When I first decided to write a Christmas blog about a Muppet Christmas special, for a long time I couldn’t decide which one to write about. There are so many great movies and specials, and a few I still haven’t had a chance to see. When I watch Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas, I find myself always smiling hearing Jerry Nelson’s rendition of “When the River Meets the Sea.” I love watching The Muppet Christmas Carol both with the audio commentary, and just watching the film itself. I remember the first Muppet Christmas special I saw TV as an official Muppet fan was It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and, even if it has a few less-than-great moments, it’ll always be special for me, because it was one of the first movies that drew me into the world of the Muppets. When Letters to Santa premiered, I remember I was in Orlando, Florida visiting Walt Disney World. In our hotel room, my entire family gathered around to watch it, and I remember saying to myself, “The Muppets are back,” because it had the humor, heart, and wit that I loved about the Muppets (including the new recastings with Bill Barretta, Matt Vogel and David Rudman).
There are so many Muppet Christmas moments I could highlight, but I finally decided that I wanted to focus on my earliest Muppet Christmas memory: the 1996 TV special Elmo Saves Christmas. Maya Angelou narrates the special, telling the story of how Elmo saved Christmas (after his Christmas wish had gone bad) to Zoe, Baby Bear, Telly Monster and a group of children. Elmo wished it could be Christmas every day. After rescuing Santa Claus (played by Charles Durning, also known as Doc Hopper in the original Muppet Movie), who was stuck in his chimney, Elmo is given a magic snow globe that will grant him three wishes. After first wishing for a glass of water, Elmo wishes it could be Christmas every day. With the help of a young reindeer named Lightning (performed by Joey Mazzarino), Elmo sees a Christmas future in which businesses are closed, gifts and trees sell nonstop, and the elves no longer get vacations and so they mess up Christmas gifts from being overworked. The Easter Bunny (played by Broadway star Harvey Fierstein) becomes the Christmas Bunny, Christmas carolers lose their voices and Big Bird can’t see his best friend Snuffy, who is visiting his grandmother in Cincinnati for Christmas. With one wish left, Elmo realizes that Christmas every day isn’t as great as it might sound.
Elmo sees that, although Christmas can’t occur every day, it’s possible to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts all year long. The special concludes with a finale of the song “Keep Christmas with You (All Though the Year),” originally featured in the 1975 album “Merry Christmas from Sesame Street” and the 1978 special Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. The special went on to win two Daytime Emmy Awards and features appearances from both Muppet and human cast members of Sesame Street, everyone from Oscar the Grouch to Bob to Mr. Handford and even Kermit the Frog, giving his traditional Sesame Street News Report.
I have such fond memories of watching this special as a kid. I was a huge Elmo fan growing up, owning everything from Elmo slippers to Elmo pacifiers. I wrote in my first blog post, I even named my plush Elmo toy “Elmo Harff,” and put bow ties on him for holidays, and brought him to church with me on Sundays. I remember finding Harvey Fierstein as the Easter Bunny so odd but intriguing, and now as a young adult knowing of his work on Broadway in Hairspray, I can’t help but laugh and enjoy that performance. I also have more of an appreciation for the casting of Doc Hopper as Santa Claus. I loved this special so much I would have my Mom get me a kids sketch book so I could create the story in my own book form, drawing my own pictures of the characters and retelling the story on the pages.
Elmo Saves Christmas was my earliest Muppet Christmas memory, and it’s definitely one I plan to share when I have a family of my own someday. It’s a special I recommend you revisit on DVD and cherish with your own families this holiday season. I want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and remember to “keep Christmas with you all through the year” by keeping the Christmas feeling of warmth, love, family and goodwill with you every day.