Holiday Interlude: "Wailing in a Winter Wonderland"

Monica L. Mercado

Like many of you, the combination of a busy AAR meeting, holiday travel, and Thanksgivukkah (not to mention the end of the term and the grading that comes with it) have left me pretty exhausted, so I'm taking today off and spending time with family and friends. We Mercados take our holidays pretty seriously, and before the weekend's through, we'll be decking the halls, organizing our gift exchange, and enjoying that now-classic television genre -- the very special holiday episode. So here's where I have a confession to make: I have a giant soft spot for one of the most nonsensical appearances of Catholicism in American culture, "The Flying Nun," which aired on ABC from 1967-1970. You can bet the Season One Christmas episode, "Wailing in a Winter Wonderland," will be queued up this weekend.

Yes, I own the comic book.
For those of you (gasp!) unfamiliar with the hijinks of young novice Sister Bertrille, "The Flying Nun" took as its subject a zany group of nuns living in the fictional Puerto Rican Convent San Tanco. Based on the 1965 novel The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios, ABC capitalized on the popularity of nuns on film (see 1965's "The Sound of Music" and 1966's "The Singing Nun") when finding a new project for "Gidget" star Sally Field. In Visual Habits: Nuns, Feminism, and American Postwar Popular Culture (2005), Rebecca Sullivan argues "the show was responsive to public interest in the religious life" in the era of Vatican II, but presented a site -- the convent -- "that was at once familiar but not directly relevant" to most viewers. It is this awkward juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane that makes "The Flying Nun" one of my go-to multimedia clips when teaching the American Catholic history survey.

According to Rick Wolff's 1991 article on the show in the Journal of Popular Film and Television, the newly-formed National Catholic Office for Radio and Television (est. 1965) reviewed every episode, making sure "no major slander or insanity" made its way into the script. Still, Season One's Christmas episode features some characteristically head-scratching details, including a visiting nun, Sister Olaf, from that well-known hotbed of Roman Catholicism...Scandinavia. Will it snow for Christmas in San Juan? No spoilers, you'll just have to watch for yourselves.

Happy holidays, RiAH, and may your off days also be full of American religious history guilty pleasures!

Wailing in a Winter Wonderland (26 min.)
original air date: December 21, 1967