler (pun totally intended) of the two. There’s also a live-action version of this song, which I recommend knowing about mostly so that I can share that burden of that knowledge with the masses.

Ever feel like you’re just too much for others to handle? Like if they knew you at your most ridiculous singy/dancey self, they might run? Have a look at the magnificent Snow Miser making jazz hands and living his best Broadway life! Also, the Heat Miser was there. Whatever.

3. You’ve Got to Earn Your Legacy. – The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

If you’ve ever wanted a less cheesy claymation Santa Claus origin story with immortal forest spirit fae and operatic intervals, please have a look at this one. In the clip below, the Great Ak explains how he gave a foundling human child to a lion to raise. At the 1:30 mark, he breaks into magnificent song.

Meanwhile, the green-haired fairy Necile is like, “… Hmmm, babies. Immortality is boring; I want one.” Necile raises young Santa in tandem with his Lion Mom, and he grows into the Santa we know and love. Near the end, he’s old and tired, and the council of the forest fae decide to extend immortality to him so he can Santa forever.

This guy put in years of good deeds, and the forest people are like, “I don’t know … He may not be good enough …” The lesson to take to heart here is that if you want to build a good legacy, you have to put in the work and the time. You probably won’t be made immortal by forest fae, but we can all hope, right?

4. If You’re Going to Insult the Loner Who Lives up the Mountain for Keeping to Himself and Being a Bit of a Misanthrope, Craft Some Truly Beautiful Insults. – How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

the grinch who stole christmas

(image: Warner Bros. Television)

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the depth of #insultgoals involved in the iconic Grinch song:

“You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile.”

“Your heart is full of unwashed socks. Your soul is full of gunk.”

“Your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots.”

“You’re a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.”

Daaaaang. I mean, I don’t endorse making a career of name-calling, but if I did … the narrator in The Grinch is goals. My go-to, in stark comparison, is “Well … you suck!” I only seem to be able to creatively insult when I’m driving and am inconvenienced by another driver’s incompetence, once naming another motorist a “toejam and mildew sandwich” in true Grinch-inspired fashion, and the brilliance haunts me still.

Ahem. Let’s get to the core of what makes these insults so different from the run-of-the-mill: They skip anything obvious, like appearance, and go straight for the heart and soul. His heart is likened to unwashed foot apparel and rotten fruit. His soul is filled with gunk. Then, they raise the bar and turn him into food. The idea of cannibalism hangs in the air for a moment before the narrator declares that even in food-form, The Grinch is unworthy.

Holy crap. But, if you want your heart to grow three sizes, you’ve gotta get your Fah Who Foraze, Dah Who Doraze on and really feel it.

5. Communication Is Important! – Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas

(image: Disney)

He sold his watch to buy her combs for her hair, but she sold her hair to buy him a chain for his watch. They just love each other so much, and it’s totally the thought that counts.

Ugh. How about they have a freaking conversation and agree to just go do something fun together? Nope, gotta be weird about it.

The Mickey and Minnie version has her selling her watch to get him a case for his harmonica, while he sells his harmonica (his only means of income!) to buy her a gold chain for her watch. I get that it’s supposed to send a message, and maybe my heart needs to grow three sizes or something, but every time I hear this story, I just facepalm about how “everything now sucks and we have useless objects” is not much of a happy ending.

One conversation about the state of their finances would have fixed this. Come on! So, what I’ve learned from this segment of this Disney special is that conversations are important, and people should have more of them.

6. If You’re Going to Get Hitched, You’ll Need an Officiant Who’s up to the Task. – Frosty’s Winter Wonderland

(image: ABC)

In this weird sequel to Frosty the Snowman, Frosty comes back again after his restorative spa treatment at the North Pole (greenhouses and snowpersons don’t mix), just as he promised, but he just doesn’t feel as happy as he should. Clearly, the kids point out helpfully, he needs a wife!

Things get weirder from there. Frosty meets Crystal, who agrees to be his wife. The kids get the preacher outside to get ’em legal, and … he’s really weird about marrying snowpeople. Turns out, Parson Brown (yep, that one), tells the kids he’s only allowed to legally wed “real” people, but helps them build a snowparson to marry Frosty and Crystal.

Everyone is really strangely freaked out by the snowwife, even the constable. Like, there’s a living snowman leading your kids around the countryside during some kind of Little Ice Age, and that’s okay, but when you find out he’s married, that’s the weird part?

I never got that part. I guess it goes to show you, if you’re getting hitched, you need to find the officator who is up to the task, even if they need to print that certificate from the internet to get the job done. So … are Frosty and Crystal the narrators of the song Winter Wonderland? In the meadow we can build a snowman and pretend that he is Parson Brown? That makes the part where they conspire by the fire considerably more disturbing.

7. Embrace Your Parents’ Goofiness. – Mickey’s Once and Twice Upon a Christmas

Single father Goofy and his son Max are my favorite part of both of these specials. In Once Upon a Christmas, Max is a kid whose belief in Santa Claus is shaken and then restored. In Twice Upon a Christmas, he’s an older teen, bringing a girlfriend home from college to meet his dad.

Has Disney ever really said what became of Mrs. Goof? Did she die? Is Goofy a widower? Why is that so sad that it makes me get all teary-eyed every year? Regardless, in both cases, Goofy pulls out all the stops to provide his son with the best Christmas he can supply, even pretending to be Santa to get his boy’s spirits back up.

In the second one, Max is terrified that his dad is going to embarrass him in front of his girlfriend, but of course ,Mona is having a blast making popcorn and cookies with Goofy while Max sulks outside. Max sees that she’s having a good time, realizes that he’s the sourpuss, and comes back inside to have fun.

Often we feel like we’ve outgrown things like making Christmas cookies with our parents or worrying about their antics embarrassing us. Chances are that your friends think your parents are cool and think you’re being a tool for being weird about it. Maybe their families aren’t close and don’t have fun traditions.

Let your weird, Goofy dad be himself. I bet Pete’s kids don’t come home for the holidays every year!

8. When Life Gives You the Burgermeister, Give it the Meisterburger—oh, that’s not right. I Mean Follow Your Heart, and Jailbreak Your Honey. – Santa Claus is Coming to Town

In this claymation tale of how Santa became Santa, we meet him as a young man. He meets Miss Jessica, the schoolteacher, and falls in love. At first, she’s all like, “Toys! That’s against the law!” but then she’s like … “I rather fancy a nice, woodsy ginger who wears a giant elf suit,” and reconsiders her opinion on the matter.

She decides that toys are not morally wrong and that the kids are happier with them, and gets her red-clad ginger dreamboat. When she realizes that he has been unjustly imprisoned by Burgermeister Meisterburger (some restaurant needs to have a holiday special sandwich named the Meisterburger, honestly) for making and distributing toys to the children, she orchestrates a jailbreak involving a broken down old wizard, some magic corn, and some forest reindeer.

There’s a reason she was a schoolteacher: She’s pretty smart! They escape, get married, and build their toy empire at the North Pole.

9. There Is No Rhyme or Reason to Disney’s Animal/Person Designations and You Should Finally Stop Worrying That Pluto Is a Pupper and Goofy Is a Person. – Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas

Disney's goofy rides a car powered by Mickey's dog, Pluto

(image: Disney)

In Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas, my utter confusion about which animals are “people” and which ones are just animals came to a head. I’m still trying to figure out the logic behind who wears pants, shirts, and/or both. Is it by gender? By animal? Does it matter?

Probably not, but I still need to come up with a sound theory.

Anyway, in the Donald Duck segment “Stuck on Christmas,” the Ducklet Trio get caught up in a time loop where every day is Christmas. Of course, the endgame is for them to understand that holidays aren’t just food and presents (ok, whatever) and truly appreciate their Birdfam.

Then, Daisy brings out the turkey.

Whaaaatt??? They’re ducks. They have goose-friends! A turkey?? Really? This is what it was like inside my head when I saw that cooked bird being gobbled (again, pun totally intended) up by other Birdfolk. Life may truly be a cannibalistic hurricane there in Duckburg! Wow.

So, this is the point at which we can just decide to let go of making heads or tails of Disney’s people/pupper dilemma. Make like Elsa and just let it go.

10. Honorable mentions.

  •  Charlie Brown Christmas: Pick the weird tree. It just might grow on you? Or show you who your real friends are?
  • ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: There are clockwork-building Science Mice in your walls. Was this a trippy ’70s prequel to The Secret of NIMH?
  • Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: Dentistry is a fine profession, even for an elf.
  • Jack Frost: Love is pain, kids!

I hope this list has been entertaining! Please share your faves in the comments!

(featured image: Warner Bros. Television)

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Sara Goodwin
Sara has a B.A. in Classical Civilization and an M.A. in Library Science from Indiana University. Once she went on an archaeological dig and found awesome ancient stuff. Sara enjoys a smorgasbord of pan-nerd entertainment such as Renaissance faires, anime conventions, steampunk, and science fiction and fantasy conventions. In her free time, she writes things like fairy tale haiku, fantasy novels, and terrible poetry about being stalked by one-eyed opossums. In her other spare time, she sells nerdware as With a Grain of Salt Designs.

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