We continue our countdown of my favorite 1970s Christmas TV episodes with 1977’s “Yes, Nicholas, There is a Santa Claus” from Eight is Enough.
One of the tragic aspects of Eight is Enough, the dramedy about a newspaper columnist (Dick Van Patten) raising eight children, is that Diana Hyland, the original mother on the series, was dealing with aggressive breast cancer during the first season of the show (which debuted as a midseason replacement in 1977), and was only able to film four episodes before she became too ill to continue, and died after Season 1. The show then decided to have the father, Tom Bradford, remarry, like, RIGHT AWAY, and before 1977 was even over, Tom was married to his new wife, Abby (Betty Buckley).
That set the stage for the show’s first (and only) Christmas episode in Season 2, “Yes, Nicholas, There is a Santa Claus.” Bradford wrote a Christmas column about his family, and a poor old man (played by the great Will Geer, Grandpa Walton from The Waltons) decided to rob the Bradfords of their Christmas. The youngest son, Nicholas (Adam Rich) saw the theft being committed, but he was convinced that the old man was actually Santa Claus, so he left the old man alone to rob the family. Later, the old man’s sob story about how poor he is leads the family to bail him out of prison and allow him to spend Christmas with them (and to then pay for a bus ticket so that he could visit his grandkids).
Now, Geer was an excellent actor, but for the most part, the episode was pretty cheesy. The worst part is that there was a freaking LAUGH TRACK. Who in the WORLD thought that a laugh track made sense? It’s AWFUL.
However, the reason why this episode is still pretty high on the list is because of the big moment in the episode. Abby discovers a present that the mother had purchased middle son Tommy (Willie Aames) earlier in the year, before she died (in a nice piece of writing, when she shows the present to Tom, he explains that his late wife would do stuff like that all of the time, sometimes even buying a present just days after Christmas for the NEXT Christmas. So that nicely hung a lantern on the idea of a present being hidden from so long ago). Tommy was extremely standoffish throughout the episode, and obviously it is because he lost his mother, WHO DIED EARLIER THAT YEAR!!
In a dramatic moment, the whole family goes to bring the present to Tommy, but they run into him trying to leave to go visit a friend. His father gives him the present, and Tommy is crying before he even OPENS the thing, just seeing the fact that it is from his late mother. Aames does an amazing job in the scene, as he opens the present, an ee cummings book, with an inscription telling Tommy that he shouldn’t hide his sensitive side. Of course, he’s bawling, then EVERYONE starts bawling, and if you can watch this without getting a HINT of a tear, then you’re made of stronger stuff than me.
Of course, an amusing thing is looking at the various actors and seeing who can cry naturally and who looks like they just had water sprayed on their faces.
Now the walls having been broken down, Tommy can fully appreciate the holiday again, and everyone celebrates together, despite the fact that their presents are being held in evidence until February (the only thing not stolen where Nicholas’ hand-drawn portraits of the family members. Adorable little caricatures of his siblings, father and stepmother).