Have you noticed that Christmas cartoons from the '60s have a vein of sadness running through their stories? I've noticed that Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation Christmas cartoons especially tell a tragic tale before wrapping up with a happy ending.
For instance, in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Rudolph is shunned not only by his peers, but also by his own father! He faces life-threatening circumstances as he wanders the artic. The Little Drummer Boy is supposed to be a tale of selflessness, but even as a child I could hardly keep from crying about how poor and lonely that child was. (I can't help but think if that story were animated today he would be pluckier and, regardless of income, still have a cellphone tucked away somewhere.)
Hard times are certainly part of Santa's origin story in Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town. As the story is told by narrator S.D. Kluger (Fred Astaire), Santa Claus (Mickey Rooney) is abandoned as a baby. Sure, later he's christened Kris Kringle and marries Jessica (Robie Lester). But he's abandoned as a baby! Not to mention how he must square off against Burgermeister (Paul Frees) and Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn). Watch Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town tonight at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
(RANKIN/BASS PRODUCTIONS/ABC FAMILY)