“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” had the song.
And “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” had the entire legend of Santa Claus to use for ideas when crafting its explanations for why Santa has a beard, uses flying reindeer, and lives in the North Pole (though those explanations are pretty creative).
But “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” the other most well-known Rankin/Bass special, is based on a fairly obscure children’s book and, despite a little-known source, the story of “Year,” written by William Keenan and based on the picture book of the same name by Phyllis McGinley, is both memorable and heartwarming.
The premise of “Year” is pretty simple. Santa, who is after all human, too, gets a cold right around Christmas. He would soldier on, but he’s been feeling a lack of Christmas spirit in the world lately. Would anyone even notice, he wonders, if he didn’t turn up?
The way in which Mrs. Claus, the elves Jingle and Jangle, and a boy from America named Iggy prove it to him is somewhat complicated, but suffice it to say that it’s the children of the world who finally show him that the holiday spirit is alive and well. Santa has given them presents year after year, and now it’s their turn – the North Pole’s mail system is showered with cards and gifts for Santa Claus. Santa is visibly moved. “I didn’t know children had such kind hearts,” he says.
It's a lovely moral, one that any kid should hear, and it's the characters of the Heat Miser and Snow Miser who make the special not only thoughtful but also very entertaining (and tuneful). According to the “Year” explanation of nature, weather is presided over by two feuding brothers. Snow Miser wears a sparkly blue outfit complete with white hat, while Heat Miser sports a red and yellow ensemble with flaming orange hair. Mrs. Claus, the elves, and Iggy have to visit them to negotiate for snow in the American South to save Christmas, which prompts a great song-and-dance number from each brother.
(Also, go back and listen to “I Believe in Santa Claus,” sung by Santa and Iggy's father. It’s a pretty gorgeous song.)
So kudos to Rankin/Bass and McGinley. Despite less famous source material, “Year” manages to be both fun and have a good moral – a great combination for the holiday season.