Mr Hyunh: I would do anything to see her again, to know that she is happy.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
In the world of cartoon television, Christmas has always been a special time of year. There are many episodes and specials celebrating the holiday and delivering many meaningful messages about it. Nickelodeon has been no exception to this rule. However of all the Christmas specials produced predating and after this one, none of them have ever matched the emotional level that is the episode of Hey Arnold titled Arnold’s Christmas.
The story is that Arnold winds up being the Secret Santa for one of his neighbors Mr. Hynuh who is normally very despondent during the holidays. Without revealing himself as Mr. Hynuh’s Secret Santa Arnold learns the story of his long lost daughter Mai: 20 years ago Mr. Hynuh and his daughter lived in Southern Vietnam. Knowing full well of the Vietnam War going on in the north and the fact that it was getting close to his village he made arrangements for them to leave for a better life in America. In a mass chaos of refugees trying to leave the country the soldiers eventually had room for only one more passenger. Thus Mr. Hynuh sent away his daughter. It took him 20 years to get to America and come to this city (as he heard the soldier took Mai there). Unfortunately despite his best efforts he never found her. His only wish is to see her again so he can know that she is okay. Thus Arnold sets out to fulfill his wish.
What makes the episode stand out is how much reality is thrown in. Unlike the Veterans Day episode it doesn’t attempt to make the subject matter of the Vietnam War comical in any way. Mr. Hynuh’s sacrifice is something many people from Vietnam did in real life. During the Battle of Saigon in 1975 many people from South Vietnam attempted to acquire limited spaces on helicopters that evacuated people since they could be considered traitors and be killed by North Vietnamese soldiers.
Showing the harsh realities of a war like this particularly in a children’s show is very bold on the creators’ part. In a very adult manner it teaches children that war has a horrible effect on civilians and soldiers alike. This is not only something that people had to deal with back then but also had to deal with today.
Another major point of reality is that despite Arnold’s best efforts he doesn’t manage to find Mai. In most cartoons and even in this one we see that through the protagonist’s hard work he or she is rewarded. Very rarely do they show that failure is possible even through the best of efforts. Thankfully Christmas miracles do happen and the two are reunited at the end of it all.
The sprit of Christmas is shown in this episode in that acts of selflessness such as separating from a daughter to ensure her safety inspires other selfless acts and this brings a greater sense of unity in the community.
The reunion in itself is very touching. None of the characters know how Mai was found and Gerald simply thinks of it as a Christmas miracle. The episode ends with Helga watching outside simply wishing Arnold a Merry Christmas. This scene truly shows Helga gaining the same amount of joy that everyone else as a result of the reunion has by bringing that sense of unity.
Arnold’s Christmas blends a heartwarming and very adult story. Like the Veterans Day episode it gives children an excellent understanding of reality. It not only makes you believe in Christmas miracles but also truly inspires a sense of selflessness and love that can only be understood by watching it.