Christmas Countdown: The Twilight Zone: The Night of the Meek & Carol for Another Christmas

“Christmas” and “Rod Serling” seem like an odd combination, or at least one that will end up being unsettling. Mostly, though, both of his Christmas-themed tales are about kindness and hope for humanity, even in the face of the darkness.

The Twilight Zone: The Night of the Meek (Season 2, Episode 11)

Henry Corwin (Art Carney) is a drunk, department store Santa, who is fired for being, well, drunk. He wishes that for Christmas Eve, that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” In an alley, he finds a sack filled with presents and begins to give them out. Each present is something people have asked for.

Of course people don’t believe Henry can be Santa and he’s briefly arrested, but that resolves itself neatly enough. In the end, he thinks if he could do this every year, he’d be happy. An elf and a sleigh arrive and Henry realizes he now gets to be Santa.

All of this is told in a concise 25-minutes and it’s just pure magic. I have watched a lot of the original The Twilight Zone and while they are rarely outright cruel, so few are this purely sweet and human. There is something so sad and heartfelt about Carney’s performance here, and his joy at being able to bring joy to others is so beautiful and sweet.

The Twilight Zone is streaming on Hulu and Paramount Plus and this episode is available for purchase elsewhere.

Carol for Another Christmas (1964, made for TV)

Poster for Carol for Another ChristmasCarol for Another Christmas is Serling’s take on A Christmas Carol filtered through an anti-war message. It was the first of an eventual four (of a planned six) TV specials designed to promote the mission of the United Nations. It was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and has a truly amazing cast — Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, Eve Marie Saint, among others — and music by Henry Mancini.

If you are wondering why you’ve never heard of this (because not that many people have) given all of that, well …

I definitely think this is worth watching at least once (which is why I’m putting it here, of course), but it is overly long (even at under 90 minutes!) and it is definitely preachy. In a lot of ways, this feels more like an episode of The Twilight Zone than “The Night of the Meek” does. There’s the ever-present American excess and the aftermath of nuclear war (past — and future). There is definitely a lot of talking and a certain bleakness about it throughout (the Hiroshima stuff is fairly harrowing).

There isn’t much that’s subtle about Serling’s writing here, especially about the horrors of war. However, Hayden’s Daniel Grudge doesn’t go through a radical change of opinion in the end but he, instead, seems to be open to change, and having someone start down that path feels realistic.

While Carol for Another Christmas mostly feels an artifact of a different era of television, Serling’s message (and the United Nation’s, presumably) that we can’t be isolationist — from each other, from other countries — remains a powerful, relevant one. It doesn’t feel like it matters it’s not communicated in the most elegant way. It’s one we still should hear.

Carol for Another Christmas is currently streaming on HBOMax. It doesn’t seem to be available for purchase or rent anywhere, but you can probably find it on YouTube if you’re the sort to do that. I’m not judging.