Thursday, December 22, 2011

Yes, Big Bird, There is a Santa Claus

"Youth is wasted on the young," - George Bernard Shaw

When we become adults, we look back on our time spent as children, wishing that if we only knew then what we knew now, we would have made the most of our growing years.  This causes a paradox of sorts because the very reason we admired childhood was exactly because we did not know what we know now.  Before we learned the ways of the world, we just had to accept strange phenomena as they occurred.  Magic and reality went hand in hand.  And the reason we thought this was because our parents, who we turned to for education, fed us these stories.

Babies are brought by storks.  The tooth fairy takes our baby teeth while we are sleeping.  Santa Claus...well, is Santa Claus.

When we become new parents, many of us decide to perpetuate these "truths" to the younger generation.  Since we cannot become young again, we must prolong the childhoods of our children so that they may appreciate what we neglected to.  Children live in an interesting state.  Magic continues to be possible even when evidence to the contrary is brought before them.  As a child, I was fully aware that adults did not believe in Santa Claus, and there would come a day when I too would stop.  But even knowing that, I continued believing, like it was my duty to Santa.

Big Bird, the voice of children everywhere, was known for his curiosity.  When children across the world asked questions about life, Big Bird would as well.  On Christmas Eve, Oscar the Heretic Grouch puts a piece of doubt in the bird's stocking by asking a simple question: how does Santa Claus fit down a chimney?

A question that has plagued mankind for centuries.

This devastates the bird to no end.  Not because it convinced him that Santa is fictional, but because he is afraid that it is impossible for Santa to bring presents to Sesame Street, where the chimney's are just tiny pipes.  Big Bird recruits everyone he can find to help solve this puzzle so that his fears will be assuaged. To a person thinking logically, Big Bird's actions present another conundrum.  Whether or not Santa can fit down a chimney, Big Bird knowing the answer won't change what happens at midnight.

But Big Bird lets his emotions get the better of him and does not rest until the truth is revealed.  He turns to Kermit, who decides to launch an investigative report by interviewing kids, since they know the most about Santa.  "Knowing = Believing" and vice-versa for the young children, and what results is a cavalcade of roundabout explanations that only a child could dream up.

None of these answers convince Big Bird, so he takes it upon himself to find out by manning a late night stakeout on the roof of 123 Sesame Street.  Because he is behaving irrationally, he neglects to tell any adult of his plans, prompting everyone (even Oscar!) to start a frantic search for the lost child.  The cold snowy weather is worse up on the rooftops, and it causes the bird to drift in to a hypothermic sleep.  He could very well freeze to death while his guardians have no idea where to search for him, all because they decided to keep the truth about Santa a secret.

Our need to have children believe in magic comes at a cost.  Ignorance is bliss, but it it is also highly dangerous.  Eventually, adults have to teach children the truth.  But wisdom means that childhood is over.  It's not a fair trade.

We can't stay here forever.

Fortunately, Big Bird never has to grow up!  As he is finally found, he is brought inside to discover that all of the presents have been delivered successfully.  Big Bird laments that he failed to witness Santa, but as Gordon explains to him, it doesn't matter because the gifts were delivered anyway.  Whether Big Bird saw it or not, Christmas still came.  So, he had might as well enjoy the mystery for at least another year.  Unlike yesterday's episode of Fraggle Rock where Gobo's lack of faith resulted in a new appreciation for the holiday, Big Bird is allowed to keep living in bliss, while it is the adults around him who have learned to pay close attention to the loved ones in their life.

*      *      *

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street is exactly the kind of Christmas special that Sesame Street deserves.  Unlike the terrible special that would premiere a few days later, this special focuses solely on the Muppet characters instead of phoned-in celebrity cameos.  It presents a natural look at how the inhabitants of this street perceive the holiday.  While Big Bird and Oscar's squabble over the existence of Santa provides the crux of this episode, there are other moments that make it worth checking out.

The special begins with the cast ice skating.  Most of the footage is from the Sesame Street portions of "Ice Follies," a touring ice-skating show.  While the full-sized Muppets' antics are played for humor, there is a tender moment where a little girl teaches the clumsy Big Bird how to skate.

All set to a solemn instrumental performance of Feliz Navidad.

Ernie and Bert completely recreate The Gift of the Magi, selling their prized possessions (Rubber Duckie and a paper clip collection respectively) to Mr. Hooper in order to afford gifts for their best friend.  Ernie saying goodbye to his duck is touching, but they way Bert's voice cracks as he tries to get one last look at his paper clips is downright heartbreaking.

Never have office supplies been so meaningful.

It eventually comes time to exchange the gifts.  After some brilliant slight of hand disguising the fact that the Bert puppet cannot physically open a wrapped present, the realization that terrible mistakes have been made in selling their favorite items sets in.  Fortunately, Mr. Hooper returns with the sold items, presenting them as his own gifts!

Otherwise, Mr. Hooper wouldn't have gotten them anything this year!

Other highlights include:

- Bob wishing Mr. Hooper a Happy Hanukkah with a sly wink, as if Judaism is a secret this year.

We mustn't let the kids learn that there is a holiday that has eight days of presents!

- Oscar singing about how he hates Christmas (which eliminates the need of that other special entirely).

- Cookie Monster's inability to write a letter to Santa without eating his materials.

- Kermit's winter outfit:

- And of course, this girl, who has the best explanation of how Santa works.

She has pushed the button to my heart.

All of these elements come together to create a special that blends the best of Sesame Street with the best of Christmas.  Everyone can become a child again on Christmas Eve.  It is the right place and the right time for true magic to occur.

Although, too much Christmas magic can leave you feeling bloated.

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