The history behind NewsChannel 5's classic Christmas cartoon

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Posted at 4:27 PM, Dec 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-24 19:24:47-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It was 1974 when the production staff first hit play on the station's Christmas cartoon, and from the very first note, it's really struck a chord.

The artist is former NewsChannel 5 employee Charlie DePriest.

DePriest is now retired, but we first interviewed him about his creation back in 2000.

"Hundreds and hundreds of frames I guess we drew and like I said, my daughter helped with the painting, my wife had a hand in it," he told us.

His daughter Jennifer Rice, just 9 years old at the time, helped him paint some of the frames.

"I did work on the toy shop and I definitely remember painting the house," said Rice.

While the commercial obviously required DePriest's artistic touch, first he had to do a little math to plan how many frames it would take to capture an object or person's movement.

He then painted three main backdrops -- the bakery, the toy store and the snowy hill. He was able to create plastic cells that overlaid the backdrops to depict the movement frame by frame.

DePriest also snuck in a few winks to his family, like Rice's cat Puff.

"She’s in there and winks her eye and then my Raggedy Ann is in there too," said Rice.

Then, of course, there's the music.

Those of us who grew up in Middle Tennessee know the tune from the commercial, but the song actually got its start from an old German hymn.

"We don’t really know who wrote it, we don’t know exactly where it first shows up," said Rev. Jared Wilson, senior associate pastor at Madison Street United Methodist Church and an adjunct professor at Austin Peay's School of Music.

Wilson says the hymn from the 1800s is translated in English literally as "God is Love" and is in contemporary English hymnals under the name "For God So Loved Us." While it has religious origins, Wilson said it quickly became popular outside of the sanctuary.

"Absolutely, it could have very easily been a children’s tune, a folk tune that also carried some connections to church life that was a part of everyday life for folks," said Rev. Wilson.

It was likely popular for the same reason we've all come to love it too.

"It’s sort of an earworm I think that sticks in our ears for sure," said Wilson.

If history is any guide, the next generation will probably be running to the TV to see and hear the commercial too.

"It’s a nice thing to be able to pass down," said Rice.