Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Depressing LHOP Christmas Episodes?

At one of the Little House on the Prairie forums I belong to, we got into the discussion about the lack of Christmas episodes. The show aired back when annual Christmas episodes were not the norm, so that's not surprising. Considering the locations where the show was filmed, it's also understandable that more episodes didn't have snow. One forum member made a comment that most of the Christmas episodes, ones where you would expect to see snow, are depressing. My immediate thought was to refute what she said. But in thinking more about it, she's not really wrong. Let's take a look at the Christmas episodes or scenes.

The first time we see the Ingalls celebrate Christmas is in their log cabin in Kansas. Mr. Edwards crosses the river to deliver presents for Santa Claus. The entire episode is a dramatic one, and at the end, the Ingalls family will be forced to pack up their belongings and move because the government has redrawn boundaries and the farm is now in Indian territory.

The Christmas scenes in the Pilot are probably some of the sweetest Christmas scenes we see. Mary is the good girl patiently waiting to take down her stocking, while Laura can barely control the urge to peek inside.  When a snow-covered Mr. Edwards arrives, little Carrie calls him Santa. Ma, who didn't like Mr. Edwards, finally sees there are some redeeming qualities to the gruff man who frequents saloons.

By the time we see an Ingalls Christmas again, the family has moved to Walnut Grove and is living on the banks of Plum Creek. This is an exciting time, as family members secretly work on presents for each other. Laura is perplexed on what to give Ma, but when she learns what she truly wants--a stove--she makes a deal with Mr. Oleson to buy it for her. Unaware of Laura's plan, Pa is making a saddle for Laura's pony, Bunny. He's also working hard to refurbish a set of wheels for a customer of Mr. Oleson's so that he can buy the stove for Caroline.

It doesn't take long for this happy, exciting time to become sad. The deal Laura makes with Mr. Oleson involves selling Bunny to him so he can give his daughter, Nellie, the pony that she has always admired. It breaks Laura's heart, and when Caroline discovers what Laura has done, she is saddened to know what her daughter gave up.

With Laura giving a stove to Ma, Charles now has no gift for his wife. Oh, and in case I didn't mention it, Charles didn't get a gift from his wife either. Seems Mary and Caroline liked the same bolt of fabric so much that they both made Pa a shirt from it. Rather than disappoint Mary, she tucks hers away.

Overall, the episode reminds us to focus on family, not gifts, so it's classic Little House on the Prairie. Definitely a great episode, but the loss of Bunny makes it a bummer; even if it is temporary, as Laura gets Bunny back in a future episode.

Much of season three is filled with dramatic episodes. So it should come as no surprise that this Christmas episode is filled with angst and tragedy. The school is turned into a hospital on Christmas Eve, when a quick-moving blizzard catches the school children unaware on their way home. Miss Beadle is filled with guilt, having allowed the children to head home early because of the flurries.

The men in town set off in groups to round up the children. Mr. McGinnis foolhardily ventures out in only a light coat and dies while searching for his son, a tragedy that could have been avoided if he had only taken one of the warmer coats Mr. Oleson offered him. To this day, I still feel like kicking him in the shins for refusing the coat.

Most of the children have been accounted for except the Ingalls girls and Carl and Alicia Edwards. When Charles and Isaiah Edwards find the girls in an abandoned shed, they go their separate ways--Charles back to the school and Isaiah continuing to search for his children.

By morning, the storm is over and Charles rallies the men to prepare to go out and find Isaiah and his family.  The door bursts open and Isaiah and his children enter to the hugs and rejoicing of all, especially his wife, Grace, who has been at the school helping Doc Baker care for the others. When Charles turns around, he spies Mrs. McGinnis and her son glumly looking on. He walks to the pulpit, where he reads the Christmas story from the Bible. Even the music for this episode drips depressing, though the Bible story is the perfect reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made for us.

It will be season eight before another Christmas episode occurs. All the stops were pulled out for this one. Special music fills this happy episode where family members share stories of Christmases past while snowbound at the Ingalls homestead. Mary and Adam Kendall, who had moved to New York so Adam could find work at his father's old law firm, return to spend Christmas with the family and Hester Sue. Caroline tells of a special Christmas where she came to accept Papa Holbrook. Almanzo shares the Christmas that he almost stopped believing in Santa Claus. Laura shares the story of Christmas in Kansas, and Hester Sue tells a story of life as a black child during the early years of the Civil War, when her Papa made a surprise delivery as Santa Claus.

I'm fairly certain the real pioneers wouldn't be too happy about having that much snow, but it made for a fun episode. This one remains my favorite.

When the series was cancelled, they ran three post-series movies, which included a Christmas one titled, "Bless All the Dear Children." Almanzo, Laura, Rose, and Isaiah Edwards travel to Mankato to shop for Christmas. John Carter gives Almanzo money so he can shop for his family too. While there, Rose is kidnapped by a distraught woman who has recently lost a baby. They also run into a orphan boy named Samuel, who hides away in their wagon and ends up helping search for Rose.

In Walnut Grove, Jenny spends time with Mr. Montague and the Carters, hoping and praying for Rose's return. Jason Carter is concerned about making enough money to buy his mother a special gift, and John Carter isn't sure what kind of Christmas it will be if the Wilders don't find Rose and return in time, while Mr. Montague is determined not to give in to the commercialization of Christmas by putting up a tree and buying gifts.

I'm not fond of episodes that take place outside of Walnut Grove anyway, but this one especially bugs me because of the modern theme of the commercialization of Christmas running through it, which required other residents of the town to be more focused on gifts, and the absence of Harriet Oleson, who was in the hospital and unable to be home, but still managed to send Nancy a mountain of presents.

This has always been my least favorite Christmas episode. The ending is too sappy, even by LHOP standards, and the attention to detail was lacking. It's wintertime in Minnesota, but everyone is walking around without coats on and some have their sleeves rolled up. What does make this episode special, and what makes it classic Little House, is how everything turns out okay--Rose is found, Samuel gets a home with the couple who lost their child, and Mr. Montague plays Santa and delivers presents to Jenny and the Carters--and the theme that family and friends are the most important gifts of all.

Now that we've run down all the Christmas episodes, what's your verdict? Too much angst? Just the right mix? Do the messages of the happier episodes outweigh the drama and tragedy in the others?


Mama Hen said...

I have always loved the first two. Even the second one, while bittersweet with the loss of Bunny, is really heartwarming with the idea of family first. The line "She loves you more" makes me cry every time.
My girl's favorite has always been the third one, where they are looking back. I like it, too, but not as well as the first two. Although it definitely has the best music! And I never did like the last one. It was way too off of LH.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for stopping by. I always enjoyed the first two and the one from Season 8. If the "Blizzard" episode wasn't around Christmas, then it would have shown the hardships the pioneers endured in a realistic way, but being a Christmas episode kind of ruined it for me.

judy said...

Wow, I didn't know you did this blog until just now--although I did see a Fb post a while back that made me smile, about "all you bonnet heads" (: Anyway, I just wanted to say that you've obviously done this with care and love. It's a pleasure to read.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for visiting, Judy. I've been a fan since childhood and love all the ways that honor Laura's legacy: books, movies, and TV show. Hope you visit us often.