Let's look at how 1970's sitcoms celebrated Christmas.
Sometimes it's not your family but your co-workers you'll be spending Christmas with. That's not at all rare today but it was pretty unusual in the 1970s.
Plucky Anne Marie got stuck on Christmas Eve in the private boy's home where she was working in a touching episode of That Girl that took place as a flashback. This episode is typical of the way sitcoms celebrated the season back in the day - with a bittersweet edge that played up the emotional aspect of Christmas, with plotlines revolving around helping out someone in need.
One of the most fondly remembered Christmas comedies of all time would have to be The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode from 1970 where Mary was forced to work on Christmas Eve and her co-workers show up unexpectedly in the middle of the night to keep her company.
An interesting aside - this episode was written by the same guy (James L. Brooks) who wrote the That Girl episode referenced above called 'Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid'. The MTM episode is titled 'Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid II', co-written with Allan Burns.
The Bob Newhart Show a few seasons later explored roughly the same theme. Dr. Bob Hartley and his co-workers at the medical building were snowed in on Christmas Eve following their lame office Holiday party. Unfortunately, Bob and Emily had an intimate evening at home planned - the last thing he wanted to do is spend Christmas Eve with the eccentrics he worked around. So he ends up walking home in a Chicago blizzard.
The New Dick Van Dyke Show Christmas episode from 1972 was another 'can't get home' storyline with Dick stuck in jail for the big day.
Happy Days is a double blast from the past, a 1970s sitcom that takes you back to the 1950s. 'Guess Who's Coming To Christmas,' their first Holiday outing, was again about people helping people. In this December 1974 story Fonzie missed his bus home and will have to spend the Holiday alone. This is an early episode before brother Chuck disappeared and Fonzie developed his softer side. And that's two Christmas episodes Ron Howard had a part in making me cry dammit (The Andy Griffith Show being the other). This isn't just heart-warming it's heart-breaking.
Here's a twist on a common theme from 1976 - Phyllis (another spin-off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) is stuck working, unable to attend the office Christmas party on the other side of the room. This show is steeped in early-1970's dreariness and had one of the funniest theme songs of all time but unless Mother Dexter was in the scene the show fell flat. When the actress Judith Lowry died during season two so did the ratings; this was one of her last episodes.
I personally love the holidays. For me, Christmas is a time for joy, laughter and warm family get-togethers (don't you just want to be sick?) but it's also a time that strikes dread into the hearts of some.
A lot of unfortunate people have bitter memories of harsh family confrontations around the Christmas tree. That spirit is captured brilliantly and played for laughs in this skit from The Carol Burnett Show in 1974 that features Burnett's Eunice character and her contentious family sharing their special brand of 'holiday cheer'.
Because after all, Christmas is about families. Or did we decide it was about television after all?
Families, not television, is what Christmas is all about. But can we help it as children growing up in America that some of our warmest family Christmas memories are wrapped around watching something on TV?
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