November 28, 2023 posted by Greg Ehrbar

Nelvana’s “A Cosmic Christmas” (1977)

A look at one of the ‘70s most memorable specials, a gentle family fable that led to a soundtrack album and a Star Wars landmark.

Nelvana Presents


with Songs and Music by Sylvia Tyson

Nirvana Records WRC-1-540 (stereo) 12” 33 1/3 RPM LP

Released in 1977. Album Produced by Nelvana Productions. TV Special Executive Producer: Jeffrey Kirsch; Producers: Patrick Loubert, Michael Hirsh. Directed by Clive A. Smith. Music: Sylvia Tyson and Ed Roth. Story: Patrick Loubert. Screenplay: Ida Fruet, Laura Paull, Ken Sobol, and Martin Lavut. Album Script: Ken Sobol. Remix Supervisor: Bob Aback. Remix Engineer: Rick Capreol. Recorded at Grant Avenue Studio, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Running Time: 27 minutes.

Songs: “Why Don’t They Look to the Stars?” “The Way Christmas Used to Be,” by Sylvia Tyson.
Voices: Sylvia Tyson (Narrator and Soloist); Joey Davidson (Peter); Martin Lavut (Dad, Plutox, Santa Joe); Richard M. Davidson (Lexicon); Duncan Raeghar (Amalthor); Chris Wiggins (Mayor); Patricia Moffatt (Mom); Jane Mallett (Grandma); Marvin Goldhar (Snerk); Greg Rogers (Marvin); Nick Nichols (Townie); Marian Waldman (Townie).

When A Cosmic Christmas premiered in the U.S. in 1977 on local stations, there was no way to predict that it would be a touchstone for one of the most prolific animation (and live-action) production companies of the next several decades.

The half-hour special, a co-presentation of the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and the fledgling Nelvana studio, was an unpretentious, low-key film amid a broadcasting environment of mostly more flashy Yuletide fare. Nevertheless, Nelvana put a lot of heart and soul into the special, not to mention a more fluid animation style than most TV cartoons of the day.

Star Wars was a new movie a few months before A Cosmic Christmas materialized, when fantasy/sci-fi was often interpreted in a somewhat pensive, ethereal, 2001: A Space Odyssey way. The story concerns aliens from outer space, but they’re rather mellow fellows, suggesting the Three Kings in the Nativity story. They visit Earth in a bowling-ball-like ship to learn about us mere Earthlings and our Christmas thing. The animation of the aliens is done with slight dissolves between movements for an otherworldly touch.

Like E.T., which was only a few years away, a young boy meets and immediately accepts the visitors, inviting them to see how his family celebrates at home. There occurs a beautifully rendered sequence in which Grandma recalls Christmas traditions as the visitors bring them to life to the song, “The Way Christmas Used to Be.” Sylvia Tyson wrote and performed the songs and narrates the record album. Tyson is a renowned musician and songwriter, particularly in Canada, where she gained fame as part of Ian and Sylvia and wrote the hit “You Were On My Mind,” which was a big seller for the group We Five in the U.S. on A&M Records.

The Canadian voice cast boasts several actors who were either prominent at the time or gained fame in the ensuing years. One of the aliens is voiced by Duncan Raeghar, who became a familiar face on American television as Duncan Regehr, particularly in heartthrob roles such as Errol Flynn in the TV movie My Wicked, Wicked Ways and as Charles in the original sci-fi miniseries “V”. Chris Wiggins, who plays the mayor, was already a major name on radio, cartoons and television in Canada when Americans tuned in weekly to see him battling evil forces in the “Monkey’s Paw”-like TV series version of Friday the 13th as well as lots of animated series, many of which were produced by Nelvana.

Nelvana has its beginnings in The Beatles ABC-TV series and 1968’s The Yellow Submarine, which named among its artists Clive A. Smith, who went to Canada to partner with Patrick Loubert and Michael Hirsh to create Nelvana in 1971 – which is named for the Canadian WWII comic book superhero, Nelvana of the Northern Lights.

The small company produced shorts and commercials, many combining live action with animation. A Cosmic Christmas was their first fully animated special and gained a lot of attention with American audiences through frequent initial airings and a tie-in storybook. In this audience was George Lucas, who enjoyed the special so much that he hired Nelvana to produce the only section of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special that usually gets respect rather than raspberries. The segment featured the original cast and introduced the character of Boba Fett.

Nelvana later produced the first two animated Star Wars cartoon series for Saturday mornings, Droids and Ewoks, in addition to either the entire runs or select seasons of Care Bears (including the hit feature films), Clifford the Big Red Dog, Babar, Tintin, Eek! The Cat, Pippi Longstocking, Little Bear, and Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, to name but a few.

But for many of us, it all started with curious visitors from outer space who greeted Earthlings with “Hello…How Are You…?” Have a Happy Life Day, everybody!


“A Cosmic Christmas”
The special was aired in mono, but the soundtrack album allows listeners to enjoy hearing Sylvia Tyson narrating with dialogue and music in full stereo.


  • Even if “A Cosmic Christmas” is one of the most memorable specials of the ’70s, I have absolutely no memory of it and never even heard of it until today. What’s more, in 1977 I lived close enough to the border to get Canadian television (and my family watched quite a lot of it), so I would have had at least two opportunities to see it. You’re right that the quality of the animation is far above the standard of the day, not that that’s saying much. The music has a definite ’70s vibe because of the analog synthesizer, but thankfully it avoids the worst clichés of that era.

    Did Nelvana have to produce a French language version, “Un Noel cosmique”, for Quebec?

  • Like Paul, I have no recollection of this special. But at the time when it aired I had just started college a few months earlier and was probably knee-deep in final exams around that time.

    I agree that the quality of animation is a cut above what was usual for the time. Now I wish I had watched it when it was new. Gives a fresh take on the holiday spirit.

    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing!

  • I love the Star Wars Holiday Special cartoon. It’s the best thing television ever animated.

  • Devil and Daniel Mouse made its way to Rock n Rule double DVD (OOP) and later Bluray. Maybe Cosmic Christmas can be put on some “interesting and unusual Christmas specials” compilation? HINT HINT.

  • I’m familiar with and have seen just about all of Nelvana’s half-hour features from the 70’s (this one included), and therefore have fond memories of watching these precious masterpieces of animation history on TV in my tweens. Only recently did it occur to me as to the reason the NBC network ran these specials exclusively in the US. It all had to do with the network’s own Canadian “ambassador”: SNL exec producer Lorne Michaels. Presumably, while he was riding high on the success of SNL, Michaels was serving double-duty as NBC’s director in charge of CanCon distribution for the network. So I suppose we have Michaels in part to thank for bringing these wonderful features to the attention, and for the viewing pleasure, of those of us stateside (and likewise Disney for re-airing them two decades later for the following generation of animation fans to enjoy).

  • Of all the things Nelvana produced pre Rock and Rule, I find Cosmic Christmas visually one of the most unique Christmas specials in general. I’m learning about it right now upon reading about it. The character designs also blend well with the fluidity of the animation as well and the sequence when the grandmother is sharing her Christmas memories is so beautifully dreamlike and welcoming. Thanks for sharing this one, Greg!

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