Holiday Traditions, we all have our rituals right? The things we do with our families every year without fail. My family gets together and we enjoy my Mom’s delicious handmade Tamales with a warm cup of Atole. Other families bust out the eggnog and cook up a turkey. While others like my roommate back in Art School had the Traditional Christmas Hot Tub party.
Then there’s the whole tree thing, the cookies, the shopping, the wrapping, the colorful lights, the cards, the goofy sweaters. Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing a duet of the Little Drummer boy. All wonderful stuff that brings families together.
After a while I came to realize the sleighload of Holiday traditions that our Animation Forefathers gave us. Just off the top of my head let’s see, Chuck Jones and his brilliant adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s masterpiece , The Rankin Bass Stop motion Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty special. Epic! What about Yogi’s first Christmas huh? Killer! Mickey’s Christmas Carol.Gorgeous and Timeless. , I dare you not to laugh! And of course who could forget the Star wars Holiday Special, sure it only played once but once was enough for it to be burned into my memory banks forever. Thank you Nelvana for the animated introduction to Boba Fett! Lest we forget the Norelco commercial with Santa riding the electric shaver down the slope. Ahhhh good times. I love all of these shows and I hope someday when I have kids to share these animated treasures with them.
But my absolute favorite Holiday special ever in the history of the universe is without a doubt Charles’s Schulz’sproduced on a shoestring budget and against an impossible deadline by the late great José Cuauhtemoc “Bill” Meléndez. To this day nothing comes close to the warmth and charm this cartoon radiates.
I was lucky enough to meet Bill Melendez at his Studio about 4 years ago. A mutual friend arranged for us to have lunch and it was unforgettable! He had stories about how he loved giving Chuck Jones a hard time at Warners in the forties and he told me about the nightmare that the Charlie Brown Christmas special was to make. He said that during production the brass didn’t want real kids cast as the voices, nor did they want the jazzy soundtrack by and most of all the Brass did not want Linus’s speech at the end of the cartoon where he explains the true meaning of Christmas.
Luckily for us, Bill and Schulz fought for those things and gave us such a memorable show. When they were done the Brass at the screening was horrified at the result saying the audience would hate it. I love it when folks like that are proven wrong.
My lunch with Bill went for almost 3 hours and we each downed like three or four martinis. As we stumbled out into the parking lot I managed to get a pic with a cell phone. I cut 90% of my head off, but look at big the smile was on Bill’s face! I hope that when I’m in my late 80’s after such a long career in animation I can smile half as big as Bill!
Words by Raul Aguilar