Mary Arline (queen_of_kithia) wrote,
Mary Arline

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YoB&E: Christmas Eve edition--Gift of the Magi

This is a moment I've been looking forward to all year. In 1978, PBS aired a Sesame Street Christmas special aptly titled "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street." You can read about it here or, better yet, buy it and watch it. (I know for certain it's available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video.) Anyway, there are a couple of different plotlines that run through it, and one of them is Bert and Ernie re-enacting O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi". Fortunately, the good people who run have edited that plotline together and posted it for our viewing enjoyment. (At seven and a half minutes, it's a little longer than the standard Bert & Ernie sketch, just so you know.)

Of note, being as this was 1978, Mr. Hooper was still alive and features prominently in this storyline.

I mentioned this previously, but as far as I know, Mr. Hooper and Shola are the only two human beings ever to visit Bert & Ernie's apartment. And what a mensch Mr. Hooper was! Watching this, you understand why they needed to take a whole episode to come to terms with his death.

Notice how Bert is disappointed in himself for not having a present for Ernie yet, whereas Ernie doesn't seem too bothered by not having a present for Bert yet. Maybe he puts off Christmas shopping until the last minute every year. It would make sense.

I think that this is quite probably the single best performance that Jim Henson and Frank Oz ever did together. Listen to the way Ernie clears his throat as he hands over his Rubber Duckie. Listen to the way Bert's voice catches as he asks if he can come back to visit his paperclips. Even if you had no idea who these characters were, you'd understand immediately how much these possessions mean to them. It's heartbreaking; just thinking about it makes me cry.

The best Muppet productions strike a balance between sentimentality and silliness, and this one is no exception. For example, Ernie comes in and recognizes Bert's 1957 Acme paperclip, noting how awful Bert would feel if he lost it. Then, in his excitement about thinking of a present for Bert, he tosses it aside.

In creating this special, they took a break from the standard preschool curriculum and focused solely on entertainment/celebration. Yet I still believe there's educational value to be found in this special. I'd be willing to bet that the kids who watch this special as preschoolers have a lot easier time understanding "The Gift of the Magi" when they have to study it in school, while the other kids are asking themselves bewildered questions like, "why would anybody want to buy hair?" and "what's a fob?"

As a bonus, here's a song from Oscar from the same special, in honor of Caroll Spinney's 80th birthday on December 26th. Happy birthday, Mr. Spinney, sir!

Merry almost Christmas, everyone! And as Jim Henson might say, I wish you peace and joy.
Tags: sesame street, year of bert & ernie
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