The Joys of Christmas (Part I)

Contrary to what some may say, I am not a “Scrooge”.  I like Christmas as much as the next guy and therefore using the transitive property I also enjoy a good Christmas movie.  However, I do not fall for blind Christmas cheer like many people do, and when a film spreads this optimistic gospel, I perhaps become a little too critical of its message.  I tell you now that I am a committed pessimist, much like someone might be a Democrat or a Republican.  However, despite my disdain for the “Holly Jolly Christmas”, I can enjoy a heartfelt, cheery, Christmas movie to warm my spirit.  I like sentiment, but I don’t like sap.  I like joy, but I don’t like blind cheer just because of the season.  I like Santa Clause, but I find it tiresome whenever a child pulls off his beard (or attempts to pull off his beard).  I love a Christmas comedy, but don’t find it funny when directors use Christmas as a time to make cheap jokes that wouldn’t work in a mainstream movie.  So, as you can see, I find myself somewhat suspicious, yet willing in regards to Christmas movies.  I think the best Christmas films manifest themselves in movies that are not even really true Christmas movies.  I enjoy movies where Christmas is the subtext of the action, not the context.  Truly, these films could be watched at any time of year with the same amount of enjoyment and not the least bit of shame on the part of the viewer; they just happen to be set at or around the Holiday season.  Unfortunately, most movies about this time of year have a certain specificity to the season and derive the propellant for their many gags and episodes from the numerous traditions and festivities that take place on December 25th.  Who can honestly say that they wouldn’t feel the least bit embarrassed watching such season-particular films as Christmas With the Kranks or Jingle All the Way?

The types of Holiday movies that connect with me the best tend to have a certain edge to them or a hint of reality.  Take perhaps the most beloved Christmas film of all time: It’s a Wonderful Life.  Here we have a genuinely delightful movie (which also by the way, only endeavors to be a Christmas movie in perhaps the last fifteen minutes of its runtime) that everyone thinks of as an innocent, perfectly harmless tale of joy and love and cheer.  And this is of course true for the most part.  But let us analyze this for a moment beneath its epidermis just for the sake of this composition: in truth the movie centers on a young man called George Bailey caught in a seemingly inescapable crisis of both his financial well-being and the microcosm of his family.  It’s a fairly sad and depressing situation that is very true to how many down-and-out people feel when the Christmas season comes around.  They look around and see everyone else sharing turkey with their families, singing carols in the streets, dropping small coins into a red Salvation Army box, and then they look at themselves and think, “What’s it all about?” Many of them probably come to the conclusion (like the aforementioned George Bailey) that life has simply lost its luster and ultimately find themselves giving up and deciding not to live anymore.  Of course It’s a Wonderful Life makes a comeback from this bleak outlook on life and (this film being directed by the Great Optimist himself, Frank Capra) turns this all around with a happy and inspiring ending.  However, despite all of the Hollywood and Capra influence on this gloriously lovable motion picture, the film does deal with a sad and very real part of life.  It is no coincidence that the suicide rate rises a noticeable degree in the month of December.

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