Series: Advent Calendar 2016: Holiday TV Episodes
Little House on the Prairie
Season 1 Episode 15
"Christmas at Plum Creek"
Originally broadcast December 25, 1974
From the distant future to the distant past, I guess this list is all about juxtapositions. I definitely can't tell you how accurate a portrayal Little House on the Prairie is of 1870's life, but I can tell you that it was a pretty delightful show. I remember that Little House was on the TV pretty regularly when I was a kid, but I can't see young me ever watching it by choice (what with there being absolutely no chances of Simpsons references anywhere). Now that I've re-watched it as an adult, though, If I saw it on TV now I think I probably would tune in.
What is the show?
Loosely based on a best-selling autobiographical book series, Little House on the Prairie is about a frontier family living in a, well, little house on a prairie in the late 1800's. The show documented the daily lives of the Ingalls family, made up of Laura (the original books' author), her two sisters, and her mother and father (played by Michael Landon of Bonanza fame). The Ingallses lived on the wild frontier of Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and were the nicest people in a small community of just the nicest people. Mostly the show is about being nice, which I have to tell you is pretty, well, nice.
Let's just take a moment to acknowledge what a cool dude Michael Landon must have been. Landon, pretty fresh from the cancellation of Bonanza just a year earlier, was asked to direct the first episode of Little House and only did it on the condition that he could play the father. The dude parlayed a simple job offer into a successful eight year gig.
Anyway, I do remember watching this show when I was a kid, so stuff like the theme song and opening sequence (which I found pretty hilarious even as a kid) were buried deep in my memories somewhere. It was nice feeling those pleasant memories bubbling up again as I watched this episode. If there's ever a time for nostalgic swill, it's the Holiday Season, right?
What is this episode?
One of the biggest tropes of the Holiday Story is O'Henry's classic short story "The Gift of the Magi." In the story (just in case you haven't heard of it), a young woman sells her hair to buy her new husband a nice, gold watch fob, only to find that he sold his late grandfather's watch to buy her some fancy combs for her hair. It's a powerful sentiment, for sure. The idea of making a huge sacrifice for someone only to learn that their sacrifice for you rendered yours irrelevant is just the right amount of tragedy to make you say "aww" without necessarily ruining anybody's life. It's a tale that has been referenced, satirized, or otherwise recreated numerous times over the years.
I don't mean to spoil anything about this episode of Little House on the Prairie, but their version of the Gift of the Magi is quite possibly the quintessential one. I don't see it as a spoiler, because knowing that the surprise is coming at the end makes the episode even more endearing. It is really a heartwarming idea - probably even more-so than any other on this list - that Christmas is all about doing whatever it takes (even letting the spoiled rich kid win) to get the person you love the perfect gift. No sacrifice is too great for the members of this family, and that's just about the most straightforward "true meaning of Christmas" that you can have.
We also get this list's first official explanation of the Nativity story, from Landon himself, perhaps the only discussion of Santa climbing down a chimney that is actively in use, and a pretty adorable little girl screaming "Happy Birthday, Jesus." This Minnesota prairie might be freezing (which the characters repeatedly point out, just in case the low-budget sets don't convey it well enough), but they sure are good at keeping your heart nice and warm.
Little House on the Prairie is all about stepping into a simpler time, and this simple interpretation of the small family Christmas is wonderfully refreshing. I can't recommend it enough.
Where can you watch it?
Little House on the Prairie was around for a pretty long time. It was still pretty regularly on TV when I was a kid, even though it was entirely made before I was born. I remembered it fondly, and I'm happy to say that upon revisiting it as an adult, it seems to still hold up pretty well. I might even dive in and watch more of it just for fun, and I bet this episode becomes a regular part of my annual Holiday tradition from now on.
I know the show changes quite a bit through the years, as I guess everybody adopts like a hundred kids (my memory is a bit shady on the details). Also, the later seasons get bogged down a bit with Laura's relationship with some much older guy, played by dude-with-awesome-name Linwood Boomer. This first season sees the show at its simplest, and the simple life is, after all, what the show was all about.
Actually, speaking of Linwood Boomer . . .