Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube. Join Jared Jones every other Friday as he breaks down one of these classics.
Thanksgiving has come and gone, so we have no time to waste! It’s Christmastime in the City! There are so many great Christmas films to choose from, but for our two December Video Vault posts we’re going with one classically creepy and one unquestionably classic. To begin the month, let’s look at Christmas Snows, Christmas Winds.
This holiday-themed film was produced by Brigham Young University in 1978. It is largely a remembrance of childhood Christmases told from the viewpoint of the narrator as an adult.
The film opens with a narrator describing a wintery scene. We see a horse shivering in the cold and a farmer coming to help the animal. We cut to a busy department store with festive decorations, a holiday crowd and creepy dolls. For those of you who don’t know, a “department store” is a retail establishment that sold everything from apparel to furniture and housewares. You know, like Macy’s, but the Macy’s featured in the classic Miracle on 34th St. Not Macey’s the Utah grocery chain (I was often dispatched to the Case Lot Sale as a teen to procure food storage).
As we pan through the hustle and bustle we see a nondescript man in a trench coat and we realize the narrator is his voice. This is his story. He sees various things that remind him of the childhood wonder associated with Christmas. Toys, games and candy glass animals on sticks. As he stares wistfully at the cheer he looks unsettled, and the music shifts to dissonance. The narrator mournfully says “And I remember…other things,” and we see a soft focus image of a girl with Leia buns and a French horn.
The mood and scene change and we see the protagonist as a child in an elementary school classroom. The narrator talks about the wonder of Christmas. He loves Christmas and begins hoping for the Christmas season in October. A key memory was getting the Ward’s Catalog and marking every page for potential gifts. Even the dry smell of a newsprint catalog reminds him of Christmas.
And he remembers…other things. Cue image of girl with French horn.
We see the child making gifts in class and practicing songs for a Christmas program. The final day of school culminated in an evening program of dancing and music held at the school. Times have definitely changed. If my school put on a Christmas program in the evening of what was essentially the first day of vacation, there would be serious parental revolt.
Later we see scenes on the farm. Riding a horse with dad and doing chores to pass the time before Christmas. The mother looking disapprovingly as he covers the dining table with his Christmas card craft. The words of the narration are rich and vibrant and try to capture the sounds and smells of the holiday in a western farming community. We see family meal preparation including sugar cookies and homemade wassail (or as I call it festive mouth lava) with all the other treats of the season. He remembers every day foods transfigured by the magic of the season.
And he remembers…other things.
We see him riding in the back of the truck with the Christmas tree and helping his family decorate it for the big day. They check bulbs on lights and get out all their tree décor. They top the tree with a festive glass spike. May I suggest a classy and modern Angel Moroni Tree Topper? They sing “Oh Christmas Tree” and convert to La’s because does anyone know more than the first phrase? The joyful singing turns dissonant because yes. He remembers…other things.
Christmas draws near and we see the child testing presents and wondering how St. Nick avoids a fiery death with each house. He sets out cookies and finally sleeps just long enough to creep down and see the gifts on Christmas morning. After his Christmas morning communion with the tree and gifts he opens presents with the family, and other friends and relatives arrive to celebrate. He loves it all. Only later in the afternoon as the meal is done and friends are moving on does his joy turn to melancholy as with the coming night’s sleep the spell of Christmas will soon be broken.
Dissonance builds and we finally begin to hear about these “other things” he keeps remembering.
He speaks of a Christmas in another time, much later and mentions a German immigrant family that lived in their community. They didn’t speak English and the daughter, although she probably spoke English as well as the narrator, hardly spoke at school at all. They nicknamed her Consolation as they once saw her console a child at school. I guess we can be grateful he and his friends were bad at cruel nicknames, although calling any child a name they don’t want to be called is cruel.
We cut to another Christmas program. A snowball is lobbed at Consolation—barely missing her as she enters. The narrator performs with the band using the trumpet he received on an earlier Christmas and then goes to sit in the front row after finishing. Consolation, with traditional braids pinned up on either side of her head, begins to play “Oh, Holy Night” on French horn with a piano accompaniment. The narrator and Consolation’s other tormenters won’t stop talking during her performance. They make fun of her hair and mock her by making horns out of concert programs.Their foolishness has the desired effect as she starts making error after error and ultimately stops playing and hangs her head in embarrassment. Later we see the boy leaving the school with an air of excitement. He pauses and he sees Consolation sobbing—being consoled by her father as her mother looks on with a look in her eye that can only be righteous maternal fury. The boy realizes he was in the wrong. Does he?
We cut to the modern day. The narrator as an adult has definitely realized the error of his ways and hopes that snow will fall to cover his indiscretion. He wonders about Consolation. “Where are you where the snow is falling once again. I didn’t cry for you then, but I cry for you now.”
You should cry for her. You caused her a lot of embarrassment and pain! Are we supposed to feel sorry for you? You ruined what had the potential to be the most tuneful piece of the entire holiday program and made someone else cry.
Christmas Snows, Christmas Winds is an interesting approach to a holiday film. It’s dark tone and mournful approach hearkens more to the tone of The Mailbox or other Mormon Noir rather than the joy of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” or virtually any other holiday film. I need to watch a Hallmark Holiday film stat! We touch on the magic of the holiday season briefly but then end up wallowing in the narrator’s bad decisions. The narration, although beautifully written, is one of the challenges of the film. It’s quite dense and most likely pulls directly from the short story source material. The film’s visuals are often lacking with the narration attempting to compensate.
Christmas Snows, Christmas Winds reminds us that memories and holidays are complicated. Christmas time is not joyful for everyone. If anything, it reminds us that we need to spend this special season lighting the world and lifting people up instead of finding ways to tear people down.
Please join us in two weeks when we end the year with what else: Mr. Krueger’s Christmas.
Thoughts, Musings & Trivia
- The film is based on the short story of the same name from Frost in the Orchard—a collection of stories by Donald R. Marshall.
- The Ensign reported about Frost in the Orchard in a round-up of fiction written by Latter-day Saints and described the word as “[examining] the lives of people who, though often [are] Latter-day Saints living in the Mountain West, are above all people who have difficulty coping with life.”
- Christmas Snows, Christmas Winds was also shown a number of times on television.