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Time Machine Recap: Little House on the Prairie

We’re jumping back to Christmas 1974 for today’s TV recap, the original airdate of my personal favorite episode of Little House on the Prairie. Let’s see what was happening in Minnesota in 1874…

Christmas at Plum Creek

This is the first Christmas episode of Little House on the Prairie, and the one immediately following the legendary two parter, The Lord is My Sheppard. In said episode,  Ma gives birth to a son, Charles Jr. and Laura is terribly jealous. Charles Jr. dies and Laura blames herself, leading her to run away to a nearby mountain where she meets God, as portrayed by Ernest Borgnine.  After the two parter concludes, Charles Jr. is never mentioned again except in clip episodes.  How have I never noticed the wah-wah in the Little House intro before now?  There’s a total porn beat under that 70’s session orchestra.

In Christmas at Plum Creek, the Ingalls family models the classic holiday morality tale which isn’t Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi.

The episode opens with Nellie trying to convince Laura to let Nellie buy Bunny, Laura’s horse. (Bunny is later the horse that gives Nellie a heaping dose of what I like to call prairie justice.) Laura repeatedly turns Nellie down.

Back at the prairie house, various Ingalls count their meager bits of Christmas money, glum, but determined. Later, the Ingalls family takes a trip to the mercantile where each member of the family finds something they’d like to receive and many things they’d like to give each other. Ma eyes a fancy $7.87 cookstove, Mary spies a snappy flannel to make Pa a new shirt, only to be completely discouraged by the price. Poor daft Carrie sees something shiny and she’s sold.  Pa and Laura check out the price on the stove they spied Ma eyeing, Ma checks out the flannel she saw Mary looking at, Carrie continues to stare at the shiny thing. I have a theory they were slipping that child laudanum lollipops.

Wanting to buy the finest finery from the mercantile for their loved ones, the various Ingalls find ways to scrape up the money they’ll need to make everyone’s Christmas dreams come true. Pa offers to fix up a set of wagon wheels for a customer of Mr. Oleson’s. Mary takes on a mysterious project with Mrs. Whipple the seamstress. A contemplative Laura later asks her Pa for advice to make a lot of money.   Ma is selling more than her usual number of eggs to mean old Mrs. Oleson.   Half pint is sad, because she ain’t no wheelwright, she’s not old enough to work in Mrs. Whipple’s sweatshop and Ma’s got a stranglehold on the egg market.  Petting Bunny, the Black Stallion of Minnesota, she gets an idea.

No, Laura, no!  I see where you’re going with this! (Disclosure: I’ve seen this maybe a dozen times.)

Mrs. Whipple plies Mary with doughnuts and milk before making her sew.   Meanwhile, Ma buys a few yards of the exact fabric Mary is using to make Pa a shirt.  Mr. Oleson’s customer wants fancy rims on his wagon wheels, and poor Laura can’t catch a break to do a little business with Mr. O.

When she gets her moment, we witness an adorable haggling scene but don’t know what kind of deals Half Pint is spinning yet, only that she’s mightily proud of herself.

Everyone sets to working on their secret projects to chipper 70’s TV instrumental music.  Carrie finds a penny somewhere, I’m assuming the somewhere was shiny.

Ma makes coffee, Pa paints his wagon wheels, Pa falls asleep.  In the morning, Laura and Carrie head to the mercantile where Laura sells Bunny to Cruella DiOleson and Carrie buys herself the shiny thing.

Charles delivers the wheels to Mr. Oleson, which he wants to exchange for the stove. Mr. Oleson claims it was already sold. Charles is sad.  Mr. Oleson offers other treasures, Charles is having none of it and insists Mr. Oleson order another stove from the catalogue.  I bet Mr. O knows more than he’s letting on.  Suddenly, the previously fall like Walnut Grove is covered in enough snow for Charles to need to hike home in snow shoes.   He shoots a Christmas turkey on the way.

Christmas Eve, Pa’s playing the fiddle and the whole family is square dancing, when Mr. Oleson comes to visit with as many packages as Santa Claus.  Mr. O, you crafty bastard.  That night in bed, Ma pesters Pa to tell her what she’s getting.  He will not yield.  He hops out of bed to put a log on the fire to find Carrie staring into it.

Christmas morning, everyone is all dressed up in their finest.  Laura gives Pa a lime green scarf, Mary gets fur and earns the wrath of pioneer PETA.  Mary gives Pa a flannel shirt.  Oh no! It’s just like the one Ma made!  Ma hides her gift under the Christmas tree skirt.  Pa gives Laura a saddle for Bunny.  Oh, shit, Pa, Laura gave Bunny to Nellie.  Laura looks freaked out.  Ma goes to open her box as Laura and Pa look on expectantly.  It’s the stove! Oh crap! Pa thinks he bought it, but it turns out it was Laura.

Mr. Oleson and wee Nellie show up to claim Bunny so Nellie can make a vest out of him. Pa is moved. Ma tries to stop the exchange from going down and Pa talks her out of it.  That Ma is no fool, you shoulda listened, Pa.

Laura cries as she passes off her pony, I get something in my eye.  Damned unselfish Ingallses.   Laura isn’t crying for Bunny, she’s crying because Pa had to work so hard on the saddle she’s going to have to sling over a saw horse.

Carrie holds out a present for Kraft Cheese Whiz.  No, wait, she bought that shiny thing for Baby Jesus.  God bless us every one.

The episode  ends with Carrie staring at the shiny thing and mumbling in her laudanum haze.

By Ophelia Payne

Editor in Chief of Persephone Magazine, Ophelia spends most of her time in front of a monitor. She writes long, rambling emails in her free time.

3 replies on “Time Machine Recap: Little House on the Prairie”

Ahahaha, geez whiz present. Yeah I was a bit shocked to learn God was McHale.

LHotP Hanky Moment. There was always the scene which made the audience cry in almost every episode of LHotP. I thought Michael Landon collected royalties for his tears. No man wept more on 70’s-80’s TV than Michael himself.

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