Although it has not aired on television since 1979

Off the beaten track at Christmas

Old favourites are always welcome at Christmas, but here are a few great holiday entertainments that you might not know.

Christmas is a time for traditions; but sometimes you might feel you want something other than the umpteenth re-watch of the Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. Here are a few somewhat lesser-known choices for the season, all available via YouTube.

The Bells of Dublin (1991): The celebrated Irish musical group The Chieftains put together a Christmas album, inviting an international group of artists to join them. The result is a joyous collection of standard Christmas music and traditional Irish folk tunes. Highlights are Elvis Costello’s world-weary “St. Stephen’s Day Murders” and Jackson Browne’s rousing “The Rebel Jesus”.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1987): When I moved to Wales in 1992, my British husband had never heard of this deeply moving TV version of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s Christmas reminiscence, which is a joint Canadian and Welsh production. The great actor Denholm Elliott stars in this gentle tale of Christmases past and present.

Rich’s Little’s Christmas Carol (1978): Canadian impressionist Rich Little plays every part in A Christmas Carol as a different celebrity, from W.C. Fields as Scrooge to Richard Nixon as Marley’s ghost. Cheesy? More than a warehouse full of cheddar. Dated? Almost all of the celebrities will be unknown to anyone under age 40 or so. But it has a soft spot in my heart: in 1978 my grade 10 media class visited the show’s set, in the CBC’s Vancouver studio, and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s been compulsory Christmas Eve viewing in this house for many years, and my son loves it too: he’s perhaps the only teenager in North America who can, in 2016, do a very good W.C. Fields impersonation. It has also yielded up several catchphrases that are much-valued in the Roden household, most notably (when someone does something destructive and/or damaging), “Quick, spirit, before you completely wreck my humble abode.”

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979): This special has never, to my knowledge, been repeated on network TV; which is a shame, as Denver had a natural rapport with the Muppets troupe. This is beautifully evident on the duet between Denver and Rowlf the Dog on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”; it’s just two voices and a piano, and you forget that one of the participants is a puppet. Also notable is Denver’s rendition of the beautiful “Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913”, based on a poem by British poet laureate Robert Bridges.

The Snowman (1982): I had never heard of this animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s beloved book until I moved to Britain; but it is well worth a watch, particularly for the haunting song “Walking in the Air”, movingly performed by Welsh boy soprano Aled Jones.

“The Bear and the Hare” (2013): John Lewis is a British department store chain, and its annual Christmas advert is widely anticipated. This 2013 effort is a special favourite of mine, featuring as it does a bear who has never known Christmas. Lily Allen is the vocalist.

And here’s a bonus track:“Merry Christmas Everybody” (1973): While the British rock group Slade did achieve some success outside the U.K., I did not come across this song until I moved to England. Believe me when I say that between November 1 and December 25, this song is inescapable there.


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