We continue our countdown of my favorite 1970s Christmas TV episodes with 1974’s “Christmas at Plum Creek” from Little House on the Prairie.
It’s funny, Little House on the Prairie was a well-done series for most of its run, as Michael Landon was just too good of a producer to let it fall apart until he was mostly checked out towards the end, but it really doesn’t normally rank up there with some of the very best shows of the 1970s, but in terms of Christmas episodes, it really gave its all with this awesome episode.
As a quick aside, Little House on the Prairie did TWO Christmas episodes in the 1970s, but the other one wasn’t all that festive, so I didn’t rank it (the schoolchildren get caught in a blizzard), but this one, Season 1’s “Christmas at Plum Creek” hits pretty much every note that you could possibly want from a Christmas episode (the pilot also has a Christmas plot in it briefly).
The central conceit of the episode is that the various members of the Ingalls family want to buy presents for each other but, well, you know, they’re poor.
So they all come up with ways to make enough money to pay for gifts for each other. Pa fixes some wheels for Nels Oleson, Mary takes up a gig helping a seamstress with sewing, and Laura, well, Laura does something quite drastic.
The episode has two major “Gift of the Magi” moments, but I think they do a nice riff on the concept.
First off, Mary and Caroline have the same gift for Charles (a nice shirt), so Caroline surreptitiously hides her present for Charles, so as to not show up Mary’s gift (Caroline bought the shirt, while Mary kind of haphazardly made hers).
But the big moment is when Caroline opens up her present of a new cookstove, which Charles had taken on the wheel job to buy, only to learn that Nels had already sold the stove. When the stove was delivered, Charles figured that Nels just got it in in time, but nope, Nels sold it to LAURA, who traded her beloved pony, Bunny, for it (as Nels’ spoiled daughter, Nellie, coveted Laura’s horse).
The problem is that Charles had just made Laura a beautiful saddle for her horse. At the end of the episode, Laura is crying, not for her lost horse (although that DOES make her sad), but that her dad put all that work into a present she can’t use now. It’s SO sweet.
All of the actors are in fine form. Just a lovely episode.