I have been doing these face off’s for a while now (usuallysitcom related) but this year wanted to try something different. Take two cherished, time honored Christmas specials and match them up.
Rudolph is the granddaddy of all Christmas specials,premiering in 1964 based off the famous song of the same name. It was a mere ten years later in 1974 when The Year WithoutA Santa Claus premiered, based on a popular children’s book. One is shown on the networks every year while the other lives thanks to ABCFamily. They are both loved but which is the stronger special? The time honored classic, or the one which has developed more of a cult following.


Of course while this will follow the format of my sitcomf ace-off’s, I will have to make a few tweaks here and there. Let’s start withour lead characters.


So the only way to fairly do this was the break the cast down. Let’s talk about the main characters in Rudolph first. Rudolph is thecute little guy who happens to have one small problem. His nose glows bright red. Of course the reaction is to scorn poor Rudolph.  While Rudolph is being picked on for being different Hermey the Elf is also being ridiculed. I always wondered they picked dentist as the occupation that Hermie is interested in, but it’s cool. Finallythese two hook up and decide to hell with the people who picked on us, and runaway. They run into Yukon Cornelius who helps them out. The truth is they story needed Cornelius because Rudolph and Hermey just weren’t strong enough to keepthe story going. They just aren’t very strong characters. In Year Without aSanta Claus, we get the two elves Jingle and Jangle whom Ms. Claus sends tofind some Christmas spirit. They also need help, first from a little boy andthen from Ms. Claus herself. In the end, they don’t even resolve the problem really; it’s a bunch of coincidences that save the day. It’s when the kids ofthe world rally that Santa realizes what a doofus he’s been. In Rudolph he atleast has the guts to go on his own so he won’t endanger his friends, returnhome when he realizes he can’t run away, and then run after the snow monstereven though his chances of finding his parents are slim. And when Santa askshim to pull his sleigh, he doesn’t even hesitate.  In Year the attempts by Jingle and Jangle arelaughable, we get that dumb stuff about Vixen being confused with a lost dog, and at first when Santa hears he is getting a holiday he takes it! Even though it doesn’t start that way, I think Rudolph has the stronger charactersbecause Rudolph and Hermey change through the course of the story and learn,while in the other show the main characters don’t except maybe the child whodoes learn to believe. But he also vanishes from the special as the story progresses,serving no real purpose (in the original story Ignatius is the center of thewhole thing, but the TV special downplayed his role). We care more about Yukon’s search for silver and gold than we do Jingle Jangle’s quest.

For the sake of this discussion “villain” will be any antagonist in these specials, even if they weren’t really evil. Rudolph had theAbominable Snowman, who really wasn’t very scary at all. Why was he calledBumbles exactly? Anyway, aside for him the only “villains” would be the peoplewho teased Rudolph and Hermey, Donner and the head elf for example. But reallynone of these characters are bad just a tad uptight. Year Without a Santa Clausdoesn’t really have any bad guys either. The mayor is a jerk, even if he didn’tbelieve the elf’s story there is no cause to laugh at them like that. Then ofcourse we have the classic characters everyone loves, Heat Miser and SnowMiser. They are probably the biggest reason this special is remembered, and I can’t argue with that. They are strong characters and given lots of personality. Oh, and they sing a song you may have heard once or twice. So int his category I think I have to give the nod to the Miser Bros because they are just so much fun to watch every year.


It’s funny how both these specials turn Santa into a whinyjerk. In Rudolph Santa spends the majority of the special with an attitudeproblem. He refuses to eat, he openly hates the elf song, and when he seesRudolph’s nose he makes it sound as it would be impossible for him to join thesleigh team with a bright red nose. We start to see signs of the Santa we lovetoward the end when Santa informs Rudolph that his folks are missing, and thenof course when everyone is back he promises to help the Island of Misfit Toys.A lot of people complain that everyone hates Rudolph until they find a use forhim, but in the special at least the apologies come before that moment (one upon the song I guess). In Year Without a Santa, we find Santa is sick in bed and lost all faith in the spirit of Christmas. That’s a tad jarring that Santawould think that way, but the moment of redemption for this Santa comes when hereceives a note from a little girl saying she will have a blue Christmas. Thisis one of my favorite uses of that song in anything, and it really works here.This is the scene which sold me when I first saw this special. When Santa realizes what an idiot he was, he jumps into action and is headed onhis way. So which wins? It bothers me in Year that Santa is the source of theproblem but does nothing to change it. He sits around while others scramble to cheer him up, imagine if in Rudolph he had told Santa to go look for hisparents because he was too tired. Yeah not sure that would have worked. So I think the better Santa is in Rudolph, yeah he was a bit of a jerk but at leasthe cared about the kids more than himself.


This one is pretty simple. When Rudolph first appeared wewere introduced to the story by Sam the Snowman, who was always my favorite.Burl Ives just did a beautiful job with this character and the fact he couldsing helps (he sings three songs!). Unfortunately Rankin/Bass loved thenarrator formula. Sometimes it works like in Santa Claus is Comin to Town(because that is entirely flashbacks and the way it is setup with the childrenis a nice touch) and sometimes it didn’t (like in Twas the Night BeforeChristmas, why did father mouse have to tell us that story?) . Here it doesn’twork as we have Ms.Claus being the narrator….for no good reason! Seriously,what does she add to the story? All she does is foreshadow events and tell uswhat we can see happening. I love when she tells how Santa blows his nose likea trumpet just as he does it. She does get a song which is so bad it is usuallycut out of syndicated airings of this every year.  Shirley Booth was a great comedian, and sheplays a decent Ms.Claus, but as a narrator she is useless. No contest here.

This may seem obvious, but not so much. Except for the BurlIves songs, the songs in Rudolph are kind of only alright. We get that awfulsong Clarice sings “There’s Always Tomorrow” and the annoying elf song. “We’re a Couple of Misfits” is cute but that’s all, and some may wonder whateverhappened to “Fame and Fortune” which replaced it for a while. Santa sings “JingleJingle Jingle” which is ok, and of course the song in the Island of Misfit Toysscene which is nice, but not memorable. Simply put I enjoy the songs in YearWithout a Santa more, from the title song which is great to “Here ComesSanta Claus” in the end. There is also the beautiful “I Believe in Santa Claus”which is just a beautiful little song, and the silly song the mayor sings iskind of catchy. One of the best versions of “Blue Christmas” is here, sung sosimply but effectively. Oh and the Miser Bros have their own songs which youmay have heard (they’re famous for a reason!).  So all in all, the award goes to this specialbecause the songs are a bit better (yeah the one Ms.Claus sings sucks, but theycan’t all be perfect).



So let’s compare the stories. Rudolph is simply a storyabout fitting in while Year Without a Santa is about believing and never givingup. While Rudolph runs from his problems, Jingle and Jangle try to help Santaby proving that there is some Christmas spirit out there. These are both goodstories which convey a very strong message. However both of these storiessuffer from the same problem. Needing filler to round out the hour. For Rudolphit was the Island of Misfit Toys, and Year Without a Santa it was the squabbling of the Miser Bros. The difference is that the Miser Bros stuff feels like a part of the story, even being set up a bit early in the special. With Rudolph,the misfit toys have no bearing on the story. They were put in to make the show longer, the trio arrives on the island and after a cute song sequence the storymoves on. In fact originally we never returned to the island after Rudolphdeparts, the ending was changed after the special aired originally and people demanded to know what the fate of the toys on the island was. So they reshot the ending with that famous last scene and the credits rolling over Santa dropping the toys off. Also what was the point of the whole sequence with Bumbles? Even the death fake out is resolced two minutes later, it just felt like padding. In Year the stuff with Vixen is a little dumb but at least it serves the story because that is how Santa starts to realize he may have been wrong. Of course It’s the ending to these shows which really work for me.I love when Santa finally realizes what a selfish jerk he’s been, and issuddenly off in his sleigh literally right down Santa Claus Lane. And of coursewhen Rudolph agrees to pull the sleigh for Santa, even after over 30 years Istill have to smile. I like how Berl Ives just ends it by kind of saying “do Ireally need to go on?” and sings the classic tune. These specials are great but I have to give the nod to Year Without a Santa. Not only was this based on anoriginal story (a book by Phylis McGinley) but they were not confined as much as Rudolph was confined by the lyrics of the popular song. That gave them alittle freedom to tell a better and stronger story.

Which is more Enduring?

Normally the final category is jumping the shark, judginghow two shows held up in the end. However, that obviously does not apply since these specials have been the exactsame for many years. So how do we pick a winner? While it’s true that YearWithout a Santa Claus tells a better story, I think it says something thatRudolph holds a stronger place in most people’s memories. Why is that? Well oneobvious answer is that the special has been around longer.  Rudolph also has more exposure being on CBSevery single year. I didn’t watch Year Without a Santa at all as a kid but sureas heck remember watching Rudolph every year. But I think there is just morecharm to Rudolph. The charm in Year Without a Santa comes from the minorcharacters, most notably heat miser and snow miser who steal the show. It’s asafe bet this special would not be nearly has highly regarded without them init. They are needed to keep the story interesting. While it’s great to see Santasaddle up in the end, it’s not the same as Rudolph where it’s all about ourheroes. We want to see them win the day and are happy when they do. We are sadwhen Cornelius appears to be killed, happy to see Rudolph and Herbie get theirdue apologies, and of course the ending for the Island of Misfit Toys isvery sweet. So while Year Without a Santa Claus tells a great story, I think asa whole the more charming special, start to end, is and will forever be…….


But of course this was all for fun, I love both thesespecials and it just wouldn’t be Christmas without either of them. There havebeen sequels to these which didn’t even come close to the charm of theoriginal. Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys is god awful, the Miser Bros.Special is watchable I guess, and we aren’t even going to discuss that liveaction TV movie that came out a few years ago with Delta Burke as Ms.Claus(WTF?)

About Author

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.