Believe – The Spirit of Christmas

I'm certain that each of us has personal feelings about the meaning of the Christmas season. It's different by culture and generation. The 'standard' American presentation of Christmas is a New England, Currier and Ives, Charles Dickens, east coast kind of thing. New Mexico, California, Hawaii, Florida, and Texas seldom have a white Christmas. They all, however, have holiday traditions unique unto themselves.

In this post, I'm going to write a brief view of one my own traditions, not necessarily that of my family, but my personal commemoration. Among the things I do each year is watch seven movies about Christmas. I watch them in a specific order and that order is determined by my own opinion as to each film's relevance to the holiday, and all are secular in nature. Here is the list in the order I try to view them.

  • 1.TransSiberian Orchestra's The Ghosts of Christmas -This 45-minute performance by TSO recounts a Christmas miracle, of sorts, for a young runaway, and includes marvelous performances of classics and new music.
  • 2.Tom Hanks' The Polar Express - Just plain entertainment about a young boy on the cusp of losing his belief in the spirit of Christmas. Hanks plays six different roles in the film.

Those two always kick off my season, The order may differ since I borrow The Polar Express from our daughter, Sheila. (She borrows one of mine from me, so it's a fair holiday trade; and it's a tradition.)

  • 3.It's a Wonderful Life – You either like this Jimmy Stewart classic or you don't. Sure, it's predicable and sentimental, but, hey, it's Christmas. Despite being a critical failure, it became a holiday tradition. In year's past, it was on TV so often in the season, that the film's owner restricted it to being broadcast only once a year.
  • 4.Miracle on 34th Street – I alternate this one in black and white or color. This movie single-handedly gave the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade a national recognition, and letters to Santa became a requirement for any child.
  • 5.White Christmas – This is a timeless musical presentation that, really, has nothing to do with Christmas, other than the setting. Mostly, the movie was developed around Irving Berlin's popular song White Christmas and as a platform for Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney to be on the big screen.
  • 6.A Christmas Carol – I prefer this George C. Scott interpretation. I've watched Alistair Sim and Reginald Owen, but they are softer renderings of Dickens' dark tale of Christmas redemption. For trivia buffs, there are 135 film or television interpretations of Dickens' story, from Mickey Mouse to Bill Murray's Scrooged.
  • 7.An American Christmas Carol – I always end my Christmas movie odyssey with this 1979 made-for-TV presentation starring Henry Winkler as the embittered American miser. Dickens' timeless tale is given a distinct American Depression treatment in this version.


The key theme of each of these movies comes down to believing in the spirit of Christmas; a spirit which has no general definition, only a personal one.

The list of Christmas movies is longer than an 8-year-old's Christmas wish list. I'm sure that each reader has a favorite or two. Maybe some of you are even addicted to the Hallmark Channel and its ongoing collection of sticky-sweet holiday romantic fare. That's alright, too. Your own spirit of Christmas is whatever you make it.

I guess the key is to make the pursuit of the Christmas spirit your own. Each year I would set out a Nativity of 2" tall terra cotta figurines that I bought outside Rota, Spain in 1978. I still do, only now Natalie insists on setting them up. They're displayed beneath a gold origami star perched on a wire. Each year the kitchen is festooned with a paper chain made by Sheila and Steven thirty some years ago.

These traditions may seem foolish to some and not nearly sufficient for others. One family friend begins her decorating immediately after Thanksgiving. When she is finished, their house is full of Santa Clauses in any imaginable form.

What make the spirit of Christmas real for you?

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Friday, 23 February 2024