Rankin/Bass Retrospective - The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow

Updated on November 30, 2018

The year was 1975, and the Rankin/Bass studio was in the process of shifting to a new phase in their history. Gone were the string of TV shows they had churned out across the early 70’s, and it would still be a few years before they would dabble briefly in live-action series. The mid 70’s then were primarily focused on continuing the annual holiday specials that had put them on the map, and annual they were, as between 1974 and 1981, Rankin/Bass would produce an average of one special a year (sometimes more).

The previous year’s offering, 1974’s “The Year Without a Santa Claus”, would endure as a lasting classic worthy of bearing the Rankin/Bass branding. 1976 would later bring a trio of specials continuing the adventures of their three most popular characters from the 60’s. However, in the middle, a special aired which may have slipped through the cracks for many.

The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow

December 19, 1975

The special opens with a group of nuns making Christmas cards, with the eldest nun Sister Theresa reminiscing when she used to live in the mountains and saw snow every Christmas, while the valley their parish resides in never has any. Suddenly, a storm breaks out, and Sister Theresa sees a lightning strike in the distance hit someone. The nuns rush over and find a young orphaned shepherd named Lucas, struck by lightning and unconscious. They take him back to the church, and when he awakens, they discover he has been blinded.

As the rest of the children in the village practice for the Christmas pageant, Lucas gradually recovers with the help of his dog Waggles, but his eyesight still lost. A little while later, he walks in on Sister Theresa making Christmas cards, she tells him about the wonderful Christmas snow she saw as a child. A white Christmas soon becomes Lucas’s wish, as he’s never been able to experience snow before.

The parish priest, Father Thomas (who had been away when they rescued Lucas), tells the nuns that Lucas can stay at the church through Christmas, but will be sent off to an orphanage after. Lucas thinks on this, uncertain of what will become of his sheep if he’s sent away. Later, one of the children from the village, Louisa, asks Lucas what he’s thinking of getting Sister Theresa for Christmas. Lucas hadn’t really thought of it, initially just telling the girl that it’s “a surprise”. But as he thinks about it, he begins to wonder if he should give Waggles and the sheep to her, so that they can remain safe at the church.

A trio of village boys find out about this, sneering amongst themselves over what a “dumb” present a dog and a bunch of sheep would be. It’s then that they decide to play a trick on Lucas, hiding his sheep inside a tool shed so he can’t find them. As Lucas worries about his sheep, the boys lose the flock as they burst out of the shed and rush into a forest full of wolves.

Lucas, hearing his sheep, goes into the woods with Waggles, one by one finding his sheep, until only the black sheep Wooly is still missing. The three boys who did the prank find Lucas and apologize, offering to help. They find Wooly inside a deep hole, and form a human chain to rescue the sheep.

Later that night, the children perform their Christmas pageant, with Lucas playing the part of an angel. During the pageant, Lucas feels something wet land on his cheek, and asks Louisa if it’s raining. She looks out the window and exclaims that it’s snowing, and begins to describing the snow to Lucas as he wanted her to. Her description touches Lucas so deeply that his eyesight comes back, and he can at last see the snow with his own eyes.

At their celebration after the play, Father Thomas has a change of heart and offers to let Lucas stay at the church, allowing him to remain with Waggles and the sheep. Lucas is elated, declaring this as the first happy Christmas of his life.

“The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow” has much of the usual production crew behind it, directed by Rankin and Bass themselves, written by Jules Bass (under a pseudonym), music being done by Maury Laws and Jules Bass, and "Animagic" animation production supervised by Akikazu Kono and Ichiro Komuro.

The main voice of note in the special is Angela Lansbury as Mother Theresa; Most of the other voices come from actors who had previously worked with Rankin/Bass, such as Father Thomas being voiced by Cyril Richard (who had previously been in the Rankin/Bass movie “The Daydreamer”), as well as Sister Catherine and Sister Jean being voiced respectively by Iris Rainer and Joan Gardner (both of whom were in several Rankin/Bass specials throughout the mid 70’s). Lucas (David Kelley) and Louisa (Dina Lynn) are voiced by relatively unknown, likely child, actors who were primarily only in a few holiday specials (though notably Louisa’s actress was also in 1970’s “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town as a child, and would several years later be in 1979’s “Jack Frost”).

Irving Berlin was reportedly against the use of his song "White Christmas" in the special.
Irving Berlin was reportedly against the use of his song "White Christmas" in the special.

One interesting factoid to note is the centerpiece song of the special, “White Christmas”, which plays when Sister Theresa hears Lucas’s wish. Reportedly, according to Arthur Rankin in later interviews, the song’s writer Irving Berlin was apparently against the song being included in the special. Though the actual reason for why doesn’t appear to be clear.

Unlike previous Rankin/Bass outings, “The First Christmas” is a much more down to Earth story, that focuses more on the religious side of the holiday rather than the magical elements. It could be argued though that the special doesn’t have much in the way of a story, with the third act’s focus on finding the sheep acting more as padding to fill out the 23 minute length than adding to the narrative.

Regardless, while the special didn’t set the world on fire, it has had a long life on television, initially premiering on NBC in December of 1975, where it aired for a number of years before moving to CBS where it would usually run towards the end of the Christmas season, and then later airing with most of the other Rankin/Bass specials on ABC Family until the early 2010’s. Most recently, it has made the jump with most of those specials to AMC as part of their annual Christmas lineup.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Moral Man 

      17 months ago

      The First Christmas by Rankin/Bass is heartwarming. Is voice actress Dina Lynn still alive? Her voice and characters are all cute and adorable. Here she voices Louisa. Is there a way to send her fan mail? There are many people with the name Dina Lynn but which one is the voice actress for Rankin/Bass? I love Rankin/Bass, and I love the character Louisa. Thank you.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)