Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Holiday Primer

Holiday traditions are weird.  You are born into a family and naturally accept whatever customs they practice because it happens every year since the moment you are born.  No time to question or wonder. These traditions are just a part of life.  So, when two people of different backgrounds meet for the first, there can be a culture clash.  And what better time of year to observe this holiday mashup than December?

In the special, Elmo's World: Happy Holidays, Elmo is excited because everyone on Sesame Street is gearing up for Christmas.  But he soon learns that Christmas is not the only holiday in town (although, judging by the presentation, it is clear that Christmas dominates the collective consciousness).

Christmas is all of the holidays, right?

With the help of his new friend, Mail Carrier Kelly Ripa, Elmo learns about the various practices of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and a few others.  The Christmas portion takes the longest, as we see various elements, like the Noodle family decorating a tree, a groups of carolers singing various Christmas songs, and Prairie Dawn's Nativity pageant.

As with most Sesame Street Pageants, many errors and slip-ups occur.  Cookie brings cookies instead of myrrh, Bert gets into a sneezing fit thanks to the manger's hay, and the casting choice of active Baby Natasha results in a missing Baby Jesus.  Somehow, it warms my heart that for some children, this was their first experience with the story of the Nativity.

At least they remembered that the Virgin Mary is blue.

After watching this play, Elmo realizes that Christmas is one big birthday party, hence all the gift-giving.  He decides that he needs to give his goldfish Dorothy a great gift, but he has trouble thinking of something good.  Unfortunately, Mail Carrier Kelly only serves to distract him from his goal by delivering a letter from the Savitzky family who are celebrating Hanukkah.

Mail Carrier Kelly represents the War on Christmas.

Elmo learns about the menorah and the story of Judah Maccabee and the segment finishes up with an epic round of dreidel between Telly and the Jewish Bear Family.  And now we know everything we need to know about Hanukkah!

Up next is our Kwanzaa segment.  Kwanzaa, being the African-American holiday devoted to celebrating achievements through the Seven Principles (Unity, Self-Determination, Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith), is best represented by this:

After hearing about all of these holidays (and several others which are glossed over in a brief montage), Elmo decides that all of these holidays are actually the same.  They all involve family, love, gifts, and candles.  That certainly simplifies things.  And speaking of gifts, Elmo still needs a present for Dorothy!  So he stops by the North Pole to ask Santa himself for assistance.  (This is all in Elmo's imagination, so he can do this easily.)  Santa applauds Elmo for going to such great lengths for his friend rather than for himself and (after a brief song) tells Elmo to get Dorothy something from the heart.

Well, obviously Santa.  You're no help at all!

Elmo knows exactly what to get her and since she's just a goldfish, she loves it (or at least has nothing bad to say about it)!

 And so, Elmo learned all about the various holidays, but, being a child brought up on Christmas, he is sure to forget them all until the next holiday special.

*      *      *

This special was also adapted into a stage show at the Sesame Place theme park, and although many of the same clips are shown, there is a bizarre section in which Santa Claus is the one who teaches Elmo the story of Hanukkah.

Just like that episode of Friends, "The One With the Holiday Armadillo"

Hopefully this didn't confuse children too much.  Although the section where they all blew out the candles of the menorah like a birthday cake will probably make for some awkward moments at later gatherings.

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