In ancient times it never paid to get down too much when misfortune hit you. Sure, it might seem like God is taking a divine dump on you if you’re an orphaned shepherd boy who gets hit by lightning and catches a case of the blindness. But if you were patient and didn’t rage too much at the unfairness of it all, usually God would show back up later with a curative dose of miracle, especially at Christmas, as if to say, “see how freaking awesome Christmas is!”
Surely that’s why Lucas, the sightless shepherd boy who only knew the love (strictly platonic of course – this isn’t some liberal Christmas fable) of his faithful dog Waggles and his sheep, took his blindness with such equanimity.
A modern dude would have to suffer through a montage of trashing his apartment and yelling at his girlfriend before ultimately pushing her away emotionally with his sullenness at not being able to watch football anymore. Lucas is just worried about his sheep and what to get Sister Theresa (the voice of Angela Lansbury) for Christmas. (He settles on giving her his dog and sheep because he knows he can’t take them to the orphanage that Father Thomas is threatening to send him to, practically ensuring him the first spot in line for Christmas miracles.)
They can’t teach it anymore in the government schools because of the War on Christmas the Left insists on waging instead fighting wars against far lamer holidays like Arbor Day and Earth Day, but as all of us who meet in secret to practice our religious Christmas know, a snow on Christmas is supercharged with palliative power straight from the Good Lord himself! (All that snow in February in March? Clearly the work of Satan.)
But Sister Theresa’s church is located by the sea and it has never snowed on Christmas! The idea is so far-fetched that the other nuns can’t hardly comprehend the strange drawings she keeps making on pieces of paper she intends to give the townspeople for Christmas. Displaying the patience of a saint, Sister Theresa explains that she has gone and invented Christmas cards and she is remembering scenes from her youth up in the mountains where it snowed like a mother every Christmas!
Theresa sings a little tune to Lucas about how bitching Christmas snow is, and he takes the hint and declares that the only thing he wants for Christmas is some Jesus Brand Old Tyme Cure All Tonic & Snow! But where’s the drama in having Lucas keep checking if Sister Agnes’ big toe is aching, which everyone in the parish knows signals an impending storm? Enter the Three Pranksters!
On a scale of one to ten, once these three delinquent brats stole the sheep from the barn and they all end up loose in the wolf-infested forest, the drama ramps all the way up to 1.5! Lucas is kind of a blind kid farmhand version of John McClain, because he practically growls “so it’s like Die Hard in the woods, the sheep are Holly, and the wolves are Hans Gruber. Yippee-cay-aye, Waggles!” and he just marches into the forest to rescue his sheep! The human chain he and the pranksters (they feel bad and are helping) form to pull poor old Wooly out of a hole he fell into, is like when John saved Holly and Hans fell out of Nakatomi Plaza!
But The First Christmas somehow pushes Die Hard into second place as the most miracle-laden Christmas entertainment ever because there is still the Christmas pageant and the freak snowstorm that melts that blindness right out of Lucas’ eyes!
Though it was made way back in 1975, an examination of the list of Rankin Bass Productions Christmas specials shows that all its best ones were already behind it when The First Christmas was released. Not-so-fondly recalled sequels like Frosty’s Winter Wonderland and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year and mostly forgotten desperate sounding concoctions like Pinocchio’s Christmas and The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold were what was left to come. Perhaps then it isn’t so surprising how slight the story is in The First Christmas. There is no villain (Father Thomas is more sensible than sinister) and almost nothing happens and when it does (the sheep-napping for instance) it is resolved with minimal effort.
Even stranger is that there doesn’t seem to be any lesson being pushed on the audience. Whereas one of Rankin Bass’s other religious Christmas specials of the era, Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey was about not giving up and honoring the sacrifice others have made for you, Lucas just stands around until his blindness is cured. He doesn’t take any action regarding his situation, beyond hanging in there and keeping a positive attitude. He’s a good kid, but he doesn’t grow at all from the experience and in fact is pretty much perfect from the very beginning anyway. About as bland as these sorts of things come, its singular memorable moment might be the nice rendition of “White Christmas” that Angela Lansbury sings.
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