Well, here we go. Christmas in July! The Simpsons series started off with this Christmas special, which is now called “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” but the title screen at the beginning of the episode just calls it “the Simpsons Christmas Special.”
Now, I’m not quite sure yet how to do these posts, so for now, I’ll just explain the plot of the episode, and make random observations on it as I go. We open on Homer, Marge and Maggie arriving at the Elementary School for the annual pageant. I love Maggie’s weird star shaped coat that they used to put her in. Is that based on anything? Because it seems super uncomfortable and would suck for a baby. Anyway, we get to watch Homer become increasingly bored at having to look at other people’s kids do their pageant presentation, which was pretty funny and relatable. I think it’s funny to see such an early episode when they had these bland, nondescript kids fill out the rest of the classmates, since eventually they’d introduce so many characters they could use. Although, I like that you can notice some kids who would stick around, like Milhouse, Ralph, Wendell, Richard and Lewis. I also think that a rerun of this episode was probably the first time I’d ever heard anyone sing the “jingle bells, Batman smells” version of the song.
We then go back to the Simpson’s house to see them getting ready for Christmas. We’re introduced to Lisa’s obsession with pony’s, which will pay off greatly in a later season. I also love that Marge keeps the jar of the Christmas money in her hair, such a cartoony touch. When Homer goes into work the next day however, he learns that the plant workers won’t be getting a Christmas bonus, which becomes a pretty terrible realization since we also see Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie go to the mall, where Bart gets a tattoo. I love Bart’s justification that since it says “Mother” Marge will be cool with it. Of course, Marge stops him before it’s done, making it only say “Moth,” which I think would make a pretty great subtle Simpson’s tattoo, and they have to spend all the Christmas money on getting the tattoo removed. I absolutely love the scene with Maggie and Lisa poking Bart’s raw arm and him repeatedly saying “ow, quit it!” I have a younger brother, and I feel like it’s a pretty universal thing that if your sibling is in pain, you’re going to try and make it worse. To a reasonable extent.
We then get to the crux of the episode, which is the fact that Homer will do anything to make his family’s Christmas as happy as possible. He lies about the bonus, and sets off to try and make things better. Homer’s absolute devotion to his family is really the emotional core of this episode, and really the entire series, and I love that they set it down so early. Since these early episodes are so Bart-centric, I feel like they could have just made Homer the grumpy dad, but they really work on making him a decent person beneath everything. So Homer goes to Moe’s to get drunk, as per usual, which is looking like a much happier place with the blue walls, and learns from Barney that he could make money as a mall Santa. I love the weird German Santa teacher, and I still to this day will slip Nixon into the list of reindeer if I ever have to say it.
I really enjoyed that Bart and his friends are feeling so superior in the mall because they know that the mall Santa isn’t real. It bring back memories of actually being in fourth grade when I figured out that Santa was just my parents. You think you’re so clever for finally realizing it, and I know at least I was very smug to my brother, knowing something he didn’t know. I found out he wasn’t real when I overheard my parents talking about getting whatever it was I was getting from Santa that year (I want to say at least part of it was one of those crazy Beast War Transformer toys, which were pretty rad when I was in elementary school) and I know there was an intense desire not only to show the other kids at school that I was cool and knew the truth.
It was really sweet of the show also to have Bart fully be on board with Homer’s plan. Homer really bears his soul to Bart when he admits the family’s financial woes, and I love that Bart is completely game to help Homer help the family. This episode also taught me that they can really screw you over on your paycheck, a lesson that’s very valuable to anticipate when you get older, and anyone who has ever had a retail job where they make you pay for the uniform can attest.
Then of course we get to the dog track. Now, I don’t think I realized for the longest time that this was a real thing. I thought that it was a weird thing the Simpson’s made up, because it wasn’t feasible to bring home the losing racehorse…which they kind of do in a later season, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I also laughed very hard at one of the dog’s being named “quadruped.”I adore Santa’s Little Helper, and I think it’s so sweet that they take him in after being abandoned. The dog my wife and I currently has was a stray before we got him from the shelter, and it really hit me this time in a way that I don’t think that has before. There’s also a great scene that flashes back to the house where Lisa is defending Homer from the bitter anger of Patty and Selma that really gets me too. I was pretty lucky that all of my aunts and uncles got along with my parents, I can’t imagine having someone consistently criticizing your parents, and I think Lisa’s reaction is really sweet. Anyway, Homer and Bart come home with the dog, and Homer’s a hero, having accidentally saved Christmas. We end on a fake Christmas card from the family, and roll to credits.
Now, of course the animation is there yet, and the voices are a little off from what they will be, but I think this episode really still holds up. It’s sweet and good-natured without a lot of cynicism that I feel like a lot of sitcom Christmas episodes have. It’s kind of a weird beginning to the show, but it really hits home that this is a show about a family, warts and all.
Take Away: Every episode I’m going to try and find some sort of take away. It may be something silly, or something serious. It may be something that I think the episode taught me when I was a kid, or something that really only sunk in on this viewing. For this episode, I think I’m going to go with the take away concept of not taking Christmas too seriously. It’s so easy to get caught up in the pressure to have perfect presents, to give people what they really want. But I think this episode really talks about an issue I’ve had to realize, that what really matters is the thought, and the love for the people around you. Kinda sappy, but hey, it’s a Christmas episode, sappy’s what you’re going to get.
“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” was written by Mimi Pond and directed by David Silverman
Categories: Lifetime of Simpsons