Christmas Old (1905) and New (2013)

Thomas Edison could do pretty much whatever he wanted with The Night Before Christmas in 1905. I don’t know that it’s the first Christmas-themed movie ever, but there were definitely fewer tropes for him to work with than there are today. 

He went with:

  • Real reindeer in that one scene!
  • Santa Claus, in full suit despite summer weather, manically forking hay at them as if he and the Missus have just had a big fight!
  • Nostalgia! What’s the 1905 equivalent of today’s Boomer generation nostalgia for a 1950s Christmas? Edison goes full Victorian in this little movie – a nurse (not in Clement Clarke Moore’s poem), and almost full formal wear (out of date in the 20th century) for Mom and Dad instead of the famous “‘kerchief” and “cap.”
  • FX! Er, well…OK, the sleigh really does fly at one point and Edison turns it into a time/space jump into our family’s neighborhood. Santa has another little magic trick up his sleeve before departure, too.

The Night Before Christmas is hokey, but I like its portrayal of how Americans of a century ago imagined the perfect Christmas – pretty much the same as today, really, except that Granny and Grampa don’t necessarily live with the family.

Also, while the camera seems to dwell overlong on Santa crafting toys, it’s a nice reminder that this was made for people who had never heard the word “prefabricated.” They could probably name each and every tool in the scene – of course they’d want to see Santa using a little elbow grease, just like they had to in daily life.

Modern special effects are definitely better, but look…real reindeer in that one scene!

I like the way this YouTuber synced up the sound, especially at the end where Santa speaks. We take it for granted, but remember, this was the silent era. That narration and music were recorded some ten years after the film’s release.

It’s difficult to find any biographical information on the narrator online, but a Web search shows that Harry E. Humphrey was apparently the go-to guy for this sort of thing back then.

I came up blank on musician Robert Gayler, but learned something about Blue Amberol Records, the media on which these long-ago sounds were originally recorded.


Now let’s fast forward 108 years to Keith Picot’s kinder, gentler version of the old Scrooge story this year – Frank Georges and the Truth.

Yes, people are still making silent movies – enjoy!

I love the old silent movies, but it’s amazing how much more you can relate to them when the actors are from your own time, even if they are wearing costumes.

Categories: Saturday Silents

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