Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve as Brought to You By TV

By Mitchell

Christmas Eve was a day of great excitement in our household - or rather, I should call it "the day before Christmas." Being a great stickler for detail, as most children are, I insisted that "Christmas Eve" didn't start until that night. That was when the family came over for dinner, when we had our tree, when I would watch some of the church services on TV. That was Christmas Eve, and until then it was merely the day before Christmas.

I was reminded of that last night as we were watching The Bishop's Wife with Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven (and not that awful remake The Preacher's Wife, which misses the boat entirely). In it, the daughter mentions that "Christmas Eve will be here soon." And indeed it will, but for the next few hours it's still the day before Christmas.

The Bishop's Wife wasn't on TV on Thursday, December 24, 1964, but there were plenty of other Christmas programs to watch, according to TV Guide. (See our previous posts on Christmas week programming for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday). During the first hour of NBC's Today show, Hugh Downs reports on how GIs in Europe will be spending Christmas. On Captain Kangaroo, the Captain reads "The Night Before Christmas," as illustrated by Grandma Moses. A rerun of Father Knows Best on ABC at 11 am shows that Robert Young has concerns that the family has made Christmas too commercial and plans an old-fashioned Yule. (Once again showing that there's nothing new under the sun.)

At 12:20 Channel 5's Dialing for Dollars presented another local singing group, The Crosier choristers, with several Christmas songs. Channel 11's "Matinee Movie" at 1pm is Alice in Wonderland (the non-animated version), presented for all the children who've been out of school the entire week. At 4:00, Channel 4's Around the Town has the Lutheran Brotherhood choir singing "holiday" music. Seeing as how Lutheran Brotherhood was a fraternal insurance organization for Lutherans, I'm betting at least some of those songs were religious ones..

At 6:00 Channel 2 continued their Christmas music programs with a half hour from the Holy Childhood Boys Choir, and here I'll interject a personal note. Holy Childhood, which is where we'll be attending Midnight Mass tonight, has always had a reputation for an outstanding music program (one of their first music directors was the famed liturgical composer Richard Proulx). In the pre-Vatican II days their music was supplied exclusively by a choir of men and boys; after Vatican II, girls from the K-8 school and women were added. To this day the music program in the school remains one of the best around, and it's a parish that takes religious and liturgical music very seriously. (We'll report on the Midnight Mass early next week.)

Prime time is a mixed bag, as the networks are assuming that many families are getting together, and probably not watching much TV. The Flintstones (ABC, 6:30) has a Christmas episode (never could figure that out, how cavemen living BC would celebrate Christmas. Who knew?). At 7:30 Channel 2 has more Christmas music, "Carols from Around the world" by the College of St. Theresa, and they continue at 8:00 with A Child's Christmas in Utah and at 8:30 with a concert by the Monk's Choir of St. John's University. Dr. Kildare's Christmas show (7:30, NBC) deals with a alcoholic brought into the ER on Christmas Eve. George, the nominal patriarch of the house governed by Shirley Booth's maid Hazel (8:30, NBC), takes a page from Robert Young's playbook, deciding that Christmas is too commercial. At 9:00 on CBS, the legal drama The Defenders doesn't have a Christmas show per se, but during the run of this very ernest show, they always presented a comedy at Christmas, and this is no exception. (On the same page is an ad stating that "The Publisher And Staff Of TV GUIDE Magazine Extend Best Wishers To You And Your Family For A Happy Holiday Season.")

At 10:30 CBS presents The Sounds of Christmas, hosted by Baroness Maria Von Trapp (that's right, the Von Trapp from The Sound of Music) coming from the Von Trapp family lodge in stowe, Vermont (and presented by the National Council of Catholic Men). A musical Christmas Card is NBC's show, featuring Sammy Davis Jr. and the Norman Luboff Choir.

At 11:00 (midnight on the East Coast) the church services start. On CBS it's a Protestant service (all the religious affiliations of these church services are carefully noted) from St. Luke's Lutheran Church in New York. What's really interesting about TV Guide listings at this point in history is that they can carry so much detail, because compared to our time there is so little programming on. For this service all the music to be performed is listed - "The Shepherd's Carol," "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," and "What You Gonna Call Yo' Pretty Little Baby?" The pastor of the service is Albert L. Neibacher.

Prior to its annual coverage of the Papal Mass at the Vatican, NBC had traditionally covered the Midnight mass at St. Patrick's in New York. This year the Pontifical Solemn High Mass is celebrated by Bishop John Maguire, with a taped message from Cardinal Spellman. I find the listing for this Mass particularly interesting, and quite sad in a way, for in the description is one of those wonderful and terrible lines which carries so much history, and which - unknown at the time - portents much heartbreak, misery and turmoil:

"The new liturgy will be used, with some of the Mass sung in English, some in Latin."

It's not the Novus Ordo - yet - but it's the Tridentine in the vernacular, and things will never be the same again.

At midnight ABC presents taped coverage of the Solemn Pontifical Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, celebrated by Bishop Sheen with music by the Marist College Choir. The independent Channel 11 has Amos 'n' Andy, with Andy taking his goddaughter Christmas shopping. And Channel 4 brings this wonderful day to an end with the Mora High School Choir singing traditional Christmas songs and carols (and I'll bet those carols are gone from their playlist now), and at 12:30 a.m. a repeat of the Great Lakes Choir's concert from Sunday.

And so the stations sign off for the night (except for Channel 5, whose late movie The House of the Seven Gables will run until 2:30 a.m.). People will be returning from midnight church services, driving through the darkened streets, walking on snow-covered sidewalks. Children will sleep restlessly, wondering if that squeaking floorboard means Santa's downstairs. All is calm, all is bright.

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