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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Emmanuel chapter.

‘Tis the season to be jolly and joyous. It’s Christmastime again, and for my family at least, that means our yearly rewatch of The Muppet Christmas Carol. Even 28 years later, this still holds up as one of the all-time great Muppet movies: Brian Henson (son of Jim) brings his A-game as a first-time director, the production design (down to the Muppet-sized historically accurate costumes!) is astonishing, and Michael Caine may well be the best Ebenezer Scrooge of all time. But while this is the only Christmas-related Muppet thing on Disney+, the Muppets have been around since the 1950s, giving ample time for plenty of gems to slip through the cracks (still a little miffed that Disney refuses to release The Muppet Show seasons four and five on DVD). For this list, I will go chronologically through some underappreciated Christmas classics from their repertoire.

The Great Santa Claus Switch 

    The festivities begin in 1970, back in the Muppets’ days as a recurring act on The Ed Sullivan Show. The Great Santa Claus Switch tells the story of tells the story of Santa Claus and the King of Evil, Cosmo Scam (both played by Oscar winner Art Carney), as the villain schemes to ruin the holiday by supplanting Saint Nick and replacing the elves with his own minions (including a proto-Gonzo puppet that lives in a cigar box). This special lays the groundwork for the ideas that make up the Muppets we know and love: next-level puppet designs, remarkable feats in television puppetry, and the madcap vaudeville fairy tale energy (special mention to the “Flock of Rocks” number). Henson is well on his way to revolutionizing television, and he’s (and we are) only just getting started.

Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas

    Based on a children’s book of the same name, this 1977 special tells the tale of Emmet and Alice Otter, a mother and son in the small country town of Frogtown Hollow struggling to get by after the death of Emmet’s father. With a local talent show on the horizon, they separately seize the opportunity to perform and hopefully win the $50 grand prize so they can give the other the Christmas gift each one deserves. This charming take on The Gift of the Magi  has a leisurely, bedtime-story type of pace that would put it at home alongside the likes of Rudolph and Charlie Brown this time of year. But the special’s crown jewel has to be the music by Paul Williams. This was the first time Williams and the Muppets worked together, and there will be more by the end of this list, but even in a career as stocked as his, this special is packed with gems. Special mention has to go to “Ain’t No Hole in the Washtub”, a goofy send-up of bluegrass country, an Ozzy Osbourne-esque arena rock number for the rival musicians in “The Riverbottom Nightmare Band”, and, of course, “Where the River Meets the Sea,” a tear jerker on par with “Rainbow Connection” as Alice and Emmet remember Emmet’s father and pray for a happy transition between this life and the next, “when the river meets the almighty sea.

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together

    You all know John Denver, right? “Take Me Home, Country Roads” guy? Well, in life, he was one of the most prolific musicians of his era, and a regular collaborator with the Muppets. This 1979 special is the first on this list that centers on the characters we all immediately recognize as “the Muppets”: Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, Gonzo, et cetera. The gang’s all here, and, admittedly, not all of it works, seeing as it has to balance all the colorful personalities with one of the biggest names in music of the day. (Do yourself a favor and hit fast forward when “Alfie the Christmas Tree” starts. As a bonus, it leads directly into a Muppet Christmas staple, “It’s In Every One of Us”. ) But the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” energy means that there is something for everyone over these 50 minutes: 1970s feminism, John Denver performing a lullaby he wrote for his kid, “Silent Night” in the original German (GERMAN!), an utterly sincere retelling of the birth of Christ, an implied affair between Miss Piggy and John Denver, and a totally bonkers rendition of the “Christmas is Coming” nursery rhyme (which slaps, don’t @ me). Peace on Earth, and good will towards men, and women, and chickens, and bears, and Dizzy Gillespie.

The Christmas Toy

    1986 brings us The Christmas Toy, a proto-Toy Story about a beloved toy and the shiny new plastic sci-fi warrior whom he fears will replace him in the heart of the kid they belong to. And also like Toy Story, and so much of Henson’s work, it’s packed with big ideas about love, favoritism, prejudice, accepting change, and what it means to be part of a community. Rugby Tiger so loved his experiences last Christmas, when he was gifted to his child Jamie, that he embarks on an adventure with Mew, the stinky-but-savvy toy belonging to the family cat, beyond the playroom and into the gift box beneath the tree to relive that joy all over again this December 25. Meanwhile, Apple the Doll leads the others on an adventure to bring Rugby and Mew back, lest the humans discover them walking about and cause them to “freeze forever” (Family-Puppet-Show-Ese for, well, you know). The stakes here are much higher than nearly anything else on this list, and the special is both thematically and literally darker than the others. Still, it’s undeniably sweet, affirming, and includes yet another all-time great Christmas classic: the finale number, “Together at Christmas”. 

A Muppet Family Christmas

    Okay, folks. Here it is.  THE BIG ONE. Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and even the Muppet Babies all assemble for this 1987 special that the copyright lawyers at Disney, Sesame Workshop, HBO, and the Jim Henson Company are still feuding about to this day. I can only hope they come to a conclusion some day, because this is a wonderful holiday romp across the worlds and characters of Jim Henson. The casts of The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and the human components of Fraggle Rock all gather at Fozzie Bear’s childhood home for a laid-back country Christmas, which goes about as well as you’d expect with all these characters under one roof. Highlights include Big Bird trying to help the Swedish Chef prepare Christmas dinner, a love triangle between Gonzo, Camilla the Chicken, and the Christmas Turkey, Bert and Ernie being couple goals, and Miss Piggy’s own adventure to reunite with her frog in spite of “the worst blizzard in fifty years”. Peppered throughout are Muppet-style renditions of seasonal staples, concluding in a medley that gives every character a chance to shine and warms my heart every single time.

Letters to Santa

    The Muppets have made three Christmas-themed specials and TV movies since in the last two decades (It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie from 2002, which is basically just It’s a Wonderful Life but with Kermit as George Bailey and Scooter becomes a  cage dancer in the bad timeline; and Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Spectacular from 2013, which sidelines the Muppets and the holiday stuff to promote Gaga’s then-new album). But this 2008 special wins the prize in my book. Gonzo leads Kermit and company on a journey to the North Pole to make sure Santa receives young Claire’s letter. While it’s one of the more recent entries on this list, it’s ironically also one of the more dated, packed with mid-2000s jokes about phones named after fruit and the mayorship of Mike Bloomberg. But through it all, there are some genuine laughs, some undeniably sweet moments, and once again, some excellent music from Paul Williams, including an all-too-relevant opening number celebrating the U.S. Postal Service.

Jane Henson’s Nativity Story

    Okay, this one is stretching both “Muppet” and “special,” but it’s too beautiful to leave out. The brainchild of Muppet co-founder Jane Henson, this moving rendition of the birth of Jesus is one vignette of CBS’s 2013 special A New York Christmas to Remember based out of NYC’s Church of Saint Paul the Apostle. Narrated by Regis Philbin, a another much-missed television great we lost this year, a small crew of puppeteers (including Heather Henson) pantomime the iconic stories in the Books of Matthew and Luke with some truly astonishing puppetry feats, from tiny baby Jesus fussing as he stretches his arms and legs for the first time to a giant ethereal angel. If you’re looking for a moving “reason-for-the-season” watch, this comes highly recommended.

    And there you have it. Over a period of five decades, we’ve had quite a run from the secular to the sacred to the downright silly. I doubt any other pop culture fixture could cover as much ground as this motley crew of frogs and pigs and bears and chickens and so on. No matter what you’re looking for this December, there’s a place for it in this eclectic, wonderful corner of pop culture, and here’s to hoping you’ve found something to pop into your annual rotation. 

Happy Holidays everyone!

Katherine Lynch

Emmanuel '22

Katie Lynch is a Communications Major in Emmanuel College’s class of 2022. ADHD, NVLD, bisexual, and bibliophilic. I spend most of my time in libraries, theaters, museums, or problems of my own making.
Carly Silva

Emmanuel '21

Carly is a senior at Emmanuel College pursuing a major in English Writing, Editing, and Publishing, as well as Communications and Media Studies. She loves to write and has a particular fondness for poetry. Carly also loves reading on the beach, playing music, and hanging out with her dog, Mowgli.