Why Is The Wizard of Oz Associated with Christmas?

We recently posted a review of The Wizard of Oz, one of two movies we consider "honorary Christmas" films despite lacking actual holiday credentials, but we didn't really investigate why it's associated with Christmas in the first place. Fair warning: the background here is a bit murky, so this is going to involve a bit of speculation when it comes time to connect the dots. That said, I think I've put together a fairly strong case for how an adaptation of a kid's book from 1900 became tangled with the holidays despite having no obvious yuletide connections.

I think there are five primary factors at play: the movie's central theme, its star, its signature song, its most obvious imitators, and the decision to air it around Christmas in 1959. Let's start with that air date, because I think it's the simplest connection.

Assuming the list on Wikipedia is right, The Wizard of Oz was first aired on television in 1956, when it was shown in early November. The second time it aired was three years later, when it moved to a couple weeks before Christmas. This appears to have briefly become an annual tradition: CBS aired the film every December between 1959 and 1962. After this, they shifted the movie to the spring, where it remained for several decades. It wouldn't move back to November/December until the '90s, but it seems to have stuck. For the past two decades, the majority of broadcasts have been during those months. Granted, this is unlikely to be much of a factor moving forward, as streaming effectively negates the significance of broadcast dates, so it'll be interesting to see if the movie's connection to the holidays wanes.

When I mentioned imitators, I was mainly referring to adaptations of Babes in Toyland, particularly the 1961 Disney version and 1986 made-for-TV movie. While Wizard of Oz doesn't connect directly to Christmas, Babes in Toyland absolutely does, thanks to the presence of Santa Claus. There is of course no shortage of movies influenced by Wizard of Oz (it's arguably the archetype of modern blockbusters), but most of these involve structural design or production strategies. Babes in Toyland resembles Wizard of Oz in a number of surface-level ways: it looks like Oz (or at least a cheap knock-off) and is set in a similar fairytale world. My suspicion is these sort of got jumbled together in the popular consciousness and as a result, Oz was pulled closer to the holidays over time.

Two other major two factors are related. I suspect one reason the song "Over the Rainbow" has become a popular inclusion on Christmas albums is it's originally sung by the movie's star, Judy Garland, who's also well known for singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." This may be a tad reductive, though: I suspect there was a sort of feedback loop occurring where "Over the Rainbow" became more associated with Christmas over time, leading to Garland becoming even more associated with the holidays, and so on. Regardless, the song even eventually showed up on a posthumous Christmas compilation of Garland songs, along with numerous other Christmas albums from other artists.

A less obvious reason might relate to a central theme of the movie, namely Dorothy's nostalgic longing to return to her family farm in Kansas. When the movie was released in 1939, this wouldn't have seemed particularly Christmassy, but that would change fast.

I've written in the past about how America recontextualized Christmas during and after World War II. While nostalgia has long been an aspect of Christmas stories, the war magnified and codified this theme. Immediately after the war, Christmas movies became fixated on the desire to return to a more innocent time and place, largely symbolized by rural farms and old-fashioned celebrations. Longing to get home for Christmas during trying times resonated during and after the war, as soldiers and their families naturally found themselves missing being together. Music embraced this idea, as well, and somber songs struggling between themes of loss and hope became the norm (a trend lasting to this day - Christmas songs popularized after the war are the same tunes radio stations subject us to now). Wizard of Oz fits in fairly well with this style of holiday film, and the wistful tone of "Over the Rainbow" isn't appreciably different from songs like "White Christmas" or "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

I suspect all these factors sort of played off each other. Wizard of Oz felt enough like a Christmas movie to justify running it near Christmas, which in turn seeded an association between the two in the minds of a generation of kids. As that generation grew up, they started incorporating "Over the Rainbow" in Christmas albums, which increased the strength of that connection and led to holiday-themed merchandising (Hallmark's Oz ornaments being the obvious example). Over time, Oz at Christmas became something of an expectation, which broadcasters exploited.

I should also note that people dressed as the Oz characters appear in the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story. They show up in an odd couple of scenes, first during a parade in which they fight someone dressed as Mickey Mouse, then in which they visit the kids in line to see Santa. I'm unsure whether to view this as an endorsement of Oz's holiday connections, an incidental acknowledgment of the movie's popularity in the era A Christmas Story is set, or just a throwaway gag at Disney's expense. Regardless, it seems likely their presence served to reinforce associations between Oz and Christmas in the generations that grew up watching it.

To be clear, this is speculation - there could be other factors I'm missing, or I might be giving too much weight to some over others. But I can't seem to find a great deal written on the subject online, and I think the factors above offer a likely explanation.


  1. Hi Erin - The connection between "The Wizard of Oz" and "Babes in Toyland" goes way back to 1903 when the original stage version of "Babes in Toyland" was conceived by the producers of the first stage version of "The Wizard of Oz" to try and capitalize of the demand for another fairyland musical "extravaganza" similar to "Wizard." Many of the same production people and writers worked on both shows. This page has a little more info, the guy who writes it is a real expert on the Oz books.: http://theozenthusiast.blogspot.com/2020/12/babes-in-toyland.html

  2. Santa in Babes in Toyland? There's a toy maker, but there is no Santa in the movie or operetta. It's not even implied that the toy maker is Santa.

    I'm not saying I don't enjoy watching it during the Christmas season, but Die Hard is more of a Christmas movie than Babes in Toyland.

    1. As far as whether the toymaker is implied or stated to be Santa or not... which version of Babes in Toyland are you talking about? There have been tons. Hell, in March of the Wooden Soldiers (the 1934 version), Santa Claus is a credited character distinct from the toymaker.

      I'm not certain what you're trying to imply with the Die Hard comparison, but... uh... yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. So are Lethal Weapon, First Blood, Three Days of the Condor, Ronin, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Hell's Heroes, The Phantom Carriage, and countless other movies.


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