So, in case you didn’t know, I grew up with Christmas. My dad is even one of those Bill O’Reilly “War on Christmas” guys. I love everything about Christmas: the carols, the pageantry, the food, the eggnog and most especially the tree. Each year when I was growing up, just like out of some wacky sitcom, my family would pick out a tree that was too big. Too big to tie to the top of the car, too big to fit into our ridiculously rickety tree stand. My dad would swear a lot the day we brought home the tree. But somehow my mom would always make it work. She had a handmade skirt that she always tied around the tree as the first order of business. Then we would listen to a TERRIBLE record of Christmas carols by, I believe, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, as we decorated the tree. The worst song was called “Christmas Tree”, a cheesy, 80’s style ballad, complete with a 40 year old woman pretending to be a six-year-old girl. “ChhhhrrriiissstttmmAAAAS TTTRREEEE!!!”, she would sing, in what was supposed to be the winningly off-key style of an adorable little girl, but in reality was a banshee wail which would send our family pets running into another room in terror. Ah, memories.
My husband is Jewish and one of the things I gave up for loving him was Christmas. I do get a few things: I get to take our children to The Nutcracker and each year I watch “A Wonderful Life”, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. Inevitably, it makes me emotional for several reasons: the first is the regret that I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore. But the second and more powerful reason is that I don’t know that there has ever been a more accurate depiction of the American Dream in all of its complicated glory and splendor and difficulty.
I mean, who better embodies the 1% than Mr. Potter? So much about the movie is timeless: the ideals of small town life versus the constraints of ambition; the desire to travel, see the world and make it on your own versus the pressures and the constraints of family and romantic love.
George Bailey is seriously flawed: he’s often sarcastic, he tells it like it is, but he’s an idealist ultimately who realizes his family is the most crucial element of his life. Honestly, he reminds me so much of Darcy and that may be what I love most about him. But there is nothing sappy about his eventual realizations and the movie has very, very dark moments.
I feel the closest modern-day equivalent we have to this movie is “How I Met Your Mother”, which honestly does contrast both the joys but also the boredom and sacrifice involved in choosing a traditional married life with the glamorous, fun, yet sometimes sad “life less chosen” path: Robin clearly won’t have children and it is doubtful now that Barney will either. Although I’m pretty sure they will have an awesome and “legen-wait for it-dary” life. Mostly.
Anyway, I envy George Bailey his beautiful Victorian house and his many children and his friends and relations who bail him out of trouble in the end, because he has helped them so many times in the past. But he would envy me too: he’d envy me for my travels and adventures. He’d envy me for going to Paris and living in London and honeymooning in Africa.
And in the end, that’s the movie’s great point. We all have Wonderful Lives. Just by being alive and being in others’ lives and trying to do good.
“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”