Hey readers! I’m terribly sorry that I haven’t updated here since November, but basically my final semester of college usurped my life and up until this past week it was just nonstop studying and papers! However I am FINALLY done and have thus completed my degree. Now I have plenty of time to write for the things I love, more presently Hey Arnold! On to today’s topic!

Arnold’s Christmas

Season 1 Episode 20

Arnold's Christmas Title Screen

I understand that I’m jumping ahead and not following the original plan of going episode by episode in order of air date. However it is the holidays and this seems like the perfect episode to critique at this time. This episode aired on December 14, 1996 and was the first and only Christmas themed episode produced for Hey Arnold. While many cartoon and children’s shows took the easy route for their Christmas episode plots, such as having the main characters assist Santa and/or attempt to save Christmas, Hey Arnold does something completely out of the ordinary. Instead of taking the easy way out, Hey Arnold faces real world issues and forces its characters to learn some difficult lessons regarding reality and themselves. The episode is notable as it never really mentions Santa and the only Christmas carol we hear sung is part of the chorus of Jingle Bells as sung by Olga, Miriam, and Bob Pataki. This episode is a classic holiday cartoon and one that continues to cause even the most stoic of us to shed a few tears at its beauty, heart, and love.

Episode Synopsis

The episode opens up on Phoebe and Helga sharing a conversation as they walk through Hillwood. This conversation enlightens us to their personal views of the Christmas holiday. Helga believes it’s all about material possessions and getting the flashiest thing possible while Phoebe believes its all about giving and sharing. Helga shoots Phoebe down and expresses her strong desire for Nancy Spumoni snow boots, the must have Christmas gift that is sold out in the entire city.

Helga stares at some Nancy Spumoni snow boots.

Helga's desire for the Nancy Spumoni snow boots is almost matched by her desire for a certain someone...

Meanwhile Arnold is out with Gerald, who is finishing some last minute Christmas present shopping for his family. After Arnold learns that Gerald got everyone in his family a tie, including his little sister Timberly, Arnold tells Gerald that Christmas is about showing your loved ones how much you care about them and that a gift should be unique for the person. Gerald understands and changes up his gift giving plans, to include getting a toy for Timberly instead of the tie. They each go their own way for the day and after Arnold passes by Helga, she launches into one of her personal soliloquies about him, deciding that she must find a big flashy gift for him so that he will fall for her. Notably, Brainy does not show up during this.

Rather than Brainy showing up, Helga just gets splashed with mud. Maybe he was on vacation?

The scene then cuts to Mr. Hyunh arriving back to the Sunset Arms, but before he enters he turns around thinking he heard a female voice call out for him. Inside Secret Santa assignments are taking place and after an initial corruption of the drawing where everyone gets Oskar, Arnold ends up with Mr. Hyunh. He expresses his lack of knowledge about Mr. Hyunh to Gerald the next day, who advises him to go and talk to Mr. Hyunh to see what he would like for Christmas.

Through this visit, Arnold learns that Mr. Hyunh has a daughter, Mai, that is currently missing. Back when he was younger, he lived in a country that was being torn apart by a war. Fearing for his daughter’s safety, he fled to the US embassy and attempted to get him and his daughter on one of the helicopters departing the area. When he was informed that there was only room for one more on the helicopter, he gave his daughter up to the soldier who yelled to him that he would bring Mai to Hillwood. Mr. Hyunh eventually was able to get to Hillwood and has spent over twenty years searching for his daughter in vain. This story causes Arnold to decide to attempt to find Mr. Hyunh’s daughter for Christmas.

Mr. Hyunh decides to give his daughter, Mai, up in order to secure her safety from the war.

Arnold and Gerald go the next day to visit Mr. Bailey at the Federal Office of Information. Initially, Mr. Bailey refuses to help them find Mai, but after they offer to do his last minute Christmas shopping for him, he agrees to help as long as they get everything on the list.

Helga is doing some last minute shopping herself as she is trying to find Arnold a fantastic Christmas present. She finally finds one that may just do a trick, a flashy new computer game. However after she runs into Arnold and Gerald and shows them the item, they comment on how it just seems like she’s trying to impress the recipient with how expensive it is. This run in leads to Helga discovering Mr. Bailey’s Christmas shopping list and she sees Nancy Spumoni snow boots listed. Intrigued, she secretly follows the boys for the rest of the day in their failed quest to retrieve the snow boots.

After searching nearly every store in the city, Arnold and Gerald return to Mr. Bailey without the snow boots in hand. Even though they got everything else on his list, Mr. Bailey refuses to help them as they did not get the snow boots his daughter wanted. Dejected, Arnold and Gerald leave and sit on a bench, where Arnold expresses his sadness over the fact that he failed to reunite Mr. Hyunh and Mai all because he couldn’t find a pair of Nancy Spumoni snow boots. Helga overhears this and realizes exactly what Arnold wants. This leaves her downtrodden as well as she doesn’t believe she can give him what he wants.

Once she arrives home, her mother, Miriam, notices Helga’s sadness and decides to let her open a Christmas present early. Helga opens the gift and finds that they are Nancy Spumoni snow boots. Exhilirated by the fact that her mother actually got her the one thing she wanted, Helga hugs her mother, yanks the snow boots on, and dashes outside where she dances joyfully in the snow. It is during this dance that Mr. Bailey’s Christmas list flies out of her jacket pocket, reminding her that now she has the ability to give Arnold his Christmas miracle and posing a moral dilemma. After several minutes of mulling over her options, Helga reaches her decision.

Helga experiences a moral dilemma when she receives the one thing that she needs to get Arnold what he wants.

As Mr. Bailey leaves his office for the night, Helga races up to him and shoves the snow boots in his arms while yelling about how they need to go back inside and find Mai. Mr. Bailey refuses, stating that he is tired and wants to go home to spend Christmas Eve with his family. Seeing this, Helga appeals to him explaining that he can either leave now and kill Arnold’s belief in miracles or go back into the office with her to search for Mai.

The next morning at Sunset Arms, Gerald arrives to a still depressed Arnold watching the boarders and his grandparents celebrate Christmas. Arnold didn’t even both getting Mr. Hyunh a different gift. After all the gifts have been opened, the doorbell rings which Grandpa Phil goes to answer. He returns with Mai who sees Mr. Hyunh by the fire and calls to him with the same voice heard earlier in the episode. He turns and is stunned to find her there. They reunite in a hug as everyone else looks on stunned, but happy. No one is more stunned however than Arnold, who tries to figure out how the reuniting was possible. Gerald tells him to leave it as a miracle and notes that Arnold may have a Christmas angel looking out for him. It is then shown that Helga is standing outside the Sunset Arms with a peaceful smile. The episode closes as Helga whispers, “Merry Christmas, Arnold.”

Mr. Hyunh and Mai end up getting reunited, leading to a happy Christmas for all.

Reality Strikes

The first main thing that really stands out in this episode is just how much real life is thrown in. Mr. Hyunh’s experiences with the war is something that many people experienced in real life. It is presumed that Mr. Hyunh was talking about the Vietnam War, based on his story and the fact that he says he is from Vietnam in the episode, “Snow”. Furthermore, the event that occurs where he gives up Mai can logically be assumed to be happening during the Fall of Saigon around 1975. In the Fall of Saigon, many South Vietnamese civilians vied for limited spaces on the helicopters that were evacuating people as they feared that once the North Vietnamese took over the city, they would be considered traitors and possibly killed. These helicopters were even evacuated from the US Embassy, which is where Mr. Hyunh got through at as seen by the US flag as he runs through to the building.

Mr. Hyunh manages to get Mai out of Vietnam by helicopter at the US Embassy during the Fall of Saigon.

Showing this war in a cartoon meant for kids and exposing them to the fact that war tears families apart was a brave and stunning move. Children watching the show had to learn the harsh reality that war is not pretty and is in fact something that we have dealt and continue to deal with today.

The other major thing that is shown that is very real is the fact that Arnold fails in his quest to reunite Mai and Mr. Hyunh. Children are taught to believe that anything is possible with hard work. What they fail to understand and what isn’t mentioned as much as it should be is that there will be times where you fail in what you attempt. However that is okay and the world does move on. Arnold was lucky to have his Christmas angel.

Finally, although a minor correlation it is worth noting that the fact that Nancy Spumoni snow boots were the must have gift was a direct play on our society’s yearly obsession with a certain toy and/or item. That particular year it was Tickle Me Elmo, which went for much money on auctions and private sales due to the fact that it was nearly impossible to find. Parents went to extremes to secure the toy for their child, just like Miriam waited 18 hours in line to get Helga the Nancy Spumoni snow boots. Helga at the beginning of the episode is a perfect image of the commercialism that has degraded Christmas to a mere sport for many people. Too many people have forgotten the true meaning of the holiday, and this episode puts that back into perspective.

Breaking Points

This episode also marked key breaking points for Helga and Arnold. If Mr. Hyunh and Mai had not been reunited for Christmas, Arnold would have lost his belief in miracles and would have probably experienced a major personality shift. He probably would have lost his optimism and this loss of belief in miracles could have caused a downward spiral for him.

Helga giving her snow boots up in order to get Arnold his miracle saved his world view.

In the sense of Helga, this episode marked a major shift in her beliefs. At the start of the episode Helga was shown as very materialistic, believing that the way to Arnold’s heart was through a flashy present. However through the course of the episode she learns the true meaning of the holidays, and through that the true meaning of love. She learns that love is caring for someone else more than yourself and that the holidays are an important time to give to someone and show them how much you care.

Helga learns the true meaning of Christmas and love by giving Arnold his miracle.

Boss Quotes Regarding Christmas Meaning

“Christmas is about giving and cheer, family and friends, holiday spirit!” -Phoebe

“Christmas is about presents! It’s about getting as much stuff as you can possibly get! It’s about money and flash! It’s about shopping like a barbarian! It’s about getting your’s before the other guy gets his!” -Helga

“‘Cause Christmas is special. It’s about showing the people you’re close to that you really care about them. When you give somebody a present, it should be unique.”     -Arnold

“At night I used to dream about our future together. To watch Mai grow up and go to school. To see her be happy.” -Mr. Hyunh

“Then I had to make the most difficult decision of my life. I had to do the best thing for Mai. I knew that if I gave Mai to the soldier he would take care of her. He would find a home for her and then as soon as I could I would get out of the country and find her again.” -Mr. Hyunh

“Maybe, but what better time for a miracle than Christmas?! Isn’t that what Christmas is really about?” -Arnold

“Arnold will be overwhelmed. On Christmas morn he will unwrap my gift. Hiis little heart will fill with joy! His little eyes will find the attached tag “To Arnold. From Helga.” and his uniquely football shaped head will fill with thoughts about me, Helga Pataki! And perhaps, then those same thoughts will lead him to feel the same admiration and-dare I say it?- love for me that I have so longed and secretly harbored for him! This truly must be the meaning of Christmas.” -Helga

“I needed a miracle I guess. Just couldn’t get one.” -Arnold

“Can’t you see?! It’s not about snow boots! It’s not about flashy, expensive presents or getting yours before the other guy gets his. It’s about showing people you really care about them and most of all it’s about a funny little football headed kid with a good heart, but no sense of reality whose entire world view is at stake!” -Helga

“But if you leave now, that little football headed kid will never believe in miracles again.” -Helga

“Don’t try to make sense of it, Arnold. A miracle’s a miracle, and that’s all there is to it. Maybe you’ve got a Christmas angel looking out for you or something.” -Gerald

“Merry Christmas, Arnold.” -Helga

Closing Remarks

This holiday episode is a classic that will continue to pull at heart strings of young and old alike for years to come. With its timeless lessons, family values, and dash of real life issues, it’s definitely a must watch during the holiday season. Happy holidays everyone!

Image credit: tabbyandy at deviantART