On Tuesday I received an early Christmas gift, a copy of the video Simple Gifts: Six Episodes for Christmas, which was first broadcast on PBS in 1978. It was repeated for a couple of years, then disappeared before I could videotape it after acquisition of a VCR in October 1980. This program has haunted me for years. Call it "Christmas animation for adults," six very understated pieces introduced by Colleen Dewhurst.
The prologue by Maurice Sendak is the short simple story of a poor little boy who turns into a Christmas tree and uses his own warmth to warm others. The six main stories are:
1. "A Memory of Christmas," from the memoirs of Moss Hart: archival photographs of New York City mixed with aged sepia-tinted animated stills of actors portraying Hart's family.
2. "Lost and Found," based on the "Toonerville Trolley" comic strip, animated in that archaic style; the one real humorous story of the group.
3. "December 25th, 1914," mixed animation and archival photographs to tell of an incident during the World War I Christmas truce, taken from a British officer's memoir.
4. "The Great Frost," based on "Orlando" by Virginia Woolf, with delicate children's book-like illustrations telling the story of a Great Ice Fayre held on the frozen river and of a romance that develops between a young Englishman and a Russian princess. This is the longest piece of animation and the one most people who remember this special will recall.
5. "My Christmas," charcoal-sketch limited animation taken from the diary of 11-year-old Teddy Roosevelt.
6. "No Room at the Inn," line-drawing animation, with no dialog, by R.O. Blechman about the Nativity that takes a poke at modern consumerism.
I find this just as enjoyable now as I did back when it was first on television. PBS Home Video should release this to DVD, since it was only available to libraries when it was first released on video.
When I am teleworking I spend my lunch hour watching Rick Steves' Europe and love the beautiful out-of-the-way places he finds in each region. So it was natural I pick up a copy of Rick Steves' European Christmas, which is also shown on PBS, but in an edited version. The complete DVD is 62 minutes and covers the following places: Bath and London, England; Drobak and Oslo, Norway; Paris and Burgundy, France; Nurnberg, Germany (for the Christkindlmarket and a look at the "Christkind" tradition); Tirol and Salburg, Austria; Rome and Tuscany, Italy; Gimmelwald, Switzerland (probably Steves' favorite place in Europe, a tiny Alpine village, in which the whole Steves family goes on a memorable Christmas tree search ending with a breathtaking night sled down a mountainside using torches); and the Christmas Eve finale. If the beautiful main feature wasn't enough, the extras are 30 minutes of song by the choral groups featured in the show, five minutes of highlights from Pope John Paul II's final Christmas Mass, a four minute interview with the young lady who is the Christkind, a minute of close-ups of the different presepio scenes, and a slideshow of four minutes of images from the show in accompaniment to "Carol of the Bells." Perfecto!