Thursday, December 25, 2014

Why PBS Kids Always Does Holiday Specials Right - By Not Just Celebrating Christmas

You know, I've been thinking a lot about the political correctness involved with the holidays lately, such as us Christians always being told not to "offend" anyone or leave anyone out with all of our "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Birthday, Jesus Christ" supposed mumbo jumbo. This makes holiday cheer very bland and generic with "Happy Holidays" being the ONLY acceptable greeting. It's a decent, collective phrase, and usually I don't have a problem with people or myself using it, but at the same time it tends to dismiss the importance of the holidays and strip them of their individuality when on its own.

I've always felt that I would be happy to hear whatever people wanted to say to me. For example, if a Jewish person were to wish me a "Happy Hanukkah," I'd be honored. I mean no harm if I were to wish a Jewish person a "Merry Christmas". Jewish people have wished Christians "Merry Christmas" and I have wished Jewish people "Happy Hanukkah". This really isn't a huge issue and to make an issue out of it is pretty ridiculous. Actually, it seems like not many people really care as much and we are making an issue out of it for no reason. I like learning about different cultures and it's great when we share cultures with each other. All we are doing is spreading joy.

I believe PBS Kids is partially to thank for this positive attitude of mine.

We all know that I am a huge supporter and appreciator of PBS Kids, given that I believe it is the most educational station for children and no one else can really tell me otherwise. Out of any Christmas special on TV for the family, other than "A Charlie Brown Christmas" so far from what I can see, PBS Kids is the only place that plays Christmas specials that aren't afraid to acknowledge Jesus Christ in some way. He IS the reason for the season, after all.

Take "The Puzzle Place - Deck the Halls" for example. Actually, it is THE example really because it was my first exposure to all different holidays as a kid and it helped me to learn about them. I still own the VHS.

I've praised "The Puzzle Place" before for its pushing the envelope a bit and exploring diversity. No other TV show really does what this show did. For the holiday season, it is no different. What's funny too is the idea of offending is also briefly discussed, now that I think about it.

The special opens up with Leon in New York City waiting for his friends as he reminisces with the audience about the holidays the previous year, taking us to a flashback. Technically, Ben, the blond white guy with glasses, is the token Christian for this special. He's there doing his Christian thing, decorating the tree, dressing up like Santa Claus, the like. He talks to Jody, who enters the special looking for her menorah, about Christmas. Jody tells him that she doesn't celebrate Christmas because she is Jewish. Ben, heartbroken for her, ends up finding her menorah and in innocence puts it on the Christmas tree to surprise her and make her feel welcome in the Christmas celebration. This actually shocks and offends Jody and she asks him to take it down. The more I think about this particular plot point, the more I realize how relevant it is to today. 

So then Jody explains Hanukkah, Leon explains Kwanzaa, and Kiki explains Las Posadas, which for me was always the most relatable besides Christmas because she talks about the Nativity and such. The only thing that I'm thinking now is that they missed out on an opportunity to discuss a Muslim holiday because for some reason they didn't have a particular character to fit that role. Wouldn't THAT have been cool though?

The flashback ends with Nuzzle and Sizzle addressing the audience by saying "Merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad. AND Happy Hanukkah. AND Happy Kwanzaa. AND Happy New Year to everybody."

Then Sizzle leans into Nuzzle and whispers, "Is that everything?"

"I think so," Nuzzle whispers back.

"Oh, phew."

It's just so adorable how they actually make it a point to acknowledge each one, so after seeing this I've always thought, "Why can't we do the same?" Now granted they all do say "Happy Holidays!" at the very end of the flashback as we come back to the present with Leon telling the story as well as other parts in the special, but it doesn't take away from the fact that they actually did pinpoint everything. That little moment with Sizzle and Nuzzle always comes to my mind whenever I hear about political correctness, thinking that that is the best way to go about it if it is so concerning. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying specific names and covering everything if need be, while also saying "Happy Holidays" if you so chose. People should have the freedom to express whatever they want. If dog and cat puppets can do it, then so can we. Sure, it takes up effort and time to include every single one and try not to leave anything out, and many people prefer concision, but it makes each one special by doing it.

Then there is "Arthur's Perfect Christmas". Watching this special is actually the first time I discovered The Brain's ethnicity because we see him and his family celebrating Kwanzaa and it dawned on me years later more recently. I never thought about race with this show because, well, he's a bear, so this was actually pretty mind blowing for me.

In addition to Arthur and his family celebrating Christmas, the special shows Francine and her family celebrating Hanukkah and George and his family (I actually had to look this one up because to this day I still don't really know what it is.) celebrating St. Lucia Day. Buster and his mom also invent their own holiday called "Baxter Day".

Both Brain's and Francine's backgrounds introduced in this Christmas special actually opened up for further opportunities to explore their cultures in future episodes. For example, in one of the newer episodes that is actually a two-parter, I as an adult learned more about Africa through The Brain than I have in my entire lifetime. There's even a theme song for these episodes called "In My Africa" that hasn't left me since. ("In my Africa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.") There are also episodes dedicated to Francine's Judaism now, with her grandmother Bubba Frensky (voiced by the late Joan Rivers) playing a prime role in helping her learn about her Jewish customs. It's safe to say that "Arthur's Perfect Christmas" may be partially responsible for people becoming more informed about these topics in the "Arthur" series. Actually, come to think of it, I just might consider "Arthur" the modern-day "Puzzle Place".

One Christian scene towards the beginning of "Arthur's Perfect Christmas", like fifteen minutes in, really stands out to me. Those of you who watch the show know that Arthur's father David is a professional chef that is always experimenting with food. In this special, he opts to cook a meal "that they might have eaten in Bethlehem when JESUS was born."

I quoted him for a reason. The fact that David even utters the word "Jesus" in this struck me when I first heard it. It is very rare that you hear God's name said on TV, especially in a kids show. The fact that they dared to do it on public television in this day and age is very special and I appreciate that they acknowledge it. There is also mention of going to church in this too, which is another thing you rarely hear about in Christmas specials.

Now I haven't seen this one really, but I believe "Sid the Science Kid" has a Christmas special that includes Hanukkah as well, in a different way. Sid is one of the first bi-racial characters on PBS Kids and it turns out from this episode that he also may be the first bi-religious one as well. His father is white and his mother is black, but from what I gather too, his father is Jewish and his mother is a Christian, so therefore his family celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah. (Added December 27.) The episode is called "Sid's Holiday Adventure" and Sid and his family celebrate Kwanzaa as well. (End addition.)

During this holiday season, I wished many people a "Merry Christmas" every chance I got (as well as additionally include "Happy Holidays" in cards) and from what I saw, no one got offended but were rather appreciative of the happy sentiments. I received smiles and they looked somewhat relieved that I gave them the leeway to say "Merry Christmas" back to me. (In some work places, employees aren't allowed to say "Merry Christmas" to customers.)

It would be nice to see more holiday specials include Jesus and/or cover more holidays in addition to Christmas traditions, as well as other holiday songs on the radio perhaps. Can you think of any that already do this? Actually, now that I recall, a year or two ago late at night I watched an old "Sesame Street" holiday special that was specifically for Hanukkah. It was strange not seeing any mention of Christmas whatsoever, so I felt a bit disconnected from it and I imagine that's probably how Jewish people feel whenever they watch Christmas specials, which is why we need more diversity, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Hey! On what station does "Sesame Street" usually air again? Oh. Right. PBS Kids. ;)

As good as it is, people aren't obligated to just say every holiday name nor are they obligated to just say "Happy Holidays." Normally people greet each other based on what they themselves usually celebrate and there is nothing wrong with it. It is what we celebrate so it is only right that we have the freedom to say it. So, in the spirit of Christmas, am I going to take the liberty to do just that.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Have a joyous season! Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus! ❤️

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