Something I wanted to say during my bit on “Q,” but which I forgot to say because of stress and time constraints (and being amused by Denis McGrath, who is just as quickwitted as one would expect from his professional work and webpage), was this:
Christmas specials basically divide into A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life, with the former dominant by far. The story of A Christmas Carol is “Person rediscovers value of morality.” The story of It’s A Wonderful Life is “Morality, in the end, becomes its own reward.” (Of course, It’s A Wonderful Life decides that this is not enough and gives Jimmy Stewart the equivalent of a BRAND! NEW! CAR!, which is one of the reasons I think it sucks.)
That first moral lends itself to self-aggrandizement like nobody’s business: smarmy, tiresome pap where the annoying character vows to stop being annoying in order to be rewarded, whether they recognize that fact or not. (In bad renditions of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge or the Scrooge-analogue doesn’t become a good person because he wants to be; he becomes a good person because he’s scared.)
The second possibly lends itself to self-righteousness, to be sure, but in execution more often than not it doesn’t, oddly enough. Most of the really classic Christmas specials fall into the Life model. A Charlie Brown Christmas – check. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – check. A Wish For Wings That Work – big ol’ check. But for some reason, we shy away from it, as a potential moral binding of the story.
I’m not sure what that says about our culture or the people who makes Christmas specials, but I wanted to mention it.