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It’s A Wonderful Life: Why George Bailey Never Left Bedford Falls

 "Now, we can get through this thing all right. We've got to stick together, though. We've got to have faith in each other."

“Now, we can get through this thing all right. We’ve got to stick together, though. We’ve got to have faith in each other.”

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. – Proverbs 13:12

You need to see It’s A Wonderful Life and you need to see it immediately.  It’s difficult for me to understand how an American citizen can successfully dodge this most classic of films.  What heroic lengths one must go to avoid their television during the Christmas season.  This is a film that receives near universal praise from the viewing public, and is a staple of the American Christmas tradition.  Every year, NBC ritualistically plays It’s A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve night to be shared by all in the land.  If you haven’t seen it, do so at your nearest convenience and don’t bother reading any further.

Today I’m writing to my old Building & Loan pals about a subject that I personally haven’t seen addressed in my perusing of internet articles and discussion boards.  Everyone knows that George Bailey wanted to leave Bedford Falls to see the world.  Walking home after the high school dance George says to Mary:

I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…

Of course, we know that George never does any of those things.  And as far as we’re told, George never even leaves town.  It’s like he’s living his own version of The Truman Show where forces have worked to keep him from stepping foot outside the borders of his little bubble.  A man with strong desires to move up and out from his place of origin is destined to stay put indefinitely.   How can this be?  If George Bailey wants out so badly, what’s preventing him from getting his wish?  Time and time again he has an opportunity to leave, but extenuating circumstances seem to beat him back like a pebble getting pushed onto shore by relentless crashing waves.  Poor George, right?  Well, maybe not.  And that is what I want to talk about.  Did George Bailey have to stay in Bedford Falls, and what do his actions reveal about the deeper desires of his heart?

The way I see it, there are 7 critical moments where George could have chosen a different path, allowing him to leave town to pursue his dreams.  I’ll cover them quickly for you.

  1. Pa Bailey’s Death: When George’s father dies he chooses to forgo a trip to Europe in favor of taking care of his father’s business.
  2. Potter Moves to Dissolve the Building & Loan: Mr. Potter tries to convince the board that Bedford Falls no longer needs the B&L.  George gives an impassioned speech about his father’s character and the reasons why his fellow citizens need the B&L to continue.  The board decides that if George stays on they will keep the business alive.  George chooses to give up college and lets his brother Harry go in his stead.
  3. Harry Gets Married & Breaks His Promise: When Harry returns from college, George learns that he has a wife and a new career.  Unfortunately, the plan was that Harry would take over for George, giving him the chance to get an education and leave Bedford Falls.  George chooses not to make a fuss and, though we don’t see the exchange, it appears that he doesn’t hold Harry to his original agreement.
  4. The Ground Floor in Plastics: This one is easily overshadowed by the loving embrace that follows, but when Sam Wainwright offers George an opportunity to get in on plastics, he effectively misses an opportunity to make a fortune.  Sam even acknowledges that George turned him down in a later scene for the sake of sticking by the B&L.
  5. George Marries Mary: Now, this might be somewhat controversial for lovers of the film, but I see George’s marriage as another choice that results in him staying in town.  Consider how fiercely he tries to resist his attraction to her.  He knows that marrying Mary is another tie to Bedford Falls and another step away from the free life he wanted to live.
  6. The Bank Run: During the Great Depression, the citizens of Bedford Falls panic and rush to the bank to withdraw their funds.  Those who have money at the B&L want George to give them everything they have, but George reminds them that it doesn’t work that way.  He sacrifices his honeymoon and $2,000 of his own money to keep the B&L open.  He could have ignored it all and went on his honeymoon, or he could have let the B&L collapse.  But he fought to keep it open, choosing to stay tied down to it.
  7. Potter Offers George A Job: If you can’t beat ’em join ’em.  Mr. Potter realizes that he would be better off paying George Bailey a fortune (about $300,000 a year in today’s money) than competing with him any longer.  George quickly realizes that he can’t accept this deal with the Devil and storms out of the building.  He chooses to stay with the B&L, giving up his last chance to be a rich world traveler.

You could look at all of these things as external factors that prevent George from pursuing his dreams, but at the end of the day it’s critical to realize that George made a choice at every critical juncture.  If he wanted to get out more than anything else he would have left to visit Europe after attending his father’s funeral.  Even if he stayed a while, he could have let the board dissolve the B&L.  He could have fought with Harry to keep him in Bedford Falls, and so on and so forth.  Yet, George Bailey stays in a town he wants to leave and works at a job that robs him of his dreams.  There must be something greater below the surface.

All you can take with you is that which you've given away

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away”

Above all else, George Bailey is driven by the love he has for his father.  Consider every major choice he makes.  Every choice he makes reflects a desire to uphold his father’s “high ideals” and image.  His whole life plays out in his shadow.  He has the same job, co-workers, passion to serve his community, and even the same enemy in Mr. Potter.  George wants to live his own life, but he ends up living his father’s life.  He lives for his father.  Before facing the frightened and angry crowd, George takes a moment to look at his father’s picture.  Underneath it says, “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”  This is the core belief of George’s father, and the core belief that George adopts throughout the film.

The reason George almost kills himself is that he has lived according to his father’s ideals without experiencing the gratification promised by them.  George has given himself away: his dreams, his money, his pride.  But when he is faced with jail-time and scandal and ruin, he looks back at a life lived for others as a complete waste.  Not only has he wasted his life, he has come to believe that his father was wrong.  Perhaps that terrible belief, the belief that his father was a fool who led him to a life of ruin, is what really made him want to jump into that icy water.  The man who taught him right from wrong becomes unreliable.  Mr. Potter, who tells George that he’s worth more dead than alive, now has more credibility.  Mr. Potter tells George what he already fears, that his life of sacrifice for the benefit of others was in vain.  All evidence points to the falsehood that his father now represents.

If not for divine intervention, George would have killed himself, and Mr. Potter would have viewed the whole affair as an affirmation of his warped worldview.  The true turning point comes when George turns to another father for help.

Clarence, a guardian angel,  is sent to show him the value of his life by giving him a glimpse of what the world would be like without him.  George is brought to a point where he desperately wants to live again, and God gives George his life back, but not as it was before.  All of the people that he sacrificed for, all of the hope deferred to give hope to others finally comes back in a joyous celebration of George’s worth within the community.  Now it’s clear that his life was not a waste, and that his father is worthy of all the love and respect George lived to give.

Within all of us is this conflict between our desires and beliefs.  George wanted to see the world and do great big things, but his beliefs about his father and the work he did caused George to deny his dreams.  He served his community through the Building & Loan, all the while keeping Mr. Potter from harming the town.  When it appeared that he had denied himself for no good reason, George despaired at the thought of a wasted life lived in the shadow of a fool.  But the reality of God, the ultimate source of the meaning both George and his father lived for, redeemed the whole story.  The focal point of George Bailey’s life is his father, and the linchpin of It’s A Wonderful Life is God the Father.

So Merry Christmas you wonderful old Building & Loan!

Our Evil Santa

Ornaments are one of the many bits of wonderful that make this Christmas season special.  Many of us share in the tradition of hanging these little gems on our trees every year.  Perhaps, like me, you made a few ornaments as a child, and even though they may not be the most attractive pieces of art, they’re full of heart and memory.  Every year they have to go up, or it simply wouldn’t be your Christmas tree.  I want to share with you another kind of Christmas decoration that must hang on my tree.  It wasn’t made by any hands I know, and it wasn’t a gift from someone special.  Store bought and unattractive,  Evil Santa is a Christmas tradition in the Lavallee household.

He hangs in the back of the tree, watching...waiting...

He hangs in the back of the tree, watching…waiting…

 

He comes from New York City in the year 1973.  My parents bought him while on their honeymoon.  Though we can’t know for sure, witness accounts seem to point to an origin of Macy’s Department Store.  I believe he was actually purchased from a mysterious street merchant, but that’s conjecture.  Wherever the true origin, my parents took him home and hung him on their first Christmas tree.  It’s this meaningful origin that solidified Evil Santa’s position on the Lavallee tree, and it’s what granted him his decades long tenure.  That being said, we all hate him.

Evil Santa goes up every year, but he goes in the same spot: at the back of the tree.  He needs to be there, but no one wants to look at him.  He creeps us out.  Beyond the troubling gaze and an undeniable devil-may-care approach to grooming, Evil Santa is completely naked under that red suit.  His makers decided to include an anatomically correct butt and exclude appropriate undergarments.  It’s bizarre and highly suspect.

Despite all of these undesirable qualities, I have to admit that I do have a tiny bit of affection for the dirty old man.  It has become family tradition to hang him on the back of the tree as we remark how much we dislike him.  But really, I don’t think we hate Evil Santa.  He’s ours after all.  Just another one of the many bits of wonderful that make this Christmas season special.

Nate King’s Unconventional Christmas Movie List

By Nate King

Over the holidays most sit down to a prescribed dose of traditional Christmas movie cheer. I, like anyone, have my own list of films that usually wind up getting watched every season. Classics like A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Family Vacation and Elf (Yeah it’s a classic, don’t fight me on this) are watched without fail at least once every November/December.

However I’ve discovered another list of films, films that don’t seem to be recognized quite so often under the average persons category of “Christmas movie”, yet ones which also find their way into my home the same time every year. This is a list of all those movies, and believe it or not they are all Christmas movies.

1. Die Hard 1 and 2

It’s reasonable to assume this list owes it’s entire existence to these first two films. I only noticed this unconventional Christmas habit after discovering just how often Die Hard had been watched in my home each season. It’s also the first out-of-the-ordinary Christmas film I remember watching and it would be foolish to think it hasn’t lead to others. See, my mom apparently has a thing for manly men solving the worlds problems with guns, which must have made John McClane a particular attraction of hers, because every year without fail me and my mom have wound up in front of the TV watching Die Hard together. A Christmas party turned hostage situation laced with one man’s pain and sacrifice for the good of his soon to be ex-wife. What could be more seasonal? And the sequel, sure it’s pretty bad but it only follows naturally, what do you expect us to do; not watch it?

2. Lethal Weapon

Murtough and Riggs: Two cops with only one thing in common, a hate for working in pairs. It’s the story of two of the most dissimilar people on the planet being forced together over the holidays and having to make the best of it. It’s like every family Christmas gathering you’ve ever been to! Throw in a climax leg choke-hold in a jollied up, Christmas lit, suburban neighborhood and you’ve got yourself a Yuletide classic. Bonus points for direction by Richard Donner.

3. Road to Perdition

One of my favorite films of all time. I suppose it’s less a habit of watching this one during the Christmas season than it is watching it all year round, which happens to include the Christmas season. A Christmastime tale of family love, loyalty, and betrayal, all leading up to the greatest use of a Tommy gun in cinema history. Good and evil archetypes are woven into a simple yet seamless story, while every frame remains purposefully shot, and every actor (including my Hombre) chomps away at the chilly set pieces. Set in the winter of 1931 it’s an incredibly moving examination of the powerful relationship between father and son. You know who else was a father and son? God and Jesus.

4. Fellowship of the Ring

The greatest of all three of The Lord of the Rings films. Never let anyone tell you different, and don’t dare refute me. The series holiday release schedule may have sparked its position on this list, but this film’s particular tear-jerking execution of the books greatest promises: themes of friendship, love, sacrifice and death, ensure its survival in the dvd player throughout the cold winter months. You shall not pass through the season without watching this movie at least once.

5. The Proposition

Perhaps the greatest western made in the past decade, it’s not a western at all. Or is it? Well it’s not, but wait – then again – you’re wrong – it is! Get what I mean? Set in the Australian outback it’s far from anywhere that the word “western” might be applicable as a descriptor, just the same it exemplifies the genre keeping all the bells and whistles, style and substance that one would associate with Sergio Leone himself. This tale follows an alienated brother of outlaws as he seeks redemption for himself and his youngest sibling, all the while paralleling the life of an English law enforcement officer struggling to protect and provide for his wife during the Christmas season, in one of the least Christmasy places on earth.

6. In Bruges

One of my new favorites and an instant Christmas classic. Set in Bruges over the holiday, two assassins wrestle over the soul of a young man. A story revolving around judgment and death, it’s themes garner bonus points for intricate reflection upon the concepts of heaven and hell, right and wrong and the true origins of Christmas, Christ and our relation to him.

7.The Bourne Identity

It’s the classic scrooge tale, following a botched mission causing him to lose his memory, a once brainwashed super soldier so deeply enmeshed in the CIA covert ops system only one man knows he’s on our side is forced to come face to face with the reality of just who and what he is, and change his ways in light of the holiday season. It’s a tragic tale concerning lost identity and found purpose, and leads us to one of the greatest questions of our own lives; just who are we really and what is it we’re fighting for? When the Christmas season rolls around are we the person who finds it better to give, or receive?

8. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

A throwback to film noir’s golden days, it’s a detective comedy set in LA narrated by Robert Downy Jr. A crazy Christmas caper with Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas hats and other Christmas doodads filling up scenes from the same writer as Lethal Weapon. And Val Kilmer as “Gay Perry”.

9. Batman Returns

I really don’t see the need to explain this one. It’s Christmastime Batman with working Bat-presents. However I will defend its greatness. It’s a film that accepts its established character to such an extent its focus shifts entirely to the villains. A number of movies could learn a thing or two from this film. And it hosts the greatest performance of Michelle Pfeiffer’s life.

10. The Iron Giant

There’s a theory floating around that I created this film myself, and that somewhere in the post development process I simply hit my head so hard I, and every other member of the cast, crew and production just plain forgot. It only stands to reason because it encapsulates everything I love about everything so well. Don’t let my own biases fool you however, it’s an incredibly affecting modern day feature that everyone is sure to enjoy. Despite floundering at the box office upon release, it is one of the most intelligent science fiction movies in recent years, perfectly satirizing the militaristic fear of its 1950’s McCarthyite backdrop. It’s the heart wrenching tale of a boy and his giant weaponized space-invading robot who, with the help of Superman, learns the value of pacifism. Love, fear and sacrifice culminate in this epic story to tell us, We Are Who We Choose To Be.

11. Fargo

There is so much snow. So. Much. Snow.  It only seemed fitting to end this list with another movie I first experienced with my mother. The overwhelming parka use is enough of a reason to turn this movie on during a brisk winter night, but it’s important to know going in that the comforting images of bundled cast members are the best this movie has to offer in the way of making you feel all warm and tingly inside… well that and Frances McDormand. A wood-chipper? A wood-chipper???

Honorable Mention

Gremlins. It fell out of the loop a long time ago. It’d be a lie to say I still appreciate it the way you can argue I should. But those things are creepy man.

Super Honorable Mention

Superman The Movie (1978). Please, what list wouldn’t this movie be on? Lets hear it for the greatest portrayal of the person everyone should aspire to be, ever. No not the guy with superpowers who turns back time, the guy who puts everyone else before himself and who always finds time to recognize the partnership with his fellow man. “Don’t thank me warden, we’re all part of the same team.”

Additional Credit to: Nate King

Special Thanks: Nate King

The Real Santa

When I was 8 years old I heard something in the living room after everyone had gone to bed, and for one more year I believed in him.

I spent a good portion of today wrapping presents: gifts for nephews and nieces, siblings, parents, and fiancées.  When it was all done, and I had cleaned up the extra paper, I looked at the gifts all stacked together.  In that moment I remembered a time when I truly believed that not all gifts came from Mom and Dad, but also from a magical old man who wished for me and the other children of the world to have extra happiness on Christmas.  I recall the sense of wonder on Christmas Eve as I imagined Santa flying all over that strange world I knew so little about, and feeling that tingle of joy at the thought of him stopping at my house.  Every Christmas morning I found evidence of his fantastic visitation.  Always there were a few presents from Santa – the real Santa.

I was never told directly that Santa wasn’t a real person.  That fact came gradually as I came to understand the world in which I inhabited.  For sure, it didn’t help that my siblings were significantly older and far beyond their child-like belief.  Perhaps they did little to reinforce the story or assure me that my doubts were unfounded.  My young peers would discuss whether or not the jolly old elf actually existed, and it became increasingly difficult to believe.

How could he do it all in one night?

What about poor children?

What about kids who don’t celebrate Christmas?

What about houses that don’t have chimneys?

The questions mounted, and belief gave way to reason.  At the tender age of 7, Santa ceased to exist.  That is, until Christmas Eve the following year.

When I was 8 years old I heard something in the living room after everyone had gone to bed, and for one more year I believed in him.  I opened my door to see if my parents were out there, but they seemed to be fast asleep.  The living room was filled with presents along with that special joy found only on Christmas.  Perhaps Santa did exist.  At that moment I decided that I would believe in the man once again.  It wasn’t the kind of evidence that would hold up in court, but for an 8 year old longing to believe, it was all the proof I needed.  The real Santa was alive.

Now I buy the gifts, and I see behind the scenes.  Santa is me, and he is you.   He is a symbol for giving and kindness.  To some he is a mere secular distraction— a myth perpetuated by corporations and parents looking for another way to keep their kids in line.  To others he is a harmless holiday icon.  But who cares what we think?   Santa isn’t real to us.

We would do well to ask the children who the real Santa is.

They know.

True Christmas

There are two Christmases, and one is greater than the other.

Almost everyone celebrates Christmas in this country; from the Christians to the atheists.  Christmas, as it exists today, does not demand faith in a savior.  It is simply a time of giving and cheer.  It’s a time to sing the same songs and watch the same movies and eat the same foods.  In America, Christmas is a national holiday more than it is a religious one.  So when we speak about it, we should distinguish between the two.

I keep hearing how Christmas was stolen from some ancient pagan festival.  This is true.  The end of December marks the time when the days begin to grow longer.  It is the beginning of nature’s rebirth. This occasion was celebrated with much feasting and gift giving.  At some point in history, Christians adopted this date as the time to celebrate the birth of Christ.  I don’t know why.  They probably had a good reason.  But it’s important to recognize that Christmas, in its festive form, has its origins with the pagans.  No one knows exactly when Jesus was born.  Scholars are confident that it was not during winter.  It’s just an arbitrary date to celebrate something that is true every day.

Secular Christmas has many admirable qualities.  It encourages peace and charity.  The peace it preaches is between men.  The charity it preaches is benevolent giving to the needy.  These are both good things, and secular Christmas has a lot to be proud of.  It brings families together in celebration of themselves.  It brings joy to people, and especially children, with the exchanging of gifts.  It adds warmth to a dark cold winter.  But secular Christmas, even with all of its wonderful qualities, can’t rise any higher than humanity.  It can’t point to anything greater than the human spirit.

Christmas, in its true form, points to something far greater than the human spirit.  It points to Almighty God, who took on weak and finite flesh for the sake of redeeming the world He loved.  The real Christmas is not about how good we can be, but about how good God is.

For many, Christmas is about celebrating family.  But what about those who have no family, or who suffer the pains of having a broken one?  True Christmas celebrates the reconciliation of God and His children.  True Christmas reminds the world that through faith in Jesus Christ, all people can call God, Father.  And even the most damaged relationships can find healing from the One who cured the blind and raised the dead.

For many, Christmas is about spreading peace on earth.  But how can those without true peace in their hearts ever hope to spread it?  True Christmas celebrates the birth of the Prince of Peace.  The One who knew the sorry and wretched state of our hearts more than anyone, chose to be born into poverty so that He could mature as a man and sacrifice His life in order to pay for the sins of His people.  The reality of sin is separation from God, and Jesus Christ shed His blood to free us from the guilty bondage of sin, which makes it possible to have peace in our hearts.  Once we have peace, we can give it to our brothers and sisters.

Charity can mean benevolent giving, or it can mean unconditional love.  Giving to the poor and  hungry is a good and right practice.  But what are you giving them?  Are you giving them food and money?  These are both needed in this world, but what happens tomorrow when the food runs out and the money disappears?   Is this all we can give them?  The Christmas centered on Christ celebrates the greatest gift of love the world has ever known.  You see, everyone in this world is needy.  We all need to be physically sustained.  But we also need to be loved.  A heart open to God’s unconditional love will overflow and fill the cups of the needy.  True charity is able to satisfy the deepest hunger pangs of the most famished spirit.  Charity began at Christmas.

 

This year, as you celebrate Christmas in your own way, I want you to consider which Christmas you are celebrating.   Is your Christmas praising the glory of the human spirit, or is it praising the glory of a God who loves us more than we even dare to imagine?

Many gifts are given at Christmas.  Which have you received?

The Subtle Heart of A Christmas Story

 

A Christmas Story is a holiday classic.  It plays for twenty-four hours straight on TBS every year.  People love it, and for good reasons.   It is hilarious.  It is comforting.  It is a Christmas tradition.  But there is an aspect of A Christmas Story that I have never heard mentioned before.  Today I would like to address it.

At the heart of this film is a loving family.  They are silly characters, but they are endearing because they love each other.  You can see it in the way they interact.  I’ve seen families who interact with such a heightened tension that, to an outsider, the air becomes heavy and oppressive.  A family of anxious actors is hardly an indication of love.  On the contrary,  I’ve experienced the love between families who feel no need to put on a facade.  I consider myself lucky to be a member of such a family.  In such a loving environment you find much laughter accompanied by uninhibited feeling and brutal honesty.  Such transparency can only exist in the presence of love.  A loving family is an institution of grace and truth built on a firm foundation of love.

Did you ever consider what led to Ralphie getting his BB Gun for Christmas?  Surely, his mother discussed it with his father.  She must have told him that it was too dangerous.  But his father must have known how much Ralphie desired the gift, and he considered the joy it would bring him.  In the scene where Ralphie finally gets the gun, his father asks him, “Did you get everything you wanted?”  Ralphie replies with a sigh, “Almost.”    The father then says, “Almost huh, well, that’s life.”   The father knows that you can’t get everything you want in life, but he loves his son and wants to bring him joy.  Watch his reaction when Ralphie opens his present.  He can hardly contain his happiness at the sight of his son’s joy.  It reminds me of the Bible verse that says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

The next time you watch A Christmas Story, look for the body language between the parents.  You’ll be surprised to find how affectionate they are.  It’s subtle, but it’s undeniable.  What I really want you to notice is the final scene where the mother walks downstairs to the father who is sitting in a chair and watching the snow.   With their children resting peacefully upstairs, they share a moment.  I’m touched by how the father gently rubs the mother’s back.  Now, Ralphie never saw this happen, but I like to think that as an adult he recognized the relationship his parents shared.  Not only did they provide him with shelter and food and clothes, but also an illustration of love.

A Christmas Story touches our hearts because it is brimming over with love.

 

 

My Five Favorite Christmas Movies

Christmastime is a special time. Songs about snow and presents and Santa and Jesus play on the radio.  Lights adorn the bushes and gutters of homes and offices.  Decorations fill our shelves and ornaments hang from evergreens.  But even among these holiday staples, one tradition outshines them all..

The Watching of Christmas Movies.

Over these past twenty-four years, I have developed a special affection for a few particular holiday films.  The following five are most precious to me.

#5-   The Homecoming aka The Walton’s Christmas (1971)

This began as sort of a joke in my family.  My mom bought it because she liked it, but my brother and sister would make fun of it.  Nevertheless, we watched it every year.  Over time, I began to develop a liking for the film.  After all, the main character is a young man who wants to be a writer during the Great Depression.  The people are simple, and it paints a picture of a time in America long passed.  On Christmas Eve, John Boy (the aspiring writer) goes on a secret mission to find his father who has not returned home from his job.  The father works far away, and only comes home on the weekends.  When news is heard of a bus overturning along the route the father takes home, John Boy’s mother becomes fearful of the worst-case scenario.  We learn that John Boy is struggling to become a man in the eyes of his father, so this journey becomes a symbol for his passage into manhood.    The film is filled with a number of touching scenes.  My favorite involves a talk between John Boy and his mother about how he doesn’t think he could ever become a writer.  This makes it into the top five due to its warmth, purity, and likeable characters.  And it led to the long-running series, The Waltons.

#4-  The Nativity Story (2006)

Before seeing this, I was skeptical.  My thought was that it would be a watered-down version of the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth.  I am pleased to say that I was very wrong.  Sure, it’s not word for word the story told in the Bible, but it presents the story without shying away from Jesus’ divinity through the virgin birth and Mary’s humanity.  In fact, what I like most about this film is the way Mary and Joseph are portrayed.  They are poor and simple people who love God, and trust Him even through difficulties.  One of my favorite lines comes from Joseph.  He is traveling with his pregnant wife to Bethlehem, and while they are resting by a small fire he says to Mary, “I wonder if I will be able to teach him anything.”  This is such a wonderful line, since we know that Jesus will become a carpenter like Joseph.  Another great line also comes from Joseph when he passes the temple in Jerusalem.  It has become a place of trade and corruption.  Joseph says to Mary, “This was meant to be a holy place.”  Jesus would return years later to declare, “You have made my Father’s house a marketplace!”   The end of this film, the birth of Christ, gives God glory as He is the greatest gift of love the world has ever known.

#3 –Scrooge (1970)

This is the musical Scrooge starring Albert Finney.  A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, has been made into at least a dozen different movies.  My family has them all, and we watch them every year.  There’s the Alistair Sim, and the George C. Scott, and the Muppet, and the Mickey, and the Patrick Stewart, and the Reginald Owen etc etc…  I think they’re all great, but they aren’t quite as special as Scrooge.  The movie itself is entertaining and full of catchy songs.  But the real reason it’s so high on my list is the special place this film has with my parents.  On Christmas night, 1970, my parents saw this in the theater.  They were only dating at the time.  A few years ago I had planned to watch it a few weeks before Christmas, but my father stopped it.  He said that it was too early to watch this one.  To him, this film has a special meaning.  He never said it plainly, but I know that this is the one Christmas movie that really means something to him because it is the one he saw with my mother while they were young and just starting out.

#2- A Christmas Story (1983)

I haven’t known a Christmas without A Christmas Story.  This funny and heartwarming film has such a place in my family’s Christmas tradition, it feels like a piece of home.  Every time we went to cut our tree someone would always say, “Hell, this ain’t no tree” or “Darn thing looks like it was made of green pipe cleaners.”  Our holiday dialogue is rich with Jean Shepherd’s wonderful lines.  If you haven’t seen this, or if you don’t like it, I can’t understand how that is possible.  It’s hilarious and brilliant.  It’s indescribably beautiful.  It reminds me of the fourth of July!

#1- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

“No man is a failure who has friends.”

This film is a masterpiece.  It is the story of a man who had great dreams, but had to sacrifice them for the good of others.  Everything he ever wanted was denied him.  Yet along the way he touched the lives of many.  On Christmas Eve, at the end of his rope, he stands on a bridge ready to take his own life.  Only by God’s intervention is he saved and redeemed.  He is shown that with great love, no life is meaningless.

Wonderfully acted, beautifully scripted, and masterfully directed, It’s a Wonderful Life is a gift to humanity.  It reminds us to have faith, perseverance, and hope.  It reminds us that even the mundane aspects of life are invaluable.

Christmas celebrates the existence of love and hope.  It’s a Wonderful Life points us to both.