Oh, man. My buddy Bill donated another of his treasured childhood videocassettes, and this one was killer. Among other things, it included the full broadcasts of A Charlie Brown Christmas and How The Grinch Stole Christmas, which aired back to back on December 11th, 1987.
Nostalgia’s been my trade for the better part of 15 years, and at this stage of the game, it takes a lot to really move me. This tape did. Both specials aired on CBS — which throughout the ‘80s kind of had a stranglehold on animated holiday specials — and there’s no way the me-of-1987 would’ve missed them. Watching Christmassy cartoons in prime time was one of the very best things about December.
Bill’s tape, which included both specials complete with commercials, was almost more than I could handle. I’m used to these fits of nostalgia being delivered as collages, with my own memories filling in the blanks as well as they can. Here, it was delivered as-was, as-it-always-was, and I caught myself getting choked up. I was reliving something from nearly 30 years ago with as precise a lens as allowable.
I couldn’t help but think about how much has changed since I first saw those broadcasts. The last time I watched these specials — these exact specials in this exact order with those exact commercials on that exact December night — my late father would’ve been within earshot, we’d still have a dumb dog named Sandy, and all of my older brothers and sisters would be dramatically younger than I am right now.
It isn’t as if I’m not consciously aware of these changes in my everyday life, but watching that tape… jeez. It was like having a time machine that almost worked, but not quite. Like I’d landed on the living room floor in our old house, but was stuck in some nightmare where I couldn’t turn around to see all of the shit that was way more important than A Charlie Brown Christmas. Does that make sense?
I felt like if I tapped the TV screen, the me-of-1987 would’ve gotten an electric shock. So close, but yet so far.
It was bittersweet, but still so worth it. In some senses, watching that tape put me in the “old kid shoes” harder than our ancient home movies do.
See if your brain plays any of the same tricks by watching ten of the commercials that aired during those specials, down below. (Spoiler: It will.) If I can call ten sketchy encodes of 1987 TV commercials “gifts,” consider this an early Christmas present. It’s the thought that counts.
A CBS Special Presentation Intro!
This isn’t a commercial, but of course I was gonna include it. If you’ve seen images from this intro but aren’t part of the generation with firsthand experience, let me confirm that THIS WAS THE SHIT. It meant EVERYTHING to us. Every primetime animated special that aired on CBS came with this intro at the front, signaling a rare bout of kid-targeted nighttime television. It totally set the stage!
An Oreo Christmas!
I won’t be featuring the commercials in their original broadcast order, but for the record, this one aired first. Here, a kid successfully lures Santa Claus with a plateful of Oreo cookies, nearly getting the big guy to break kayfabe in the process. It’s cute, but that singsong voiceover really puts it over the top.
Pebbles Cereals for Christmas!
If pressed, I think I’d have to call this my favorite Christmas commercial ever. No joke. I wouldn’t argue that it’s the best by objective measures, but for me, nothing screams “CHRISTMASTIME” quite like Santa Claus refereeing an argument between Fred and Barney. Fred softening up to willingly share his cereal is pretty much my all time favorite feel-good Christmas moment.
McDonald’s: Hardnose Mrs. Hatcher!
I don’t think you can blame me for getting so emotional over this tape. Just look at these commercials! Who could forget Hardnose Mrs. Hatcher, the gruff teacher that all of the kids hated, before figuring out over the course of the school year that all she really wanted was for them to have bright futures.
They ultimately reward her with a McDLT and a custom sweatshirt, because life is grand and life is good and life is wonderful. The adorably cheesy music hits its crescendo at just the right moment. When greasy-fingered Mrs. Hatcher lets her guard down for a tear, just you try not to do the same.
A.1. Poultry Sauce!
Even commercials that at first seemed so bereft of personal nostalgia still managed to punch me in the joy jaw. My main takeaway from this one was that — and try to follow me, here — uninteresting stuff was way more interesting when I wasn’t interested in it at all.
I wouldn’t have paid much mind to A.1. Poultry Sauce in 1987, granted, but whatever mind I did pay would’ve been… dramatic. “The bottle looks vaguely medicinal,” I’d have thought, albeit with simpler words. “I’m literally afraid of this sauce” would enter my head next — clearly a residual effect of my childhood palate being too virginal for A.1.’s bitter tang.
These days, stuff like this just goes in one eye and out the other, never once coming close to setting up shop. I kinda miss the days when a 30 second video about A.1. could make me think.
PS: Writing about A.1. Poultry Sauce led me to buy a vintage bottle of it off of eBay. I can’t believe that was even a fucking option. Merry Christmas to me!
Quackers Snack Crackers!
Some of you may remember me naming Quackers as one of the snacks I want back. These were Nabisco’s big attempt to compete with Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish, though Quackers were much heavier and oilier, and nutritionally closer to full-fat potato chips. Needless to say, they were delicious, and I’d sacrifice so many toes for even one more handful.
A 7UP Christmas!
Even without animated Spot characters zipping all over the snowscape, this is one of 7UP’s best Christmas commercials.
Interestingly, I’m pretty sure that the more famous ads for 7UP’s Countdown to Christmas posters borrowed footage from this one. Hey, if you were gonna go through the trouble of filming soda-obsessed elves, you’d want extra mileage from that whole mess, too.
Pee-wee’s Playhouse Promo!
If I’m not mistaken, this Pee-wee’s Playhouse promo is from that sad year when I was forced to miss it each and every Saturday, thanks to CCD class.
CCD was the hour-a-week Jesus lovefest that many kids from Catholic families had to go to, lest they be disqualified from making Confirmation. Around here, we all hated it. No matter how it was presented, CCD was easily identifiable as “more school.”
Most years, CCD took place on weekday afternoons. In 1987/1988, it was on Saturday mornings. As if cutting into my weekend wasn’t bad enough, CCD also guaranteed that I’d miss practically a whole season’s worth of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Completely unforgivable, and this may be the genesis of me becoming lapsed-at-best.
The California Raisins!
Of the seeming trillions of California Raisins commercials, this is the one that I remember best. Taken at face value, it’s about a sad man whose only respite from a damned life comes through midnight raisin concerts. I was admittedly never much of a California Raisins fan, but this was one of the few times that I found them more “cool” and “cute” than terrifying. As a kid, I more often pegged them as the covert official fruits of the Garbage Pail Kids universe.
York Peppermint Pattie!
If you’ve seen one York Peppermint Pattie commercial, you’ve seen them all. Since you already know the score, I’ll instead point out that this is the only commercial featured in this post that got flagged by YouTube, and is now being monetized by the copyright holder. Yes, there really exists some formless robot that tirelessly scours YouTube for rights-offending York Peppermint Pattie commercials. That’s pretty great.
Milk-Bones for Christmas!
Last but not least, the unforgettable commercial wherein a sneaky pooch tries to unravel the mysteries of his Christmas presents by shaking the boxes like a similarly-aged child. The commercial is stylized to be heartfelt, but you’re gonna lose it at the shot of that dog shaking a box of Milk-Bones.
Our collective takeaways from this commercial were 1) get a dog and 2) wrap Christmas presents for said dog. I already had #1 covered, but don’t think for a second that I didn’t wrap up doggy treats come Christmas Eve.
Thanks for reading & watching. Hope these ancient pitches sparked as many memories for you as they did for me. If not, well, at least you got to see Hardnose Mrs. Hatcher sob into a McDLT.