A Special Christmas Review: “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”

Original Air Date: December 8, 1974

Wikipedia Page

Synopsis: A sentient teenaged mouse named Albert sends an insulting letter to Santa Claus, causing Santa to spurn the entire town of Junctionville (sentient mice and humans alike). A clockmaker named Joshua Trundel concocts a scheme to build a big clock tower that will play a treacly Christmas song on Christmas Eve to placate St. Nick. The mayor not only signs on to this huge construction project but (presumably) spends a fortune in taxpayer money to get it built within weeks. Albert then breaks the damned clock, but fixes it in time for Santa’s arrival. Santa, pleased by this idolatry, rewards the townspeople with consumer goods they could have bought themselves for about 1% of the cost of building the clock tower.

Review: My fondness for this Christmas special, like my fondness for Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, is solely due to nostalgia. In particular, I seem to recall that this special would tend to air very close to Christmas itself, possibly on Christmas Eve, as my memories of it are very closely tied to the anticipation of Christmas morning. By that same token, however, watching this special felt more like an obligation than a pleasure.

Because it really is a pretty weak entry in the Christmas special canon. The story appears to have been inspired by the mere mention of a mouse in Clement Moore’s eponymous poem (and said mouse wasn’t even stirring). Santa comes off as a thin-skinned jerk for evidently writing off an entire town because a snotty teenager sent him a letter calling him a “fraudulent myth.” Since this is very clearly a world where Santa exists and delivers presents every year and everyone – including human adults – knows it, Albert’s predicament doesn’t play like the paean to faith it’s meant to be, but rather an instance of mental illness. One wonders whether Albert also believes the moon landing was faked and Sandy Hook was a false flag operation.

Of course, all of this takes a backseat to the utter insanity of Joshua Trundel’s plan to get back on Santa’s good side. If you found out Santa was insulted by a letter some kid in town wrote him, wouldn’t your first move be to, I don’t know, write him another letter saying the kid didn’t speak for all of you? Or give him a call, since evidently Santa has a phone (and a switchboard operator) in this universe? No, let’s build a clock tower in a matter of weeks that will play a song on Christmas Eve that will somehow entice Santa to stop by! To Trundel’s credit, the plan actually works, though again, the investment-to-gains results seem way off to me. I suppose if Santa continues to deliver free gifts every Christmas for the foreseeable future, the townspeople will get their money back in 40-50 years (especially if they find a way to monetize the clock tower – turn it into a tourist trap or something).

The songs aren’t as catchy or memorable as the ones from classics such as Rudolph (or even The Hobbit), but they will get stuck in your brain for days afterward. So there’s that.

I’ve made an effort to introduce my daughter (currently four years old) to the Christmas specials of my youth, and fortunately, we now live in an era where television shows and movies from decades ago are as accessible to new audiences as books have been for centuries. Five minutes into this show, though, and she was asking to watch Frosty again. Back in 1974 and through to the 1990s, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas benefited from being the only Christmas cartoon on network television for whatever half-hour it aired. You watched it because it was on. With the massive amount of on-demand content available today, this special has become less of a Christmas standard and more of a nostalgic curiosity.

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