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Holidays in clay 

The good, bad, and ugly of Claymation Christmas specials

Holidays in clay

Clay animation, the 3D cousin of the cartoon, seems to have carved a permanent niche in December television line-ups. The seldom-used technique has produced some of the most bizarre and memorable holiday specials, which, unlike most TV from yesteryear, still get frequent play today. Though religious in origin, many of these specials scarcely touch on actual Christmas subject matter, favoring instead invented mythologies and wild musical numbers. The moral message is often surprisingly subversive, with storytelling that addresses themes of bigotry, inequality, and oppression. Here's some of the best and weirdest:

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (1964): The quintessential holiday special pits Hermey, a dentistry-obsessed elf, and an awkward, adolescent Rudolph against a legion of authority figures who try to pressure the two misfits into traditional North Pole roles. (Even Santa cracks the whip, telling Rudolph's self-conscious father that he should be ashamed of his son.) Eventually, the Abominable Snow Monster wreaks some havoc, Rudolph and crew save the day, and the North Pole crew reluctantly apologizes for tormenting Hermey and Rudolph.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970): This feature recounts Santa's journey from abandoned orphan to gift-giving guru. Trouble comes when local town dictator, BurgermeisterMeisterburger, decrees toy-making illegal. Luckily, Kris Kringle passes out free toys anyway, teaching the town's children an important lesson about civil disobedience. Santa ultimately defeats authoritarianism and toys reign supreme.

Claymation Christmas (1987): The California Raisins and a bunch of dinosaurs star in this vaguely psychedelic, hard-to-find special. Stick it in a stocking for years of hilarious holiday viewing to come.

Year Without a Santa Claus (1974): Santa tries to take a Christmas holiday --- still not gonna happen, buddy --- so Mrs. Claus enlists the ragtime-ing brothers Snow Miser and Heat Miser to prove that SC still holds sway with the kiderati.

Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977): Apparently misfits come in all shapes, sizes and species. Floppy-eared Nestor, initially mocked by his peers, communicates with the dead via his giant head antennae, thus helping an unborn baby Jesus navigate a perilous sandstorm.

The Little Drummer Boy (1968): Aaron the drummer boy, overcome by hatred since the senseless killing of his parents, is kidnapped by an entertainment mogul, then hitches a ride with some wise men to play the ultimate gig --- the birth of Jesus.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985): A young Santa is raised by immortals in a world complete with elves, fairies, nymphs, and, of course, a gigantic bearded wizard. He predictably starts making toys and giving joy when the evil Awgwas (basically orcs with horns and unibrows) show up to ruin the fun. Much magic ensues and the Christmas traditions of today are conveniently explained by the outcome --- except, of course, eggnog and fruitcake, the two holiday phenomena no amount of clay can explain.

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