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


Love and Cheese

While it is very clear that the main couple examined in Hey Arnold! is Arnold and Helga, there is a lesser known couple shooting each other sweet looks in the background. This couple is comprised of Phoebe and Gerald, Helga and Arnold’s best friends respectively. Their attraction and love for each other is never stated explicitly, however it is creatively implied. It also can be concluded that the other students of PS 118 know about their feelings for each other. Furthermore, if The Patakis had been made, Phoebe and Gerald would have been an official couple in the series.

Signs of Romance and Compatibility

One doesn’t have to look very closely to notice the definitive signs of Phoebe and Gerald’s love. In fact, the animators have put their feelings out there very clearly, however never in the foreground. Their relationship is never explored as a stand alone episode and no character ever explicitly states anything regarding Phoebe and Gerald’s affections.

Gerald and Phoebe appear to be a very compatible couple. Phoebe’s logic and realistic view of life compliments Gerald’s personality very well. Gerald is a smooth talker and is very street smart. With Phoebe’s book smarts, they’re an unstoppable duo. Furthermore, Phoebe’s logic alleviates some of Gerald’s fears and they both have a very calm personality. With their chaotic best friends, it’s not a mystery that they are able to find comfort and happiness with each other.

The recurrent things that occur between these two include dancing together, talking in the background at parties, shooting each other quick glances, and making offhand comments about the other.

Important Episodes

The first hints we see of their relationship is in the season one episode, “Operation Ruthless”. After Helga runs into the Maze of Mirrors after Arnold, who is following Ruth, Phoebe and Gerald exchange a glance that obviously conveys mutual attraction. These glances occur throughout the series at random moments.

Operation Ruthless

Their first meet in the show. Glances like these occur through out the show.

Later on in the same episode, during mystery match night at the Tunnel of Love, Phoebe and Gerald end up in the same boat. In their boat they have a conversation where Phoebe relays to Gerald the story of her bumper car accident. This is what follows:

Gerald: Wow. Are you okay?

Phoebe: Yea, I’m okay now.

It is also important to note that Gerald puts his hand on Phoebe’s shoulder as he asks her if she’s okay.

Operation Ruthless

A boat ride through the Tunnel of Love. Notice Gerald's hand on Phoebe's shoulder.

At the end of the episode, Phoebe walks up to Gerald and they leave the fair hand in hand. Interestingly enough, Helga looks surprised at this development, suggesting that this episode marks the beginning of Phoebe and Gerald’s relationship and possibly that Helga did not know about Phoebe’s attraction to Gerald.

Operation Ruthless

The beginnings of their romance in the background. Helga appeared surprised at this development.

Another major episode for the two is “Hall Monitor” where Phoebe emulates Helga in order to gain respect and power in her new position. One thing Phoebe does is give Gerald a ridiculous amount of detentions for things such as turning a corner too wide and having suspiciously quiet shoes. When he throws the tickets up in the air, she gives him an additional one for littering.

Hall Monitor

Phoebe's mimicry of Helga's personality in order to perform well as hall monitor appears to extend to how she shows affection. She annoys Gerald with a multitude of tickets.

It almost seems like that by emulating Helga in her hall monitor duties, she is also mimicking Helga’s actions around Arnold. By showering Gerald with probably the most amount of punishments, Phoebe annoys him and does exactly what Helga does to Arnold. While all the kids are in detention, everyone appeals to her to return to her old self, including Gerald who walks up to her and says the following:

Gerald: And what about the old Phoebe? Who used to always eat the crusts off my sandwiches and give me the middle?

Hall Monitor

Gerald appeals to Phoebe to return to her nice, quiet self.


Can I get a resounding AWWWWWWWWWWW!!!! So sweet and adorable.

A final major episode would have be “Wheezin’ Ed” where the two are paired up together to explore the caves for treasure. When Helga pairs them up, they look at each other sweetly. There is also a cute scene where Phoebe kindly explains why there shouldn’t be any sudden drops in the cave, alleviating Gerald’s fear.

Wheezin' Ed

A sweet glance is shared after Helga pairs Phoebe and Gerald up.

Other notable scenes in the series include them talking to each other at Rhonda’s party in “Hey Harold”, enjoying the fair in “Love and Cheese”, Phoebe admiring Gerald’s skills in “Roughin’ It”, Phoebe complimenting Gerald on his solo in “Gerald’s Tonsils”, Gerald’s photo in Phoebe’s locker in “Phoebe Breaks a Leg”, the class photo at the end of “New Teacher”, and the two dancing together in “April Fools Day”. There are many more minor scenes, but these are the ones that stand out to me.

Hey Harold

Gerald whispers sweet nothings into Phoebe's ear in "Hey Harold".

New Teacher

Phoebe gazes over adoringly at Gerald at the end of "New Teacher".

Their Friends

One does have to admit that the ironic thing about Gerald and Phoebe’s pairing is that they are the best friends of Arnold and Helga. Thus they are unable to talk to each other about everything. Gerald definitely doesn’t know about Helga’s true feelings about Arnold and one can presume that Gerald does not openly bash Helga when speaking with Phoebe. Furthermore, Gerald and Phoebe are definitely more loyal to their best friends than to each other. For instance, in “April Fools Day” Gerald supported Arnold’s plan of revenge on Helga while Phoebe supported Helga in fooling Arnold.

Also, it seems that everyone at PS 118 knows about their relationship. Whenever they are seen together, the other students around them act like it’s a normal occurrence and don’t give them any grief about it. The strongest evidence suggesting that their relationship is common knowledge can be seen in the episode “Dinner for Four”. The following occurs:

Helga: Phoebe! You’re coming with me to dinner on Saturday night. 5:00 at a fancy French restaurant.

Phoebe: I am?

Helga: And you’re gonna invite Gerald and then ask Gerald to invite “a friend”. See?

Dinner for Four

Gerald and Phoebe's relationship is common knowledge, as seen in "Dinner for Four".


Seeing as how Helga point blank asks Phoebe to invite Gerald shows that she knows Gerald and Phoebe are a thing and that it is normal.

Closing Remarks

While they’re not necessarily the center of the show, Phoebe and Gerald’s love is probably the sweetest one on there next to Phil and Gertie’s. Their adoring looks, small moments, and calmness behind the chaos that is Arnold and Helga is what makes their quiet relationship an amazing and integral part of the show.

April Fools

Calm lovers in the background.