Christmas Episodes from the Groovy Era
Happy Days: “Guess Who’s Coming To Christmas”
With Christmas music starting the day after Halloween and retail giants having their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day, it can be quite easy to become overwhelmed by the materialism of the holidays. A great way to counteract that is to sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and watch Christmas episodes from classic sitcoms of the Groovy Era, which serve as a reminder of what is really important during the holiday season.
Happy Days was a 1970s sitcom about life in the 1950s, which starred Henry Winkler and Ron Howard, among others. The series follows the unlikely friendship between all-American Richie Cunningham and the much edgier Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli. The season two episode, “Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas,” marks the final appearance of Richie’s older brother, Chuck Cunningham, who is never even mentioned again. No explanation was ever given for the character’s disappearance, though it was likely because “Fonzi” was filling the role of big brother to Richie, thus making the character of Chuck superfluous.
In any case, the term “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome” is now used to describe a situation in which an established character disappears from a show without his or her absence being acknowledged by the remaining characters. But the real takeaway from this episode is the conflict. Richie’s father, Howard, wants to spend Christmas Eve with just his family and no one else. But Richie realizes that Fonzi is alone for the holiday and convinces a reluctant Howard to invite him to stay with them. At first, Fonzi is too proud to admit he has nowhere to go and Howard is forced to overcome his own reluctance to convince him to stay. This episode serves as a reminder that family is more than just blood and there should always be room at the table for a friend in need.
Before there was Mama’s Family in the 1980s, there was a sketch on The Carol Burnett Show in the 1970s called “The Family.” The sketch featured Eunice as the main character and deals with the ongoing conflict among members of her family. It was so successful that it became an ongoing sketch on The Carol Burnett Show before eventually spinning off into its own series, Mama’s Family. The spin-off was initially canceled after two seasons but was revived two years later to run for another four years. The family featured on both the spin-off and the original sketch are far different from the Cunningham's of Happy Days. The Christmas installment, “Merry Christmas Mama,” is a cautionary tale of the ugliness of ingratitude and shows what can happen when too much emphasis is placed on getting gifts.
The Andy Griffith Show, which aired from 1960 to 1968, followed the everyday life of Andy Taylor and Barney Fife, starring Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, respectively. It was set in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina. Its one and only Christmas episode, entitled “The Christmas Story,” was the first to feature Will Wright as Ben Weaver, the Scrooge-like owner of Weaver’s Department Store. In this episode, Weaver insists that Andy lock up one of the townsfolk, Sam Muggins, for making moonshine, on Christmas Eve. Andy has no choice as he is sworn to uphold the law; however, in typical Andy-fashion, he comes up with a plan to arrest Sam’s family for “conspiracy” so they can be together for the holiday. He then invites his own family and friends to celebrate Christmas at the jail. In the end, Ben Weaver intentionally gets himself arrested so he can join the party. The moral of this story is that Christmas is about being with loved ones, regardless of where that might be and that persistent joy can melt even the coldest hearts.
If anyone knows the struggle of being away from home on Christmas, it’s the castaways from Gilligan’s Island. The show ran from 1964 to 1967 and told the story of seven people who were stranded on the island after being shipwrecked during a storm. Sadly, the series was canceled unexpectedly, leaving the characters still trapped on the island. However, it spun multiple movies which attempted to give the characters a resolution. In the twelfth episode of season one, “Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk,” the castaways face their first Christmas on the island. At the beginning of the episode, they hear a radio broadcast announcing that they have been discovered and a rescue team is on the way. They spend the rest of the episode preparing to leave and reminiscing on their first day on the island only to have their hopes dashed when they hear another radio broadcast announcing that it was a different group of survivors that had been found on an island where they’d been stranded for eleven years. As they sit around moping about their miserable Christmas, Santa Claus, who looks suspiciously like the Skipper, shows up to tell them how much worse things could have been and that they should be grateful for what they have. This episode serves as a great reminder to be grateful in all things.
Bewitched ran from 1964 to 1972 and told the story of a witch named Samantha, who was married to a mortal named Darrin and her attempts to lead an ordinary, aka non-magical, life. Those attempts mostly fail, especially when her mother Endora shows up, and much of the show is spent concealing the effects of her magic. In “A vision of Sugar Plums,” Samantha and Darrin decide to invite an orphan named Michael to spend Christmas with them. Michael is very disillusioned and doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, so Samantha reveals that she is a witch and takes him to the North Pole to show him that Santa is real. The moral of this story is quite heavy handed as Santa lectures Michael on the importance of not judging someone by their appearance and reminds him that Christmas is about giving, not receiving. The episode originally aired during the show’s first season but was repeated as a flashback with a brief introduction in the second season.
From the similar message of these episodes, one thing is clear. Thanksgiving and Christmas come back to back, not to provide a day off from work to go shopping, but as an opportunity for people to first give thanks for what they have and then to share it by giving gifts that come from their hearts, not their wallets.
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