Santa Claus and St. Nicholas — A Tale Told in Videos

From “Miracle on 34th Street” to “The Santa Clause” (and sequels), Santa Claus has been the subject of movies and TV specials, and used to sell everything from Coca-Cola to M&Ms.

The origins of Santa Claus have tantalized filmmakers, who’ve come up with all sorts of fanciful tales about how the gift-giver came to be, where his elves came from, and why he has reindeer. Here’s a clip from “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” a 1970 stop-motion animated special that may be one of the more … imaginative versions of the origin tale.

But something that has Fred Astaire can’t be all bad …

In the real world, Santa Claus is a blend of Norse, Germanic, Catholic and Dutch traditions, filtered through folklore and two major 19th-century influences — Clement Moore’s poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and the work of artist Thomas Nast.

Speaking of the famous poem …

Our current iteration of the rotund man in a fur-trimmed red coat is a gift of the Coca-Cola Company, a creation for an ad campaign in the 1920s (and not coincidentally, he’s wearing the signature colors of the beverage maker).

But Catholics know that the true beginning of the Santa Claus legend was in 4th-century Turkey, with the famed Bishop Nicholas of Myra. Born into wealth, which he inherited while young, devoutly Catholic Nicholas gave all he had to assist the sick and needy.

Made a bishop early in life, he became known for his generosity, and his love for children and for those who go down to the sea in ships.

Bishop Nicholas suffered for the Faith under Roman Emperor Diocletian and spent time in prison. He died on Dec. 6, 343 A.D., and that day is now his feast day. Nicholas’ fame grew after his death, and many legends are told of him.

European tradition states that children who leave their shoes out on St. Nicholas Day Eve find them filled in the morning with treats and small gifts (if they’ve been good).

According to news reports from October, the tomb of Saint Nicholas may have been found in southern Turkey — under a church named in his honor, in the town where he was born (where else, indeed?).

But does this mean Santa Claus is dead? Of course not. St. Nicholas is in heaven, waiting to pray on our behalf. And as for Santa Claus, he is the spirit of generosity, and as long as that exists, he lives on.

Oh, and a group of filmmakers is trying to make a movie about “Nicholas of Myra,” which, according to the IMDB, is to come out in two parts, in 2018 and 2019.

Click here for the official Website, and this is what they have so far:


Remember to watch the skies on Christmas Eve, when the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) begins its annual satellite tracking of Santa Claus’ journey across the world.

Here’s a preview:

And here’s a look back at how NORAD took on this very important duty — which has the feeling of a bit of divine intervention …

Head to the official site to follow the Jolly Old Elf as he makes his rounds.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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3 for Tuesday: ‘Polar Express,’ ‘Shrek’ and ‘Toy Story,’ and ‘Psych’!

Our biweekly viewing guide returns with a classic animated film, specials adapted from classic animated films, and a new movie featuring live-action characters that aren’t quite classic, but are pretty animated.

All times Eastern (check local listings for time and channel in your area):

The Polar Express (2004) — Tuesday, 8:55 p.m.; Wednesday, 6:45 p.m., Freeform

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, who, with William Broyles Jr., adapted Chris Van Allsburg’s 1985 children’s book for the screen, this 3-D computer-animated film stars Tom Hanks in six roles.

One of them is as the conductor of the Polar Express, which takes Billy, a boy who’s starting to doubt Santa’s existence, who goes on the magical trip of a lifetime.

From a 2006 review at Catholic Exchange:

Jesus’ saying in Mark 10 is a familiar one: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” Children show us how to approach Jesus: with wide-eyed belief and unquestioning faith.

One animated film worth seeing again this Christmas reminds us of what it means to have faith like a child’s. Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express takes us on one boy’s journey from doubt to belief. On one level, the story can be interpreted as a retelling of The Miracle on 34th Street, but for Christians, this film can also be seen as a tale about a return to untainted belief.

Shrek the Halls; Toy Story That Time Forgot — Thursday, 8 and 8:30 p.m., ABC

“Shrek the Halls,” from 2007, features the beloved film ogre dealing with a house full of fairytale pals on what he had hoped would be a family-only Christmas.

First aired in 2014, “Toy Story That Time Forgot” finds the toy gang on a post-Christmas play date, where they meet some delusional action figures.

Psych: The Movie — Thursday, 8 p.m., USA Network

The upbeat 2006-14 series returns with a holiday movie that reunites fake-psychic Shawn Spencer (James Roday), his crimesolving pal, Burton “Gus” Guster (Dule Hill), Shawn’s retired-cop dad, Henry (Corbin Bernsen) and the rest of the original gang.

In this reboot, the action has moved from Santa Barbara to San Francisco (although it’s still all shot in and around Vancouver, Canada). When a mystery assailant targets one of their own during the Christmas season, best buddies Shawn and Gus go to work.

Guest stars include Zachary Levi (“The Star”), Kurt Fuller, Jazmyn Simon, Ralph Macchio and WWE wrestler Charlotte Flair.

They join cast regulars Roday, Maggie Lawson, Kirsten Nelson and Bernsen, and returning guest stars WWE wrestler John Cena, and Jimmi Simpson.

Throughout its run, “Psych” avoided overt violence and sexual content, and always emphasized fun, friendship, family and general wackiness. The twists, turns and pop-culture obsessiveness may be too much for elementary-school kids, but preteens and up should enjoy watching with their parents.

And remember to watch for the pineapple!

Image: Courtesy USA Network

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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‘The Ten Commandments’ Found (or at Least the 1923 Movie Set)

Set of “The Ten Commandments” (1923)

Archaeologists have excavated a sphinx from the sand, and they didn’t have to leave California to do it.

On Dec. 4, 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille’s first — B&W and silent — version of “The Ten Commandments” had its Los Angeles premiere, at the Grauman Egyptian Theater. More than 50 years later, in 1956, DeMille returned to the story in a full-color, widescreen spectacular, starring Charlton Heston as Moses.

The Egyptian scenes from the original film were built at the Guadalupe-Nipomo sand dunes on the Central California coast, between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.


Long before the days of green screen, motion capture, and CG, DeMille had Paul Iribe, a designer known for his spectacular art deco work, to construct a massive set that was 12 stories high and 800 feet wide on the Guadalupe-Nipomo sand dunes. Like the film, the set was ambitious in scale, but as soon as the film wrapped DeMille realized it was too expensive too move and he didn’t want another filmmaker using it. That said, he had it buried.

In early November, archaeologists exploring the dunes unearthed the head of a sphinx, made of Plaster of Paris and weighing about 300 pounds. Even though the film was in black and white, it — like the rest of the set — is painted in brilliant colors.

The saga of finding and digging up DeMille’s 95-year-old set is a story in itself. Back in the ’80s, filmmaker Peter Brosnan heard about the set and wanted to find it. But, he faced headwinds from environmental preservationists, and the actual dig didn’t begin until many years later.

In 2017, he released a documentary called “The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille,” which includes footage of the dig and interviews with local residents who saw the filming back in the ’20s. Also appearing in the film are DeMille, niece Agnes DeMille, granddaughter Cecelia DeMille Presley (who wrote a book not long ago), Heston and producer A.C. Lyles.

Here’s the trailer:

Sadly, many movie and TV sets, costumes and props have been considered junk once the project ends, winding up recycled, discarded or warehoused. So, much of Hollywood history has been lost, along with the work of countless craftsmen.

Luckily, remnants of the 1923 “The Ten Commandments” are once again seeing the light of day — and you can view the results of the dig.

From Variety:

 The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is among the organizations helping fund the costly excavation activities. The artifacts can be viewed at the Dunes Center museum in Guadalupe, where the latest sphinx head will go on display in summer, 2018.

Image: Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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5 for Friday: Magic, ‘Tanked,’ ‘Tiny Christmas,’ Santa and Lights!

Tiny Christmas

The weekend (and Monday) edition of our biweekly family-viewing guide is back, loaded up with Christmas goodies. I’d like to say they’re all about the true meaning of Christmas, but for that, you’ll have to head to theaters to see “The Star.”

But if you want glitter and tinsel, Santa and silliness, we’ve got you covered. All times Eastern (check local listings for time and channel in your area).

Oh, and happy First Sunday of Advent!

Masters of Illusion: Christmas Magic — Friday, 8 p.m., The CW

From The CW:

Hosted by actor Dean Cain, MASTERS OF ILLUSION features great escapes, fascinating sleight-of-hand and large-scale illusions, all in front of a studio audience. The series features amazing magic performed by cutting-edge illusionists and escape artists and performers in each episode display skills ranging from perplexing interactive mind magic to hilarious comedy routines. Live audience members and viewers at home will be baffled by the astounding skills of these modern illusionists.

Guests include Jarret and Raja, Jonathan Pendragon, Ed Alonzo, Jibrizy, Les Arnold, Murray SawChuck, Farrell Dillon, Tommy Wind, Titou, Naathan Phan, Greg Gleason and Christmas Choir.

Tanked: Unfiltered “We Fish You a Merry Christmas” — Friday 8 p.m., Animal Planet

In an extended version of a 2016 episode, ATM’s Wayde King and Brett Raymer, joined by Australian pop star Alli Simpson, head to Flint, Michigan, to create a custom tank for Hurley Children’s Hospital.

Tiny Christmas — Saturday, 8 p.m, Nickelodeon and Nicktoons

From Nickelodeon:

In Nickelodeon’s brand-new holiday TV movie Tiny Christmas, it is Christmas Eve, and a clumsy elf accidentally shrinks down two cousins into miniature sizes! The kids are then scooped up into Santa’s sack and dropped off across the street at their neighbor’s house. In order to make it home for Christmas (just one house away!), the tiny kids must comically work together and overcome holiday hazards to set themselves right and make Christmas magic happen! But, will the tiny kids get home on time?

Tiny Christmas stars Riele Downs from Henry Danger and Lizzy Greene from Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn. Matty Finochio will also star in the movie as Chill the Elf.

The Santa Clause — Sunday, 8:45 p.m., Freeform

Common Sense Media gives the 1994 original a thumbs up for ages 9 and older, but with reservations …

Parents need to know that The Santa Clause is a 1994 Christmas-themed movie in which Tim Allen plays a toy industry executive who transforms into jolly old Saint Nick himself. The original Santa Claus takes a fatal, accidental fall (yikes — Santa dies!). Guns are drawn as Tim Allen’s new “Santa” gets arrested by police. There are grown-up (and gross) jokes, and the movie deals with divorce and estrangement between a father and son. While the whole plot revolves around the idea of Santa being real, many characters talk about the fact that he might not be — so this may not be the best fit for families looking to extend kids’ belief in St. Nick. There is also some potty humor involving human and reindeer flatulence, as well as a vague reference to being on drugs in the 1960s.

The Great Christmas Light Fight — Monday, 8 p.m., ABC

Each episode of this reality-competition series features four families found through a nationwide search, who have erected extravagant Christmas displays at their homes, involving not just lights but choreography, staging, etc.

Lifestyle expert Carter Oosterhouse and interior designer Taniya Nayak judge the entries, with $50,000 going to the winner (a k a the one most likely to be able to be seen from space).

Monday’s episode features a wireless light show, an interactive gingerbread house, figurines and giant lollipops, a large property with 78 wrapped trees, a seven-acre drive-through property, and a concert of lights with a five-piece band.

Here’s a peek at last year’s show:

Image: Courtesy Nickelodeon

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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Can I Take the Kids? ‘The Star,’ Dickens, ‘Coco,’ ‘Wonder’ and More


Weekends are a great time to see movies, and there are some great movies out there, but are they good for the whole clan? Are there any concerns in them for Catholics?

So, with those questions in mind, here are some flicks to think about this coming weekend.

The Star

This charming animated, animal-centric Nativity story is the rare film that you can take grade-schoolers to, while the adults might also get some laughs.

It’s not making nearly as much money as it should. Christians are finally given an entertaining, fanciful yet respectful adaptation of the Christmas story, and they’re skipping it? Catholics are passing on a movie with a wonderful portrayal of Mary? Come on, people.

Here’s our review; some video interviews with the cast and Catholic director; and details from Common Sense Media.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey” stars as Charles Dickens in this delightful yarn, as the Victorian-era writer struggles to create “A Christmas Carol.” Most irritating for Dickens is that his characters, led by Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) have a habit of coming to life and pestering him.

It’s not a a religious Christmas movie, but it’s full of the spirit of love and generosity.

Click here for a full review, but in short, this one has some material that may not be suitable for little ones, but would appeal to older grade-schoolers and up, or just adults. Common Sense Media concurs.


Pixar’s Mexican-flavored Dia de los Muertos animated tale is not a Christmas film — as the holiday it’s centered on actually takes place on Oct. 31-Nov. 2 — but it’s as colorful as the Christmas season (and it’s raking in scads of green).

It’s a stunning achievement, but Catholic reviewer Deacon Steven Greydanus has reservations about its theology:

On Earth, and even in the afterlife, Mexico’s Catholic heritage has not been entirely effaced. There are church buildings and crosses on monuments in cemeteries and in homes. An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe adorns a wall in the home where our protagonist, 12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), lives with his extended family.

Miguel’s elderly, irascible Abuelita (Renée Victor) crosses herself, and someone says “Santa María!” I don’t remember any actual priests or nuns, but we see that there are movie priests and nuns in a clip of a film-within-the-film starring Miguel’s hero: the late, great Mexican guitarist and singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), who not only sings and plays guitar in a Roman collar, but even flies like Superman.

Yet what good is Catholic iconography when the movie pretty explicitly stipulates that life after death is strictly a temporary affair, tied to earthly memory? A stopover in skeleton-land is one thing, as long as there’s some openness to the idea that this isn’t the end. A “final death” with no hint or hope of a further stage or life beyond seems to make a mockery of that image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the crosses dotting the landscape.

Common Sense Media gives it a big thumbs-up, but Catholic parents may need to have a chat with their little ones about the Church’s view of the afterlife, heaven and eventual resurrection. This short explanation from EWTN might help.


Based on the 2013 bestselling book by R.J. Palacio, this is a gentle, moving tale about a boy with facial deformities who faces the challenge of going to “real school.”

It’s rated PG, and the themes of bullying and acceptance may be hard for little ones. But middle-schoolers and up, with parental guidance, may find a lot to feel and talk about.

From Catholic News Service:

“Wonder” (Lionsgate) is a beautiful film about ugliness. Its protagonist is August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a 10-year-old boy born with facial deformities whose misshapen visage becomes a moral Rorschach test for the people around him.

This gentle, moving drama centers on Auggie’s struggle to win acceptance from his peers as he transitions from being educated at home to attending the fifth grade of his local middle school. But it also explores the lives of his supportive parents, Nate (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Julia Roberts), and his loving older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic).

Via gives Auggie unstinting affection despite the fact that his emotional needs have left her feeling overlooked by Mom and Dad.

And, here’s a video from a mom whose son, also in the video, has a similar condition to the fictional Auggie:

Lastly, a movie that’s definitely not for kids, but one that Catholics may love …

Lady Bird

This one is garnering lots of critical acclaim and Oscar buzz, and shockingly enough, for a mainstream movie with Catholic themes, it isn’t anti-Catholic. Writer-director Greta Gerwig isn’t Catholic, but she is Catholic-educated, and this is a semi-autobiographical tale.

It is a coming of age story for Christine, who’s dubbed herself “Lady Bird,” a smart, awkward Catholic high-school student (Saoirse Ronan) in Sacramento, California. She’s trying to figure out who she is, while negotiating a complex relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), who is described as both “scary” and “warm.”

There’s rough language and sexual content, so it’s definitely not for the whole family. Common Sense Media rates it for ages 16 and above, but those who are weak in their faith may find it unsettling.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

The Catholic school experience is rendered with hilarity but, again, without meanness and even with a sprinkling of generosity. The senior nun on the staff (the wonderful Lois Smith) cuts through the BS to be real with Lady Bird, and great fun is had with the school’s theater productions; when the original faculty director of The Tempest bails out, he’s replaced by the school’s football coach, a loudmouth who rambunctiously illustrates how the Shakespearean drama will be staged by diagramming a chalkboard with X’s and O’s and firmly drawn arrows.

But Catholic News Service finds merit, with a caveat:

It’s no spoiler to point out that the movie’s conclusion, during which Lady Bird has finally achieved her dream of college in New York, shows a very strong old-school moral compass at work. It’s a redeeming wrap-up. But the problematic material that precedes it requires thoughtful discernment by grown viewers well-grounded in their faith.

UPDATE 12/01: Catholic News Agency has just released a review. Here’s a taste:

Gerwig does a remarkable job portraying a Catholic teenager torn between the “good girl” everyone expects her to be, and her growing desires to be different. The movie handles the complex emotions of teen romance and, yes, sex with discretion visually and powerful emotion. Its portrayal of the priests and nuns in her life are all uniformly positive, Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother may be occasionally contentious, but it also is one of the most positive portrayals of a teenage child/parent relationship in ages.

See you at the movies!

Image: Courtesy Disney/Pixar

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions