When it's over, then I cheer
I'm glad it's only once a year
I hate Christmas!"
There are three main plots during its one-hour run time:
- Oscar the Grouch tells Big Bird that if he can't figure out how Santa gets down people's chimneys, people won't get presents for Christmas. Big Bird becomes obsessed with finding the answer.
- Bert & Ernie enter a "Gift of the Magi" Plot, buying gifts for each other.
- Cookie Monster attempts to contact Santa Claus so he can ask for cookies, but he keeps eating his writing instruments.
Compare A Special Sesame Street Christmas, which was filmed at the same time and aired on CBS that same year note , but did not feature many Muppets outside of Carroll Spinney's, likely due to the other puppeteers being busy at the time. Unlike Christmas Eve, which has been continuously in release since the 80's, Special did not see a DVD release until 2012.
Santa brings the following tropes to Sesame Street:
- Adult Fear: All the adults go through this when Big Bird goes missing in the middle of the freezing night. Maria nearly cries as she chews Oscar out for causing Big Bird to run away.
- Anti-Christmas Song: Oscar's "I Hate Christmas".
- Cool Old Guy: Mr. Hooper, when he gives Bert and Ernie back their paper clip collection and rubber duckie, respectively - and then tells them that they shouldn't feel bad for not getting him a gift, since they gave him the gift of letting him see them be happy.
- Creator Cameo: Director/co-writer/executive producer Jon Stone provided the voice of Santa on the phone that Cookie Monster ends up eating.
- Dark Reprise: A mournful instrumental version of "True Blue Miracle" can be heard during the scene where Big Bird falls into an utter depression over not figuring out how Santa gets into chimneys.
- Everyone Is Christian at Christmas: The only character explicitly non-Christian is Mr. Hooper, when Bob wishes him a Happy Hanukkah. Doubles as an Actor Allusion, since Will Lee was in fact Jewish.
- Extreme Omnivore: No surprise from Cookie Monster here, as he eats each of his methods of contacting Santa because his insatiable appetite gets the better of him, consuming his pencil, his typewriter, and his telephone (and just as Santa actually answers). At the end, during The Stinger, he has also eaten the needles and most of the ornaments from Susan & Gordon's Christmas tree.
- Failure Is the Only Option: Cookie Monster can't get his letter to Santa written because everything keeps reminding him of cookies, causing him to eat them. Gordon assures him that Santa knows him well enough to bring him what he wants, but it would be nice if Cookie Monster left Santa a gift as well. The traditional gift? Cookies. Cookie Monster's face promptly freezes in an Oh, Crap! expression.
- Follow the Bouncing Ball: Not literally, but the graphics showing the lyrics of "Keep Christmas With You" at the end of the show are in this vein.
- Genre Savvy: Mr. Hooper has apparently read "The Gift of the Magi," as he immediately recognizes that Ernie and Bert have traded their priceless items in exchange for gifts for one another. It helps that they traded them to him, as he's the only general store in town. This allows him to redeliver those items as presents of his own.
- "Gift of the Magi" Plot: Ernie and Bert go through this, involving their rubber duckie and paper clip collection, respectively. The scenes of this subplot have been collected here. Mr. Hooper realized what was going on and gave them back their items as Christmas presents.
- The Grinch: Oscar, of course.
- Here We Go Again!: Oscar follows his "apology" (it's more a begrudging "Glad you're back") to Big Bird with a question about how the Easter Bunny hides all those eggs in one night.
- How Can Santa Deliver All Those Toys?: The central point of Big Bird's plot is him trying to find this out for himself. In the end he falls asleep before he can find out but comes back inside only to find that Santa somehow did it.
- Hypocritical Humor: Ernie discovers one of Bert's precious paper clips sitting on the floor and decides to buy him a cigar box as a present so he can store them—"they'll never be lost again!" He then throws the inspirational paper clip over his shoulder without a second thought, making it even more lost.
- Idiot Ball: When the adults discover that Big Bird is missing, they spread out all over town to look for him—but no one thinks to check the roofs, even though they're all fully aware that he's upset about Santa Claus getting down chimneys. You'd think at least one person would make the connection between "Big Bird wanted to find out how Santa gets in" and "Hey, there's a chimney on the roof."
- Improv: The segments in which the Muppets interview small children to get their ideas on how Santa delivers presents are obviously unscripted. After one little girl enthusiastically delvers an elaborate nonsensical explanation about how Santa apparently opens up the chimney by pushing some kind of elevator button, Grover turns to the viewer and deadpans, "And there you have it!"
- Informed Judaism: Mr. Hooper is seen putting up a Menorah in the background of one scene, and Bob wishes him a Happy Hanukkah, at which he is visibly touched.
- Jerkass Ball: Oscar, traditionally more of a cranky Grumpy Bear than a real "villain," acts a lot nastier than usual in this special. He first tells Big Bird and Patty that it's impossible for Santa to get down any chimneys, and then implies that if they don't figure out how he does it, no one will get any presents. Big Bird is promptly sent into a crisis of faith, but Oscar continues to troll and insult him, which makes things worse. However...
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: ...he does realize the error of his ways and decides to help search for Big Bird when he actually goes missing.
- "Just Joking" Justification: When Maria takes Oscar to task for worrying Big Bird about Santa not being able to get down chimneys, the grouch tries to defend himself by saying "I was only teasin' him!" Maria isn't having it (see "The Reason You Suck" Speech below).
- Long List: Kermit rattles off various explanations given by children as to how Santa gets into houses. Highlights include a child who believes "Santa goes on a crash diet on Christmas Eve and loses two hundred pounds" and "Santa sneaks in with the other relatives on Thanksgiving and hides in the laundry room until Christmas."
- Made of Iron: Oscar's sent flying during a game of Snap the Whip on the skating rink and promptly crashes through both a brick and a wooden wall, careens down at least two flights of stairs, and tumbles out into the street. His only response? "Let's go back and do it again!"
- Mama Bear: When Big Bird goes missing, Maria reaches into Oscar's trashcan and angrily pulls him out, then gives him The Reason You Suck speech for upsetting Big Bird so much.
- Mathematician's Answer: When Kermit returns from conducting his survey back asking neighborhood kids how they believe Santa gets down tiny chimneys.Big Bird: Well, Kermit, we're waiting. What did you find out about how Santa gets down all those chimneys?Kermit: Well, the, uh, demographics of our survey would indicate that the solution is not altogether definitive.Big Bird: (after a beat) What does that mean?
- Meat-O-Vision: Cookie Monster gets distracted while trying to write his letter to Santa as the various writing implements keep reminding him of cookies, driving him to devour them.
- Mood Whiplash: The special pulls this off expertly—the more poignant moments are followed by comic ones to provide levity and keep the plot moving at a good clip. It's most apparent when Ernie and Bert's "Gift of the Magi" Plot is resolved with their quiet, tender rendition of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," and the next scene is Cookie Monster devouring a telephone and inadvertently putting Santa on hold.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Oscar actually experiences this when Maria gives him something of a "reason he sucks" speech when it's believed that Big Bird ran away over Oscar teasing him that Santa won't bring anybody presents because he can't get down a tiny chimney.
- Oh, Crap!: Gordon suggests Cookie Monster leave something out to show appreciation to Santa. He agrees, only to look quite shocked when told that Santa loves cookies.
- Bert and Ernie go through this when they open their presents from each other and discover that they've traded away the precious object (Bert's paper clip collection and Ernie's rubber duckie) intended for it. The music provides an appropriate chord when they realize what's happened.
- One-Shot Character: For this special, Patty, a little girl who hangs with Big Bird throughout the special. She also tries to help him figure out how Santa gets down tiny chimneys, though she grows more and more concerned about Big Bird's well-being as he grows more and more depressed as the special progresses.
- Real After All: Santa himself does show up (in shadow) while Big Bird is sleeping on the roof, though the question of how he gets down chimneys is never answered.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Maria really rips Oscar a new one when Big Bird goes missing:Maria: Oscar, I hope you're satisfied, you had to start all that stuff about Santa and tiny chimneys, and you've upset Big Bird so much, he's gone.Oscar: W-well, I didn't know he'd do anything dumb like that, I was only teasin' him.Maria: Teasing him? Telling him that Santa's not going to bring anybody any presents because he can't get down a tiny chimney, now you call that teasing?!Oscar: Well, uh, he'll come back, he's part homing pigeon! Besides, what's the big deal? He lives outdoors all the time, anyway!Maria: Now look here, Oscar... the nest is something different, that's his home, he's got an electric blanket, he's got heating pads, and he's around all the people that he loves. But here it is Christmas Eve, and he's out there somewhere in this big city, and it keeps snowing, and it's getting colder, (on the verge of tears) and he could be in serious trouble unless we find him! So what are you going to do about it?!Oscar: Well, I'm gonna find him, and bring him back! Get me off'a here!
- Santa's Existence Clause: Oscar sparks a crisis when he trolls Big Bird by asking how Santa gets down tiny chimneys. Santa's existence is not in doubt as such, but Big Bird reasons that if he doesn't know how Santa can get down the chimney, no one will get any presents. In the end, Big Bird never does find out how Santa does it, but everyone gets their presents delivered anyway.
- Society Marches On: Gordon opening the door to his and Susan's apartment to reveal a fully-trimmed Christmas tree was initially something of a Wham Shot proving that Santa really did come. In the late 1970's (and indeed for much of the twentieth century), when this special was filmed, it was traditional not to decorate the tree before Christmas; families either did it together on Christmas Eve, or Santa did it to be discovered on Christmas morning (hence why Gordon doesn't even purchase his tree until Christmas Eve itself). This tradition has largely fallen by the wayside, with families putting up and decorating their trees much earlier in the season (the day after Thanksgiving is a particularly popular choice).
- Sound Effects Bleep: Happens after the gang returns from the skating party and leave the subway. Just as Big Bird gives another idea a subway train passes by as Oscar berates him, drowning out what he says.Big Bird: Hey Oscar, I know how Santa gets down the chimney! All he does is take that big belt of his and tie it really tight around his waist, and it makes him so skinny he fits right down the chimney!Oscar: You are without a doubt the stupidest... (a passing train drowns Oscar out) bird I've ever met!"
- Sound-to-Screen Adaptation: At least partly one from the 1975 album Merry Christmas from Sesame Street, which included the original Bert/Ernie/Mr. Hooper storyline as a sketch, and two of the special's three songs. It became a Recursive Adaptation when Christmas Eve on Sesame Street got turned into an album.
- Spiritual Successor: A Muppet Family Christmas is often considered this by fans, due to featuring many of the classic Sesame Street Muppets, taking place on Christmas Eve, and a main character getting lost during a snowstorm (though this time, it's Miss Piggy).
- Staircase Tumble: How Oscar (and his trash can) leave the skating rink in the opening; the use of different shots from different camera angles crank it Up to Eleven, making it look as if Oscar crashes through multiple rooms.
- The Stinger: Cookie Monster eats the needles off Gordon's Christmas tree.
- Sweet and Sour Grapes: In a twist on the traditional "Gift of the Magi" Plot, Ernie and Bert's story ends this way: though they do give up their most prized possessions to get each other gifts, Mr. Hooper is so touched by their generosity to each other that he wraps them up and delivers them as presents himself. So Ernie and Bert get their new gifts, their old treasures, and the knowledge that they were willing to give up everything they had to make one another happy.
- Third Line, Some Waiting: Cookie Monster is the "C" plot.
- True Meaning of Christmas: Big Bird insists that finding out how Santa gets down tiny chimneys is important, but Gordon tells him otherwise.Gordon: No, Big Bird. That's not important. What is important is... well... we lost you tonight, and we were all very worried about you... and now we've got you back, safe and sound... and we're all together at Christmas.
- Mr. Hooper offers a different version when he gives Ernie and Bert back their rubber duckie and paper clip collection, respectively, after they traded them to him to get gifts for one another. When they realize that they didn't get Mr. Hooper a gift himself, he gently corrects them and says that they did—namely, both the ability to give them a meaningful present and the knowledge that they love each other so much that they were willing to give up their most prized possessions to make sure they'd be happy.
- Wham Line: "Big Bird's gone." Said by Patty after she goes to check on him in his nest and finds it empty.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: After returning from the skating party, both Count and David disappear for the rest of the special, though David suddenly reappears during the closing reprise of "Keep Christmas With You (All Through the Year)," as if he too had been searching for Big Bird all that time.