If you wanted to – that is to say, if there was something wrong with you – you could find a Christmas themed movie to watch every day of Advent. Each day you would open up a sickly sweet gooey gob of sentimentality (with the occasionally bitterly cynical nugget thrown in) and, depending on your nature, would either sneer in derision or sit, sniffling great snorting snotty tears. Most Christmas movies, as you can tell from my analysis, suck.
There are gems of course – often bittersweet pieces about personal redemption that may or may not require angelic or ghostly intervention, but generally can be watched as a life lesson about family, community and the role of good people in making the world a better place. White Christmas, for example, is completely without any kind of mysticism but is thoroughly uplifting – and a lot of fun, too. Its central theme is loyalty, between friends but on a larger stage as well.
On a more serious note, there is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the story of Harry Bailey and his struggle to support his family and make his community a better place. In this he faces the grasping banker, Potter, the very stereotype of the evil capitalist. One might think that Frank Capra, who directed it was some sort of socialist, but you would be wrong. Capra was a lifelong Republican who strongly opposed The New Deal and believed deeply in the American Dream. In fact, most of his movies were about how that dream had been suffocated by corrupt governments and evil rich people. As a conservative, Capra recognized that the American way of life depended on people being able to get ahead and that anything that prevented that – like excessive income inequality and monopoly capitalism – was a blight on the landscape. It’s a Wonderful Life is a paean to American capitalism – writ small – rather than a criticism of it.
A Christmas Carol – perhaps the most produced Christmas story ever with everything from serious renditions with Alistair Sims or Patrick Stewart to more frivolous examples like the Muppets or Scrooged with Bill Murray – is a slightly different kettle of fish. Dickens, while not much of a human being at a personal level, was a great reformer, viewing the excesses of the industrial revolution and the rising power of individual wealth as a danger not simply to society but to our humanity. He struggled in his writing and his personal campaigns to uncover the worst excesses of capitalism in early nineteenth century England. It is notable that Dickens relies on ghosts rather than angels to do his dirty work; he had a certain skepticism regarding the role of the Church – especially the high Anglican one – to actually make things better.
Rather, Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who are given the task of giving him three basic lessons, which can be simply stated as these:
- No man is an island – everyone owes their wellbeing to those who went before and those who helped them; before anything, we are part of a community.
- Hoarded money does no-one any good, not even the hoarder; we are all human and misery is ultimately shared, as is joy.
- Money will not buy you happiness or a way into heaven and, if you are foolish about it, will not even buy you comfort or pleasure.
So there you have it. Christmas in a nutshell, whether you are a conservative or a progressive. Community, sharing and a beautiful dream.
And that’s ten minutes.