Today is the 30th anniversary of the special “A Muppet Family Christmas.” I watched it originally when it aired in 1987. We taped it off the television (except that we apparently were not prepared to do so and missed the first 6 minutes or so–tragedy!), and I’ve treasured it ever since. I’ve watched it unabashedly at all times of the year, not only at Christmas. After Jim Henson died, it was one of the sources available for me to turn for comfort.
I wanted to do a whole Muppet Christmas thing later this month, but I don’t think I’m going to have the time to do it the way I want to do it this year, so I think it will have to wait until next year, but there is one part of this special that I particularly want to talk about:
For me, the best and most memorable moment in this special comes at the very end: Jim Henson’s cameo.
When this special first aired, I was seven years old. I knew Jim Henson’s name, from the credits of every Muppet thing ever (or at least the Muppet things I’d gotten to see). I knew he created the Muppets. I knew that he performed Kermit and, through the power of deductive reasoning, I had figured out that he must also have performed Ernie (because they basically had the same voice). But I didn’t know what he looked like. I had never seen him on TV or even seen a picture of him. So the point of the cameo at the end of “Muppet Family Christmas” was completely lost on me. I was just confused: “Who is that strange, bearded man who randomly showed up to do the dishes?”
But I only had a moment to contemplate the mystery of it, because then my mom–who got the joke and was utterly charmed by it–said, “Ohhhhhh, it’s Jim Henson!”
“THAT’S Jim Henson?” I said, if only to myself. “NOW I get it! Suddenly it all makes sense!“
As a bonus, this is also a scene between Jim and Steve. It’s not that I didn’t know that before; it just never resonated with me until now. Of course I know intellectually that Steve played Sprocket, but Steve commits so fully to the role that it’s easy for me to forget that Sprocket is not a real dog.