A Holiday Pageant at Home (1901)
This December, I thought I’d take a look at some “Seasonal” movies from a century ago, alongside my ongoing run of slapstick movies. This is the first of those, and is among the oldest documents of Christmas-relevant material on film.
This appears to be home movie footage of a family with five children, who put on a “show” for the audience (perhaps presumed to be distant family members who will want to see the children in action). There are four scenes, each of which takes place in an identically-framed section of the living room of a comfortably middle-class home. In the first, titled “a few days before Christmas,” the mother is hard at work writing and the children “help” by reading in chairs nearby. Father comes home and gives everyone a hug, then looks with approval at the script. The next scene is “Christmas Eve – the prologue” and here two of the girls sing a song and coordinate a kind of simple dance while mother and father look on. Scene three is “The Play.” Here, two of the older children, dressed as adults, berate a smaller girl until an even smaller boy in cowboy costume arrives and threatens them with a gun and a bowie knife! There is a brief chase (which the little girl applauds) and the big kids fall to their knees and pray for mercy. The last scene is “The Author’s Reward,” in which the mother is sewing (again) until father comes in and gives her a kiss. I’m not sure which of them is the author.
On the whole, I found this a rather depressing image of family life of the period. There are few smiles, and the kids sometimes look downright miserable. When the mother watches the two girls singing and dancing, it mostly seems to be with disapproval, except once in a while when they manage a coordinated movement, and she turns to look at father, who smiles. Mother’s life seems to consist of hours of drudgery paid with occasional fleeting moments of affection from her husband. The fact that this is a silent movie tends to accentuate the idea that “children are to be seen and not heard,” and it’s hard to tell what the kids make of most of it. The climactic “play” is also bizarre – what do cowboys rescuing little girls have to do with Christmas, exactly?
Director/camera/cast: Unknown (perhaps mercifully)
Run Time: 4 Min 30 secs
I have not been able to find this for free on the internet. The only evidence of its existence is its entry at imdb. If you find a link to it, please let me know in the comments.