Monday, November 26, 2007
I am going to lay the whole genre of "Christmas Movie" at the feet of Charles Dickens. If Dickens didn't write A Christmas Carol, I am sure someone else would have. The sheer endurance of the story proves how it resonates with our human experience and desire.
A Christmas Carol seems to be the prototype of what I have come to think of as the "Christmas Miracle Story." These are the stories where some unknown "force" (sometimes an angel, but often undefined) is the instigator of a series of events that creates a miraculous change in the protagonist. In A Christmas Carol, we could say that the force is Marley, but Marley actually seems to be more an actor in the bigger drama involving not only Marley but the other ghosts. This miraculous appearance by Marley and the other ghosts and the journey through time, cause, what we are supposed to believe, is an enduring change in the character, in this case, Scrooge. This enduring change makes Scrooge's life so much more wonderful and productive. And, in turn, we are to believe that this type of miracle could happen for us.
One variation on this is the "Replay the Day" movie. Here, the miracle is the opportunity for a "do over" on the day and try to get the whole "Christmas Thing" right. Through the miracle of redoing the day, the person learns the "true" meaning of Christmas. In these, especially, we often do not know what or who the causative "force" is, nor do we know why this particular person is chosen to be the recipient of this miracle. The recipient of the miracle is usually someone that we can relate to but the behavior is usually much more pronounced. But in relating to the character, we can again, on some level, believe that a miracle like this could happen to us.
Then there are the "Change of Heart" movies. The House Without a Christmas Tree in which an embittered father finally sees that even though his wife is dead, his daughter still lives on, is one of these movies. In these movies, there is a miraculous moment at Christmas when the grief shatters and the "wonder" of Christmas is allowed to shine through. The past is allowed to become the past and the present takes on a new immediacy. Of course, we are to believe that this new insight will live on and the characters will now live "happily ever after." Of course, we are left with the feeling that if we can just "break through" we too can find this immediacy and vitality in life.
I don't know if you can have a Christmas movie without this miracle motif. Granted, in the Christian tradition, the whole thing started with a miracle. Hanukkah involves a miraculous saving of a people. Even the Saturnalia festivals were to invoke a miraculous fertility in plants and people. And this motif even spills over into the secular in the form of Santa and his miraculous trip around the world by a miraculous means of propulsion.
What is unfortunate is that this sets us up to expect the miraculous during the Christmas season. We expect to have great things happen. We expect to have great breakthroughs with those around us. We expect to have wonderful things happen. And then when they don't, I know I feel, in some form, cheated. If miraculous things can happen to these "everyday" people, why can't they happen to us?
Well, even so, I am not going to stop watching A Christmas Carol or The Polar Express or The 12 Days of Christmas Eve or Miracle on 34th Street or even The Grinch. I am going to watch them, and I am going to keep dreaming that my Christmas miracle will occur too!