December is upon us, which means – like it or not – the winter holidays have arrived. It’s once again time for walking through winter wonderlands, roasting chestnuts on an open fire, and desperately trying to ensure that all three gifts for your fellow Ladies arrive in time. (Maybe that last one is just me.) It’s also an excellent time to get your Muppet fix. The Muppets have been making Christmas appearances on TV shows since the 1960s and started their own catalog of Christmas specials in 1970 with The Great Santa Claus Switch. Over forty years later, Muppet fans have a lot of holiday themed Muppet material to choose from. These are my three picks for the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, and Muppetational Muppet Christmas specials.
A Muppet Family Christmas
What’s it about? You think your family’s holiday gatherings are nuts? Fozzie Bear has decided to bring the entire Muppet crew to his mother’s farmhouse for Christmas, without telling his mother. As more and more Muppets arrive and slip on the icy patch, Miss Piggy battles a blizzard to spend the holidays with her frog and a still very much alive Christmas turkey tries to convince the Swedish Chef to consider Big Bird as an alternative.
Why is it great? The joy of Muppet Family Christmas isn’t so much the story as the opportunity to see metric tons of Muppets from at least three different TV shows interacting with each other. It really does feel like an inside look at how the Muppets spend their holiday downtime rather than a show they’re putting on to entertain an audience. Rights issues would make such a crossover nearly impossible today, so the fact that this special happened when it did is its own Christmas miracle.
Deleted Scenes Speaking of rights issues, problems with music rights have kept Muppet Family Christmas from being available in uncut form for decades. Two songs from the carol singing medley at the end and three full musical scenes are missing from modern cuts of the special, including this one where the Muppets watch old home movies of their younger selves singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Thankfully, the cut songs are still available on YouTube, so you can watch them. Or, if you’re the type of person who loses sleep wondering if Muppet Babies is “canon,” you can continue to skip this one and save your sanity.
My Favorite Part Like I said before, the interactions between characters who don’t normally appear together is what makes this special great. My absolute favorite is when Bert and Ernie are telling Doc from Fraggle Rock what letters various words start with. When Doc asks what the point of it is, they respond that “where we come from, this is small talk.” Really explains a lot about Sesame Street.
Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
What’s it about? When Oscar expresses doubts that big fat Santa Claus can fit down a skinny little chimney, Big Bird starts worrying that Santa won’t be able to deliver presents and Christmas will be ruined. He searches for answers while Bert and Ernie trade away their most prized possessions to get gifts for each other and Cookie Monster tries to contact Santa last minute.
Why is it great? I’m sure it helps that this is the Sesame Street I grew up with. But even putting that aside, this is just an extremely well written Christmas special. When it’s funny – highlights include Oscar’s song “I Hate Christmas” and Kermit and Grover questioning kids about how Santa gets down the chimney, it’s absolutely hilarious. Yet when it’s serious, it is genuinely moving. You wouldn’t think a character giving up his paper clip collection could bring a tear to your eye, but Frank Oz’s performance as Bert is just that good. And to top it all off, the message of the special is not “believe in Santa and the magic of Christmas,” but “being with family and the people you love is the real meaning of Christmas.”
Deleted Scenes While the other two Muppet Christmas specials I love have undergone massive edits, this one has dodged that particular bullet. All the songs other than “Feliz Navidad” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” are original, so it doesn’t suffer from the music rights issues that Muppet Family Christmas does. The final scene with Gordon and Susan returning home to find that Cookie Monster has eaten their tree sometimes gets cut for time, but it’s still on the DVD release.
My Favorite Part It’s a tough choice, but I love Cookie Monster and the scenes of him trying to let Santa know he wants cookies for Christmas and repeatedly eating his methods of communication crack me up. His “Deeeeear Saaaaaaaaaaaan-ta” at the beginning never fails to make me laugh.
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas
What’s it about? Emmet and Ma Otter have been struggling to make ends meet and have no money left to buy presents. When a town talent show is announced, they both secretly enter, hoping to use the cash prize to get a gift for the other.
Why is it great? It’s only just barely about Christmas, but it’s also the perfect Christmas special. It’s gorgeous to look at, featuring some early remote puppeteering. Every performance is pitch perfect. The songs are amazing. And at the heart is a story about two characters taking a chance to try and make the other’s holiday everything it should be.
Deleted Scenes The problem here is not rights to music, but rights to frog. Kermit originally appeared as the story’s narrator, but his scenes were removed when Henson sold the rights to the Muppet Show Muppets. Again, YouTube to the rescue, but don’t watch if you haven’t seen the special before, as the Kermit clips give away the ending.
My Favorite Part The songs. Yes, all of them. This was Paul Williams’ first collaboration with the Muppets and to my mind, they’re some of the best songs he ever wrote. They’re mostly meant to be traditional songs in the world where Emmet Otter takes place and they somehow feel like songs that have been around for ages. My favorite of the lot is actually the hymn “When the River Meets the Sea.” But aside from one or two videos of the original with nausea inducing shaky visuals (of a TV playing the special or a still picture of the cast), YouTube only has the merely okay John Denver version and the “Smalerie will murder me if I post it” Jim Henson’s funeral version. So let’s watch a nice clean clip of “Ain’t No Hole In The Washtub,” straight from the Henson Company itself.
Got a favorite holiday special of your own, Muppety or otherwise? Tell us about it in the comments and enjoy the holiday season!