Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A reflection on Christmas movies

My old theory on Christmas movies was that there have only ever been 2 true Christmas movies written:  1. Miracle on 34th Street and 2. It’s a Wonderful Life.

The first is a transformative story of doubt brought on by modern day “sophistication” that clouds the values of love and charity.  It challenges our modern conformist views of what is “normal” and dares us to “think bigger” and consider alternatives that might not seem to be the most logical, but are almost always the most obvious.  The general moral of the story is that we try so hard to find an explanation for something that we more often than not lose track of the value of something.  Some old man thinks he’s Santa Claus so he must be crazy or dangerous, rather than merely a sweet old man who is trying to spread some cheer (or even the real deal).  The incessant drive for an explanation destroys the goodness and charity inherent in his disposition and actions and creates a circus around the man rather than an emulation of or belief in the ideal.  The “Santa” character can be democracy, or Jesus, or a politician, or any number of other persons who represent something bigger than himself.  Most recently Tim Allen’s “The Santa Claus” series has repeated “Miracle’s” story line.

The second is a story of redemption where the primary character doesn’t realize what wealth he really has.  He always wants something bigger but never has the opportunity to take that big chance, or when the chance is offered isn’t quite willing to take the risk that stepping out of his little pond would involve.  Something happens and he falls into some sort of trouble and he becomes discouraged, then there is an intervention—generally divine, but not always—and the hero’s eyes are opened up to what wealth he really possesses.  A Charlie Brown Christmas falls into this category.

As I was thinking about this, however, I realized that this is not exactly correct.

I originally considered Dickens’ “A Christmas Tale” in its own separate category of high literature that is copied and emulated on its own.  However, the truth is that the “It’s a Wonderful Life” story is merely a riff on Dickens’ story in that Scrooge is a rich man of means turned poor turned wealthy where George is a rich man of no means turned poor turned wealthy.  Additionally, without specifically introducing the “Santa” character, Dickens does introduce the ideal of year-round charity and possessing the spirit of the holiday within you even when the calendar says there are 300 shopping days until Christmas.

So, in actuality there are NOT 2 Christmas stories ever written, there is only 1 Christmas story ever written with 2 distinct descendents reflecting different aspects of the story.  Every other “Christmas” movie (Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, even The Christmas Story) is merely a movie set at Christmas time.

So next year when 24 hours of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is showing and 24 hours of “The Christmas Story” is showing on TBS, remember that the heritage of these movies is nothing less than Dickens himself, and if you want to give your brain a dose of high literature you can either watch (or, [gasp] read) Dickens’ legendary tale or watch BOTH of the descendents of his legendary work.  Anything less would simply be disrespectful and Santa will hit you with a block of coal.


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