We continue our countdown of my favorite 1970s Christmas TV episodes with 1977’s “The Children’s Carol” from The Waltons.
Okay, here’s the deal, the 1971 television movie, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, is excellent. If we were to treat that TV movie as an episode of The Waltons, it would probably be the number one overall episode on this list. It’s very, very good.
However, it really wasn’t an episode of The Waltons, but rather a TV movie that then INSPIRED the creation of The Waltons.
The issue is that, likely BECAUSE the film was so famous, the actual TV series, The Waltons, about a family in the mountains of Virginia during the Great Depression, avoided doing a Christmas episode in its first four seasons, which were the peak years for the show (it won 13 Emmys, including Best Drama, and 12 of them were awarded for the first four seasons, and then a 13th for a Guest Star in Season 5).
The excellent Richard Thomas, who won a Best Lead Actor Emmy for playing eldest son, John Boy Walton, left the series after Season 5, and the show never quite recovered, as there were dozens of Walton children (or at least it seemed like there were dozens), but none were nearly as interesting as Thomas’ John Boy. The parents continued to be great (played by Michael Leonard and Ralph Waite), and so did the grandparents, but the great Will Geer (Grandpa Walton) died after Season 6, and the great Ellen Corby (Grandma Walton) suffered a severe stroke, causing her to miss a season, and when she returned, she was extremely limited in what she could say (it was great that she wanted to return, though, even with her limited vocabulary, she had a great presence), but the kids were fairly dull without John Boy (they eventually recast John Boy, as the show realized it really needed John Boy).
So because of this, The Waltons never had a Christmas show during the period when I bet it would have been REALLY good. Instead, we got a pretty “blah” final Christmas episode for Thomas in Season 5 with “The Best Christmas” (Leonard’s Olivia knows that this will likely be her last Christmas with all of her children, so she wants it to the best one ever, but calamities keep preventing that from happening, but in the end, everyone is just happy to be with each other period), a super dark one in Season 7, “Day of Infamy,” about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and then an extremely forgettable one in Season 8, “The Spirit.”
Luckily, Season 6’s “The Children’s Carol” is good enough to at least make the Top 24. It was a two-hour episode centering mostly on two young British refugees who are taken in by The Waltons for Christmas. Their parents were killed during the German bombings of London. The little boy is so traumatized that his sister has to speak for him. Meanwhile, Jason Walton (Jon Walmsley) decides that he has to give up writing and playing music, because he needs to harden himself for the inevitable war that is coming (he is in basic training in the Army, and his drill sergeant keeps mocking him for being “soft”). Youngest son, Jim-Bob (David W. Harper), is going by James Robert as he talks with a British teenager in London through a radio in the Waltons’ barn.
Youngest Walton kid, Elizabeth (Kami Cotler, the only other Walton kid who sort of kind of stood out in a crowd), is irritated at how depressing the two British kids are, and she feels that they are ruining Christmas for the rest of them. The kids run away, and are almost killed by a plane when the truck they stowed away on turns out to be headed to the airport to deliver products on to a cargo plane. The little boy is so scared that he finally speaks to note just how scary it just was.
Everyone gets together in the spirit of the holidays, and Jason’s parents convince him that he can’t let go of his music, and that he IS strong, and they know he will come through when he has to. He plays everyone a Christmas carol he wrote. In the best twist, the London girl Jim-Bob is conversing with discovers that the British kids’ mother survived the bombing, as well! She had been in a coma in a different hospital, but she is now alive, and coming to America to reunite with her kids (Sadly, their dad DID die in the bombing).
It’s a well-done episode, even if a lot of the drama centered around Jason Walton.