December 16, 2017
Is there anything not to like about Christmas? The answer is a resounding NO, and I include the secular sham that goes with it, expensive trees and cheap pink paper and maddening shopping. The birth of our Lord Jesus came in handy on his 1914th birthday, when the German and British troops called a halt to the slaughter and played football instead. (The high command should have followed the troops’ example, but they ordered the mayhem to continue from the warmth of their various castles.) Even Hollywood used to—I say used to—get into the spirit of Christmas and made films that warmed the heart and spread good cheer. Has a movie ever touched us more than Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life? George Bailey, played by the great Jimmy Stewart, has given up on an impeccably lived life helping his fellow man and the community in general, while resisting temptations to sell out to the greedy tycoon played by Lionel Barrymore. Broke and disillusioned on Christmas Eve, he’s about to throw himself into the freezing river and end it all when a “failed” angel played by Henry Travers befriends him and talks him out of it. And makes him see all the gifts he already has, like a beautiful and loyal family and fellow townspeople who love and respect him. It naturally has a happy ending and is a lesson to us all: Appreciate what you’ve got and keep your spirits up at all times.
My favorite film about Christmas is the old classic Miracle on 34th Street. Eight-year-old Susan, played by the wonderful Natalie Wood—in 1947, when the movie was made, she was around 8 years old—has been brought up by a no-nonsense mother, the beautiful Maureen O’Hara, and the child is in deep need of a little Christmas magic. Well, you know the rest: A department-store Santa (played by Edmund Gwenn) whose real name is Kris Kringle incites the company to adopt his policy of directing customers to other stores when their needs cannot be met by Macy’s, the store that employs him.
What follows is a miracle of sorts. The Macy’s Santa is challenged in a court of law about the veracity of his claim that he really is Santa Claus. Children all over the city follow the trial, and Christmas itself is in danger of being called a fraud. But, of course, Mister Kringle wins his case, Susan is satisfied that her faith was right, the mother gets together with her boyfriend, and everyone goes home happy. Seventy years later, young children watch the film and believe that Santa exists. Well, some children. There are certain so-called minorities in New York, in reality majorities, who are much too busy, even if they’re under 10 years of age, scoring drugs and mugging people. But this is about Christmas, so I’ll stick to the good ones who have faith.
The film is all about believing in magic, if you will. In the courtroom scene, R.H. Macy himself makes an appearance and proclaims that Kris Kringle is Santa Claus, no ifs or buts about it. The film got rave reviews, won three Oscars, and was praised for its ingenuity, humor, and spirit. One more favorite is Christmas in Connecticut, another lighthearted black-and-white classic starring Barbara Stanwyck, the sexiest non-beauty of all time. It’s a comedy involving a con played on a powerful publisher by Barbara, who writes a column for him and has led him to believe that she’s happily married and has a baby and cooks beautifully. You can guess the rest: The publisher demands he spend Christmas Eve in her farmhouse and meet her family and taste her cooking. She manages to set things up by hiring people. Eventually she falls for the naval officer who is her pretend hubby, they adopt the baby, and everyone lives happily ever after. The house in Connecticut is to die for. The snow surrounding it is pristine and beautiful. And the movie was shot in a boiling Los Angeles in the middle of summer.
Magic and Christmas go together, as well they should. The films I mentioned appeal to all ages, because adults need magic in their dull lives as much as children do. I’ve never lost the feeling of excitement and expectation that comes with Christmas. I suppose it’s because of the nine years I spent in boarding school, when Christmas meant liberation from the drudgery of learning. This is why I hate modern movies with the passion that I do. Today, even cartoons from the Disney Channel with animated characters make crass and nasty comments. While parents try to instill principles of kindness, politeness, and respect to the little ones, movies give them a regular dose of horrible bloodshed, vulgar swearing, and unspeakable violence.
And with the advent of the internet, things have gotten far, far worse. Christmas offers a wonderful illusion of community and love of fellow man, and it’s been around for quite a long time. Let’s keep it this way. A very happy Christmas to you all.