For some it’s tearing open wrapping paper on Christmas morning. Others, it might be downing turkey with friends and family or hunting for some eggs on Easter Sunday. For others, it might be dressing up in costumes on Halloween, or knocking back a few pints with friends on St. Patrick’s Day.
But for me, the most wonderful time of the year isn’t a single day. It’s that time between mid-November leading right up to about December 23. Holiday music is once again on the radio, if we’re lucky the snow starts to fall, decorations begin to line the streets and there’s just this…certain spirit in the air.
It’s intangible, even hard to accurately put into writing here. But it’s that underlying theme to many a Christmas special that you just…feel.
It’s the feeling you get deep inside when the cast of Sesame Street sings about keeping Christmas with you all through the year, or Jack Skellington’s frustration when he’s not able to fully describe the idea of Christmas to his peers in Halloweentown, but it’s there. It’s felt inside.
And that’s why I love everything leading up to Christmas so much more than the holiday itself, because that lead-up is when that feeling is at its peak.
It’s when, depending on where you live and if we’re lucky, the first flakes of snow begin to descend and cover the ground in a blanket of white, ushering in a beautiful visual transition from one season to the next. It’s the excitement and the real-life magic that comes from watching children excitedly write letters to Santa, asking how he’s been, tossing out questions about life up north and his amazing abilities in ways only children can.
It can be found in our favorite media traditions and routines – whether it’s the way Dickens classic is brought to life in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, the revelation in It’s a Wonderful Life that even when life seems quite uneventful and miniscule that we do in fact make a difference. Or maybe it’s one of the many other holiday movies and specials that warm their way into our hearts and become as familiar to us as a close friend or the hug of a relative. Or it can be the voices singing “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” or any number of carols that have entertained for generations playing in the background while you decorate a tree, or even during a mundane car ride, elevating otherwise moments of monotony into something joyful, full of heart.
It’s in all of it. Those memories are made well before the calendar falls upon the 24th or 25th of December.
By the time Christmas Day rolls around, and the wrapping comes off the gifts, well…it’s all done. The holiday is already on its way out the door. In the past, I’ve referred to as The Christmas Letdown. The store aisles will soon be filled with festive memories now at clearance prices, while candies and hearts fill the shelves for the next big gift giving bonanza almost two months later.
Maybe if we could find a way to bottle that feeling from mid-November to mid-December, if we could find a way to carry it with us through the months ahead, the world might be a bit more merry year-round.
Or, as Santa says in the classic Miracle on 34th Street – “Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.”
Can you tell me how to get…how to get to Sesame Street?
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in this world who can’t tell you where on dial (okay, even if there are no dials anymore) to find that famous neighborhood where sunny days sweep the clouds away.
I personally have a hard time thinking of any other children’s television program that has consistency come into the homes of families as long as Sesame Street has, talking directly to their audience and guiding them through the essentials of childhood learning, from ABCs and 123s, colors and patterns, and just plain being good people.
The show has left five decades worth of legacy behind as of this writing. Five decades. It is incredible to stop and think about how many childhoods that encompasses, that have been touched and impacted by this product of the Children’s Television Workshop, now known as Sesame Workshop.
So it was with great joy that our family gathered around the television a few weeks back to watch Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Special on PBS Kids. For us, it was a family event. I even made popcorn.
The look-back celebration didn’t disappoint. With songs and clips from throughout the shows storied history, it was a trip down nostalgia lane with Muppets last seen long ago reappearing in various cameos (looking at you, Amazing Mumford, Roosevelt Franklin, Sherlock Hemlock, Harvey Kneeslapper, and Guy Smiley, among so many others).
Even the Baker who famously dropped his plate of whatever it would be at the time, re-emerged, most of his face cleverly hidden by pies, but his voice still provided thanks to a recording from the late, great Jim Henson. “Ten…banana cream…pies!!!!” **tumble** **crash**
And much to my delight, even Kermit the Frog re-emerged for a visit back to Sesame Street, as let’s not forget Kermit was once a regular on the Street back in the day.
And the humans. Sigh. It just wouldn’t have been a Sesame Street anniversary without a check-in of the human cast members from days gone by. Maria, Gordon, Susan, Luis, Bob, even Linda were all back to join in the fun with a few lines and songs that would make even the most curmudgeonly viewers feel like a kid again. I beamed.
All that in itself would have been enough, but they did even better by having a few performers on the special’s back end to talk about what the show meant to them personally. I was especially touched by the words of Jason Schwartzman, who talked about what the introduction of the character Julia meant to his family.
I can’t think of Sesame Street without thinking of the episode that stayed with me my entire life. Sure, there were songs, and characters and skits that were memorable. And yes, long before I had been working in the world of journalism as a reporter, toddler-aged me used to sit in our apartment using a paper lunch bag to make a trench coat for my stuffed Kermit the Frog so he could be “Kermit the Frog, reporting live from Sesame Street.”
But what struck me the most throughout the years, no matter how old I got, was the episode that dealt with the death of actor Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper. The episode first aired in 1982, and my memory can’t distinguish if I had seen it then (I would have been 2 at the time) or as a rerun a year or so after that. But it’s the one that I’ll never forget. It was my first understanding of death, just like Big Bird, and an emotional impact that stays with me to this day.
Five decades of teaching. Five decades of helping. Five decades of giving kids from all backgrounds and all walks of life a chance to say “hey, that’s like me.” It’s what makes Sesame Street so darn special to so many people and has for so many years.
It’s part of why we all wish we could live on a street like Sesame.
Did you watch PBS when you were a kid?
I did. I certainly can’t remember all of my viewing habits, but I can tell you unequivocally how comfortable, safe, and accepting it felt even as a toddler to be joined by furry friends on Sesame Street every afternoon. Or how I would run to grab my sneakers to tie and sweater to zip up when Mister Rogers would come walking through his door to open up windows to the world around us and remind us what it mean to be a kind, caring person throughout this thing called life.
I remember when Big Bird and I both needed clarity about Mr Hooper not being on Sesame Street anymore and how it’s okay to feel sad about someone leaving our lives, that grieving is a natural part of our emotions when someone dies. To this day I can’t see that scene where the grown-ups tell Big Bird that Mr Hooper isn’t coming back without feeling the same thing I did all those years ago. The handling of the topic, from producers to writers, to cast and crew, remains incredible.
Beyond those shows, I can’t recall too much else that I watched. Maybe Romper Room, and when I was older a show called Square One, mostly because of a series within the series called Mathnet, a Dragnet spoof where math problems were used to solve mysteries.
And now 30+ years later, I can say with certainty that there’s never been a better time to be a PBS parent.
We still get new editions of classics like Sesame Street, going strong at almost 50 years old and still teaching not only basic skills like shapes, numbers, and letters that prepare a child for school, but lessons to hold onto our entire lives, such as kindness, acceptance, and staying true to yourself. And my wife can attest to the childlike glee I get when we see familiar faces like Bob or Gordon pop into even some of the newer episodes.
Likewise, the values, compassion, and wisdom of Fred Rogers live on in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood as the residents of the Neighborhood of Make Believe, previously known in puppet form on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, spring to life in full-color animation. From sharing, to helping, to dealing with feelings like sadness, jealousy or anger, the lessons of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood are essential not just to a child, but to all of us. Our daughter is only starting to speak, but one thing she’s almost guaranteed to utter is the musical tones that accompany the songs in Daniel Tiger when it’s on.
Of course, there’s so much new and exciting on PBS too. While my son enjoys the derring-do and superheroics, I laugh at all the hilarious situations and jokes as WordGirl tries to put villains, bad grammar and misused words to rest.
Ready, Jet, Go has not only kindled a fascination with space exploration in our son, but it has captured the attention and awe of our not quite two year old daughter as well. And, I for one, feel I’ve learned so much as an adult about our universe and the vast possibilities that await us beyond the stars thanks to Jet, his parents and friends, and Astronomer and Host Amy Mainzer.
Nature Cat revels in its silliness while showcasing how much fun can be had and how much can be learned simply by heading out to one’s own backyard, along with a little help from our imagination. It also features, I’m convinced, at least half of the cast of SNL.
Chris and Martin Kratt leap from live action exploration of the animal kingdom into an animated world that stresses the valuable balance of our ecosystem and the role that each animal plays within it. Along with that, of course, comes with the threats to that delicate ecosystem by human kind and those who wish to prey upon the animal and natural world for their own greedy gain. The Kratt Brothers have not only transformed our son into a walking animal encyclopedia of habits and interaction, but have made him aware at such a young age to think about his actions or the actions of others, affect the world around us.
And of course, there’s my favorite, Odd Squad, which I’ve gushed over many a time before, about an agency run by kids that uses math skills to solve problems of oddness in the world. If it’s a man with a fireplace in his stomach, a person with a laugh track following them around, or dog-obsessed villain looking to take over the world, Odd Squad is on the case. With it’s clever writing, excellent acting, and delicious sense of humor, any adult should be watching this show, regardless if there’s a kid in the room with them.
Then, there’s PBS Kids Family Night, which, in our household at least, has become the modern day equivalent of The Wonderful World of Disney that my wife and I enjoyed watching each week as kids. Family-friendly specials, movies, or marathons every Friday night (and rerun Saturday and Sunday night if you miss it) on the 24/7 PBS Kids Channel that have become ritual viewing for us. I pull out the air popper I bought almost 15 years ago, make a bowl of popcorn and we all gather in the living room for anything from Tiger Family Trip to Odd Squad the Movie, or Wild Kratts: Hero’s Journey. Our kids are already chomping at the bit to see the upcoming Ready Jet Go: Return to Bortron 7 coming up on a Family Night edition soon.
We have basic cable, and when we downsized (long before we had kids), we never looked back, finding all we needed in our television viewing right there on that handful of stations. And when we did have kids, PBS (and now PBS Kids, their 24/7 accompanying channel) became the default for children’s programming.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
PBS matters. It offers a gateway to the world for anyone with a television set. No premium channels and the associated pay along with it. Whether it’s arts and culture, or math, science, and reading – knowledge never goes out of style. It’s what allows us to understand one another, to find new ways to think, to move our world forward. And I can’t think of a greater way to use the power of broadcasting than to by empowering our children and future generations with the tools to keep our world, our society, ever moving.
So here we are. Halfway through the winter season here in the northeast, the holidays over, the decorations all put away (minus the red and white lights out in front of our house that seem to nag at me whenever I see them yet never call to me with the urgency needed to get my butt outside and take them down), and a new year has begun.
I know I can’t be the only one who deals with feelings of a letdown post-holidays. In fairness, though, I fully admit I reach a point over the holidays when I’ve had my fill of everything – festivities, openings, family gatherings, the clutter, all of it, and want back to the normalcy and routine of the rest of the year. So let me make that part perfectly clear from the get-go.
I think you know what I mean, right? When it’s all over, you’re stuck cleaning up, putting everything away, in some cases finding room for additional things in the house (especially if you have kids).
I mean, sure, you might catch a great post-holiday sale (net lights for under 3 bucks?! Ornaments for under a buck? A nice wreath for under 4 bucks?!) and be ahead of the game for next year at a fraction of the cost.
But taking out those things, there always seems to be something else…something intangible about the way the season changes once the holiday ends. Call it wishful thinking, call it hopelessly optimistic, but no matter the year, no matter what’s going on in the world, it always seems, when the days countdown to the holiday, all those elements of the season just somehow seem to come together and create that perfect stew known as the Christmas spirit.
It’s a feeling, seen in every smile, every snowflake, every Christmas light you pass on the street.
And then, in a flash, it’s all gone.
Then it’s back to the grind and with it, there’s something just a little…different about the attitudes in the air.
I certainly don’t want Christmas every day. For that, I refer you, as I do my son when he starts wishing it was every day, to the first tale in the Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas special. In it, Huey, Dewey and Louie’s wish for Christmas every day is granted and when they wake each day, it’s Christmas morning. And boy do they get sick of it really fast.
What makes it so special is gone.
But what about that invisible something? Is it only special as well because we don’t get the best of each other all the rest of the year, even if we want to?
Is it possible to bottle it for the rest of the year?
It makes me think of a song from 1978’s Christmas Eve on Sesame Street – a special we break out every year that still remains one of my favorites. It’s lyrics, perhaps, sum up the best way to to maintain the spirit the other 364 days. How to, Keep Christmas with You, so to speak.
When Christmas time is over and presents put away, don’t be sad
There’ll be so much to treasure about this Christmas day and the fun we’ve had
So may happy feelings to celebrate with you
And, oh, the good times hurry by so fast,
But even when it’s over there’s something you can do to make Christmas last
Keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
You can keep it near.
Think of this Christmas day
When Christmas is far away.
Keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
Save some Christmas cheer.
These precious moments,
Hold them very dear
And keep Christmas with you
All through the year.
Christmas means the spirit of giving
Peace and joy to you,
The goodness of loving,
The gladness of living;
These are Christmas too.
So, keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
Save some Christmas cheer.
These precious moments,
Hold them very dear
And keep Christmas with you
All through the year.
Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually sat down to talk a little bit about life, and that’s just because life’s been so crazy it’s been hard to find the time! As I’ve said before, I commend those of you who can post every day or even close to every day. Where do you find the time? Kudos.
So, with so much that has gone on, I couldn’t think of where to even begin as I try to get back to some semblance of regular updates on life.
And as if in answer to my internal dilemma, this morning awoke our son, now four. Four!!! His little hands holding the sheets up to his chin, grinning ear to ear, excited to tell me about the dream he just woke up from.
I’ll leave it in his own, delightful words:
“Me…and Supergirl…and Superboy…and all the other superheroes…and the Mickey Mouse characters…and gramma…and even the characters from Sesame Street…we all teamed up!!!
“And there was this special type of kryptonite…and it only affected businessmen. But not business ladies.
“And it turned them all into bizarros.”
Man, I want to have this kid’s dreams.
And how about gramma getting in on the super hero action?
So today it was announced that the Children’s Television Workshop, which of course produces the legendary Sesame Street, has inked a deal with HBO to air the next five years worth of new episodes on the premium television channel.
Those new episodes, will then later be made available for airing on PBS Stations.
And I kind of feel like it’s serving a lot of kids and families the leftover scraps.
The program isn’t leaving PBS, its home for the past 45 years. But it is being cut down from an hour to a half-hour and will be reruns that have been re-edited.
Any new episodes of the show will air on HBO first, finding their way to PBS some nine months later. Will these new episodes be an hour on HBO and cut down to a half-hour on PBS as is being done with reruns? Or will they be a half hour on HBO and then presented as-is on PBS? I haven’t found that to be clear just yet.
However, the move to HBO will allow them to nearly double the number of episodes they produce each year, from 18 to 35.
So more episodes. Something that was getting harder to do financially for PBS. That’s good, right? But the only families and children who will get to watch them are those paying for HBO or HBO’s streaming service. Nine months later they’ll be able to catch them on television on PBS.
I can already see the critics of PBS using this in arguments against public funding, citing what seems to be the big thing lately, privatization, or that trendy new buzzword, ‘public-private partnerships’ in the fight against the use of funding for something they may not be a fan of.
Much of this deal is wrapped up in the concept of streaming, something I tend to, admittedly, forget about. HBO will get the exclusive digital/streaming rights to Sesame Street. Many news articles on this deal cite that two-thirds of children watch Sesame Street via a streaming device.
So, if that is the case, two-thirds of children watch Sesame Street via streaming. And that streaming option is now being removed from Netflix, Amazon, and most importantly, the free PBS Kids app. (Or at least, it’s implied it will disappear from the PBS Kids app. That doesn’t seem to be directly addressed in any article I’ve come across so far. I’ll gladly correct if I find one.)
This is nagging at me because I keep thinking about the purpose of Sesame Street being on public television to begin with – to have its educational lessons via entertainment accessible to all, regardless of the economic status of the household.
If you had a television set, whether it was antenna, premium cable, or just basic cable as we have (the cable company refers to it as ‘lifeline cable’ sometimes. It’s just channels 2-13), you could still learn along with Bert, Ernie, Big Bird and company.
I’ve gone back and forth but keep feeling like overall, there’s a loss here for anyone that’s not HBO or an HBO subscriber.
PBS keeps the reruns and down-the-line gets some new episodes and doesn’t have to pay for it. Great, but if all these articles are true, stating that two-thirds of children get Sesame Street via a streaming service or app, then that’s just been taken away from them if their families don’t subscribe to HBO.
If your childhood home gets saved from being torn down, but you don’t get to live in it anymore because it’s not in your financial reach, who is it a win for?
Today, Mr Fred Rogers would have been 87 years old.
While the gentle “Won’t you be my neighbor?” has, over the years, sometimes turned into a bit of a sarcastic punchline in pop culture, Mr Rogers himself, and the lessons and values that he presented, left a lasting impact on my life, as no doubt it did countless other lives over the course of multiple generations.
I was about 3 or 4 when I first joined ‘the neighborhood.’ My brother was just born/was a baby, and we lived in a two-family apartment building in an area of our city that, while maybe not that great, was home. I still remember running from one of the apartment to the other when Sesame Street would end, grabbing my sweater and sneakers because I knew what was up next.
And as Mr Rogers walked through that door and greeted us viewers, I sat in the living room of our apartment, putting on and zipping up my little sweater along with him, and tossing my sneaker from one hand to the next. I wanted to be just like that guy, I would think.
As I got older and grew out of the daily routine of my Sesame Street/Mr Rogers TV block, the values that came from them remained, even if I didn’t realize it.
No, I would have to wait until I was a great deal older, and much more introspective about myself and my life before I would see that. But now I do. I realize that while I was watching with a childhood curiosity and thirst for entertainment back then, what I was getting was a reinforcement of values and morals that taught all of us what it meant to be a good person.
It was really special. I knew it then, even if I didn’t know why. And while it took a few decades later and becoming a father myself, I know it again.
Thankfully, those lessons are being taught to new generations today through Fred Rogers’ Company in shows like the animated Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
So thank you, Fred Rogers, for all you did for me and for so many other kids over the years. For teaching us, not our ABCs or 1, 2, 3s, but how to be kind, why to be kind, and how to help.
Okay, so this is not so wordless this time. It requires backstory.
We were watching Sesame Street on Netflix recently and had to pause it for bath time. I suddenly noticed the odd moment at which we happened to pause, and started laughing at the moment it paused.
My theory – Leela finally got sick of living on a street with Monsters and Muppets popping out of garbage cans, yelling at her, and eating all her cookies. The girl just finally lost it. We all have a breaking point.