How 'The Sound of Music' Became a Christmas Movie Staple

The Sound of Music cast
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Remember the scene above? That heartwarming moment in The Sound of Music when the von Trapp family — led by enchanting newlyweds Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) and Maria (Julie Andrews) — exchange Christmas gifts after fleeing the Nazis? No? Because it never happened!

That photo, according to cast member Angela Cartwright (aka 10-year-old bookworm Brigitta), was staged for a Rodgers & Hammerstein/20th Century Fox Christmas card.

Fact is, the holiday is never mentioned in the 1965 Best Picture winner. Yet ABC has aired the beloved musical every December since 2002, making it a TV event as eagerly anticipated as NBC's annual broadcast of It's a Wonderful Life (dating back to 1994) and TNT/TBS's 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon (which began in 1997). The question is: Why?

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"The Sound of Music's universal themes of love, family and overcoming hardship in the face of adversity are exactly what we're all thinking about over the holiday season, particularly this year," explains Andy Kubitz, ABC Entertainment's exec VP of programming strategy. "It's a beacon to gather around with the family and sing along to songs that transcend time."

One of those timeless tunes, "My Favorite Things," could be the real reason the movie is so connected with the holiday. Maria proclaims her love of "snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes," "brown paper packages tied up with strings" and "silver white winters that melt into springs."

the sound of music

(Credit: Everett Collection)

Years before she played the part, Andrews herself sang the song, then only associated with the Broadway production, on a 1961 Christmas episode of The Garry Moore Show. Artists from Jack Jones to Kelly Clarkson have included it on Christmas albums since 1964. "The upbeat tune and lyrics have to cheer you up unless you are a hopeless Scrooge," Cartwright says.

Every December (save this one), she leads fans on a tour of the film's locations in Austria and Bavaria. "We visit the Christmas markets and do a lot of singing," she adds. "I see firsthand how much joy this movie brings people. It's truly the movie that keeps on giving."

The Sound of Music, Airs Sunday, December 20, 7/6c, ABC