TV Review: History of Christmas

Posted: December 1, 2009 in Holiday, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

3
There isn’t much funny about a title screen.

Let’s change format a little and review a DVD instead of just a movie. You’ll understand why in a moment. The DVD I intend to review is The History of Christmas, which is from The History channel, or as they seem to be calling themselves now just HISTORY. I don’t know if you can get this DVD outside of North America, I don’t know if they bother importing TV documentaries from an American Cable Network. HOWEVER! I like this DVD and I want to review it so I’m going to so there!

2
Just before the Santa Riots of ’32

What we have here is a multi-program package DVD. Over the last few years there have been a number of these sets for sale. I have two big sets covering The Founding of America as well as one covering World War II. All of these sets are mixed bags, because they’re made up of programs that the company that owns A&E and History have in their vaults from the last 20 odd years of production. In the America set for example, there are two series about the revolution, two about the founders, a couple of TV movies, and some individual biographies about Franklin and Washington. That’s a lot of information to have repeated if you try to watch the whole thing at once. Most the History Channel sets are like this though and nothing to be too worried about if you spread the watching out a little.

1
My, doesn’t he look jolly?

Fortunately, this disc is different. For one thing, this is a single disc and only four documentaries. For another, they cast a wide enough net that they seldom overlap. The four programs are each a TV hour, which means each one is somewhere around 45 minutes long. That means that you could watch all four in three hours if you wanted to spend part of an afternoon just watching documentaries about Christmas stuff. If you didn’t want to watch them all in one sitting, you could break it up according to your interest. I’m going to run down this review by the order on the Main Menu of the DVD if you don’t mind.

4
You gotta be kidding me. No gin at all?

Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas (1997 A&E Television Networks)
If someone told me that they wanted to know the history of Christmas, but they didn’t want to spend more than an hour learning about it, I would probably slap them in the mouth. Because seriously, anything worth learning about is worth putting forth some effort towards. If I were able to stop myself from hitting them though, and made myself understand their plight, I would give them this documentary. It’s a quick moving show, cut up into lots of small segments to easy swallowing and quick digestion. It follows from the origins of the day right up to the present day (of 1997) and how observances have changed over the years. It goes from earliest Roman traditions, to the bacchanal of European celebrations into the stogy Victorians and right into the modern America, stopping off of course to point out that early Americans didn’t celebrate the holiday at all for quite some time. Granted, nothing is gone into any great depth, but this skimming of the surface should at least give you and idea if this is something you want to look into any deeper.

5
Oh yeah, this isn’t creepy at all.

Santa Claus (1994 A&E Television Networks)
While this was originally made for the A&E program Biography, they mask that as best they can by taking away the opening animation. They leave Jack Perkins to host though, and he mentions that the show is Biography, so I don’t know why they bothered. It’s less an actual biography and more a history of the development of Old Nick… Old St. Nick! Sorry, forgot the St. in there and made him the devil. They do both wear a lot of red though. Hmm. Anyway, what you’ve got is the origin from Saint Nicholas, the mixing with Odin, and so on. It then follows with how the connection with Christmas was formed by people not wanting Christmas to become too commercial. It even explains how Santa got into the department store, which I hadn’t known before watching this back in the day.

6
No, no. Don’t tell them. They think they’re dressed in the latest fashions.

It’s a Wonderful Time to be Weird (2005 A&E Television Networks)
Out of the four shows on this disc, this is the one that fails to interest me. Not the fault of the elements of the show, so much as the format. I never watched Weirdo U.S., the show this is a special for, and the two hosts look like they auditioned for Myth Busters, but weren’t chosen because they just weren’t quirky enough. This show is broken up into segments, one about Lutefisk, one about a preacher who doesn’t like Santa and does a podcast about it, NORAD’s Santa tracking, and a thing about haggis. The two guys are informative, but they end up saying a lot of what I already knew and I personally don’t care for the “Let’s get a travel budget & go show people doing unusual things” shows. Yeah, that is a subgenre. Mostly it ends up on lifestyle channels like Food Network when they need to break up the instructional stuff. If you like this sort of show though, then this is a perfectly good program. The hosts are likeable, informative and they share in the events rather than just pointing and laughing.

7
OH CRAP! Superman is going to land in the middle of New York City!

Christmas Tech (2006 A&E Television Networks)
This is the newest of the programs on this disc, and you can see how documentaries have changed over the last 12 years if you watch all of these with a careful eye. One major thing that has changed is there are a lot more text bubbles that pop up to give bits of information during the show. This program is part of the Modern Marvels series and follows the basic premise of that show. Again, this is a type of show you get on these channels. There are five segments, each one about some of the things you’ll find around Christmas. The segments follow a pattern, some talk about something going on, some history, and then some new things going on in that market. The first segment is about trees, for example. We start with New York light and tree displays, some history about how the tree came to be a thing for us, and then a bit about a designer tree farm in Oregon. After that, we see a guy who goes nuts with his lights display, history of the string light and then how LEDs are changing the way we use those lights. You see how this is going. We get a thing on tree ornaments, store window displays, and finally fruitcake. If Marc Summers were narrating, it would be an episode of Unwrapped.

8
Don’t let him fool you, there’s more than Coke in that bottle.

While this isn’t the sort of thing you want to gather the family around the tv for annual viewings, the disc itself is pretty good and might tell you a few things you didn’t know before.

Official Score:
45 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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