Tis The Season To Remember The Soaps
With Thanksgiving over and Christmas just around the corner, now is the time to take a few moments to remember how the soaps celebrate the holidays. With so many soap operas no longer in production, fans can’t help but reflect on the significance of soaps operas during the holiday season, and just how much the soaps have meant over the years to families who gathered around the TV during Thanksgiving and Christmas to see how their favorite soap families were celebrating.
Over the years, soaps didn’t just celebrate Christmas, they actually became part of the American Christmas mosaic. In short, the soaps know how to do Christmas. Common themes among almost all soaps, from their first television broadcast in the 1950’s all the way through the current holiday season, have been a celebration of family, a remembrance of the meaning of Christmas and finding peace, forgiveness and redemption through the Christmas spirit.
For most fans, the soaps were a blue print of how to celebrate Christmas. Who can forget the elaborate decorations in the Cory Mansion on “Another World”, the Chancellor Mansion on “Young & The Restless” or at “Llanfair” on “One Life to Live.” Every soap household looked like it was fresh from a Currier and Ives catalog. It wasn’t just the grand homes on soaps that prepared for Christmas. The middle class and working class families on the soaps also prepared for Christmas in a big way, and in fact, it was in these homes where the celebration of Christmas connected with the soap audience. The Martins on “All My Children”, the Bauer’s on “Guiding Light” and the Hughes’ on “As The World Turns” opened their homes each year to millions of fans who felt right at home. As these soap families went about their Christmas activities, millions of Americans would follow their lead, and in countless homes across the country, people would decorate their trees, bake Christmas cookies and spend time with loved ones, all while the soaps played in the background. For many, watching the soaps at Christmas was part of the holiday tradition, as much as drinking egg nog, singing carols or wrapping presents.
A soap Christmas was always time for families to gather and no matter what the storyline of the day, for at least one “soap day” all was forgotten and everyone was welcome. The soaps provided a deep lesson about the meaning of Christmas in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. There is no better example of this than the Horton Christmas tree on “Days of Our Lives.” Every year, a current family member carries on the tradition started by Tom and Alice Horton of hanging the family ornaments on the Christmas tree, each with the name of a family member. Everyone is represented on the tree whether they are present or not, and whether they are in good standing or not. On Christmas day in soap world, everyone is in good standing.
Soaps have also provided lessons about the true meaning of Christmas. In a world where so many religious symbols are taken from the public square, the soaps have never been shy of reminding viewers that the holiday is a celebration of Christ. Typically it falls to a matriarch to gather people around, especially young children and read the passages from the Bible that speak to the birth of Christ. Memories of H.B. Lewis, Tom Horton or Victor Newman doing this are forever burned into the minds of soap fans.
Soaps have often incorporated the meaning of the birth of Christ into their own storylines at Christmas, and the holiday storylines on soaps often became stories of characters finding peace, acceptance or redemption. It was Christmas 1989 that Reva Shayne received forgiveness and was welcomed back into the family after revealing that she had, many years ago, borne a child, Dylan, but her husband’s brother. Countless super couples have reunited at Christmas after being driven apart by infidelity or misunderstanding. No one does Christmas redemption, though better than “Young & The Restless.” For the past several years, that soap has taken one character and scripted an entire Christmas episode around them. Often these episodes evoke “A Christmas Carol” as the flawed character feels on the verge of giving up, but through the miracle of Christmas realized just what they mean to those around them. In the end they awaken to the possibilities of the future, and even though all is not perfect, things begin to move in the right direction. The most memorable of these led to redemption of Billy Abbott and an awakening of spirit for Nikki Newman who encountered the spirit of her long dead mother and found peace in that exchange. For millions of fans, these themes and images of forgiveness and redemption hit a nerve and help them through the difficult circumstances they find themselves in, which are only exacerbated during the holidays.
Fans have been heartbroken as so many of their favorite soaps have been cancelled and no longer provide enjoyment and comfort during the holidays. On a personal note, I am saddened each year as I return to my parent’s home and begin to decorate the tree and house. There is a void because my tradition was to start that process when “Young & The Restless” came on and be finished by the time “Guiding Light” went off. All the while I could hear the joyful sounds of a soap Christmas in the background. Today, I have only “Young & The Restless” and “Bold & The Beautiful” left. The others are gone, and Christmas is not the same. I, like many soap fans however, am resilient and will not let the tradition of a soap Christmas die. Now, as I begin the process, I watch a current episode of “Y&R” and then I pop in a video or DVD that contains classic episodes from all my favorite childhood soaps. As long as I live, the soap Christmas will live, and I know millions of fans feel the same way. We would love to hear your memories of the soaps at Christmas.