Originally published in quality newspapers the week of November 29, 2010
Our family’s list of favorite Christmas movies seems to keep growing and last Thursday, after all the turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie was settled in our stomachs, we officially kicked off the holiday movie season.
Over the course of the next few weeks we’ll watch classics like Miracle on 34th Street and White Christmas as well as some of the newer offerings like Elf and Jim Carrey’s version of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
After the kids are in bed my wife and I will enjoy some our other favorites like the hilarious Christmas Vacation and the touching Love Actually.
On the very top of our list of holiday movies is It’s a Wonderful Life. In 1946, when the film was released, it came and went without much fanfare. Due to a lapse of its copyright in the 1980s, TV stations all over the U.S. began showing it over and over each holiday season. As a result it found a huge audience and it is now as much a part of the modern American Christmas as is Black Friday.
One of the reasons, I think, the movie resonates with so many people is that the character Jimmy Stewart plays, George Bailey, is a sort of Everyman, with whom most of us can identify. We all experience those George-Bailey moments from time to time. Hopefully not the jumping-off-the-bridge moments but the end-of-the-movie moments, when surrounded by his friends and family, George realizes just how wonderful his life really is.
These George Bailey moments sneak up on you. They just show up like a surprise guest, you can’t orchestrate them or purposefully repeat them. One of my distinct George Bailey moments came during a battle with insomnia when I moved to the living room to read a book.
A cold thick blanket of snow was covering our town muffling any sounds from the outside world and when our furnace kicked off, there was absolute silence in our small house.
As I read, my ears picked up the slow, steady sound of breathing coming from the direction of the bedrooms. Upon listening more closely, I realized I was hearing not a single breath but a beautiful three-part harmony – my wife, and two boys, all sleeping peacefully, warm and safe in our home.
That was a George Bailey moment to be sure. I don't know what chemicals got released in my brain, but I was overwhelmed with indescribable sensations, greater than contentment and seemingly even more than love. Not that there had ever been any doubts before or since, but I knew in that moment that I was truly living a wonderful life.
I asked some friends recently about their own George Bailey moments and they knew exactly what I was talking about. One friend recalled Midnight Mass, a wonderfully elaborate service with incense and candles and two choirs. Each churchgoer was handed a simple present -- a green apple for luck -- when walking outside into the decorated downtown with the sounds of church bells ringing and happy chatter of those around him.
Another friend told me about her family’s Christmas Eve tradition of changing into the new jammies the Christmas “elves” leave for them and then snuggling in to watch a Christmas movie.
It seems that these George Bailey moments have the potential to show up more frequently during the holidays but you sort of have to be in tune or you might miss them. So during these next few weeks of hustle and bustle, try to slow down and look for those special moments.
No recipe this week because I thought you might need a break from the Thanksgiving feast. I’ll be back next week with more stories of food, family, and community, and a new recipe for the holidays. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy your wonderful life!