The reason we love the classic Christmas specials so much isn't just that we watched them as kids. It's also that the kids in them ARE kids. They do stuff. They make stuff. They go outside and chop themselves a tree or deliver medicine for the pharmacist or even lick a flagpole, instead of sitting in the back seat watching "SpongeBob SquarePants" as Mom drives them to basketball practice.
Obviously, these fictional characters are just that -- fictional -- but yes, Virginia, there were kids who made their own fun. I swear it!
But when's the last time you saw a group of kids building a snowman or even having a snowball fight? It's probably been a while, because most tykes are either tied up in extracurricular activities after school or inside because their parents don't want them to play outside unsupervised.
For this, I don't blame the "helicopters." I blame a society telling us our kids can't handle anything on their own -- especially fun. Look at L.L. Bean, that supposed champion of rugged outdoorsiness. It is selling a "Snowman Family Kit" for $25 -- or was. I just checked its website, and it is sold out! What does this sought-after kit consist of? "Everything you need to outfit a snow family and pet," including toy glasses, fake carrots and those hard-to-find items called "buttons."
Really? Kids couldn't rummage around and find their own items to decorate a snowman? They need corporate help?
Actually, they need more than that. A note at the top of the kit's Web page reads: "WARNING: SHOULD ONLY BE HANDLED OR USED WITH ADULT SUPERVISION." That is why you don't see kids outside. We've been told that even the most basic of wintertime joy requires an adult on hand, as if building a snowman is now officially (and legally) too dangerous for kids to handle on their own. "Here, Timmy, let me add that button nose for you. I don't want you to choke."
"Thanks, Dad! That was a close one!"
And then there is the snowball-maker. For real. It's called the Sno-Baller, and on the website One Step Ahead, where it sells for $9.95, we learn that this red plastic scooper device "makes soft, safe snowballs. This ingenious gadget produces perfect snowballs that disintegrate on contact, so they can't hurt like hand-packed snow balls."
Hey, if snow is that dangerous, why use it at all? Why not make snowballs out of Kleenex? Or cotton? Or bubbles? Oh, wait. I forgot. Bubbles are toxic and require adult supervision, too. My bad.
The Sno-Baller copy adds that the device also helps keep kids' hands from getting "cold." Because, God forbid...
In the Christmas specials of old, the kids not only do things on their own (and get cold hands) but also interact with adults who are not their parents. And that is considered normal, not terrifying! Consider little Susan in "Miracle on 34th Street." She is cared for by a stranger for a whole day, and her mom doesn't freak out, even though the stranger is a man. Later in the movie, Susan is tucked in bed by yet another man -- an older guy -- and there is no one else in her room. So what if the guy is Santa? He's a man, and if you filmed that scene today, you'd have to have another background-checked adult in the room or the kid's mom in the living room watching a live feed on the video monitor.
In the not-so-olden days, kids were part of things because we believed in them and in most of the world around them. And isn't that what this season should be all about? As Susan says, "faith is believing when common sense tells you not to."
Today faith is believing when L.L. Bean, Nancy Grace, a zillion warning labels and most of the tabloids and talk shows tell you not to. As for me, I still believe.