Being Jewish in December feels a lot like not being invited to a Facebook friend’s wedding; you’re far enough removed that you know not to take your exclusion personally, but for more than a month, your entire existence suddenly revolves around glimpses into this apparently life-defining party that has nothing to do with you. And nothing makes my red blood boil quite like annually witnessing the unholy marriage between religious rite and free-for-all profiteering.
Don’t worry, I won’t spin this hater dreidel too hard. Y’all do your thing and be good to each other, it really does warm this heathen’s heart. But when it comes to your movies, I do think a bit of a reality check might be in order from someone who’s seen things from the outside. I may never fully appreciate the Christmas spirit, but I can help you get some perspective on yours. Here are your favorite Christmas movies analyzed when the audience’s love of the season isn’t a given.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (ANY OF THEM)
A greedy millionaire horribly exploits his workers because “Fuck Christmas!” Then, after a series of hallucinations, his employees accept his newfound love of mankind and ignore his past transgression because “Yay Christmas!”
Anti-greed screed? Not from where I’m standing. You know what happens when wealthy business owners decide to get eccentric and treat their exploited workers like buddies? You don’t get post-conversion Scrooge. You get Richard fucking Branson.
Despite many adorable and tremendously rewatchable adaptations (The Muppet Christmas Carol, Scooged), one thing in particular never sat right with me: In this world, good people love Christmas, and bad people hate it. Say you don’t give a shit about Christmas but still love people and pay them what they’re worth. Are you still a Scrooge?
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
Frank Capra’s classic fable tells the story of George Bailey and his guardian angel who intervenes when George is at his most desperate, ready to take his own life on Christmas Eve. All his life he’s deferred his own dreams and ambitions to do what’s right by other people, but the only thing he sees is his own failure. The angel takes him on a tour of his life and how much worse the world would have been without him.
What a difference between this and A Christmas Carol. It’s not his belief in a holiday or Scrooge-like conversion that rewards him, it’s a lifetime of helping those in need for its own sake that is then repaid by those he helped. So you have a tale of karmic justice wrapped in an anti-profiteering fable with an agnostic hero who doesn’t even believe in angels. That’s a Christmas movie I can get behind.
WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954)
How can you go wrong with a feel-good, song-and-dance romp starring legends like Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen? By throwing in an extended interlude where they sing about how much they miss minstrel shows and how it sucks that they can’t do blackface anymore. “Dreaming of a White Christmas” indeed. Next.
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947)
Santa Claus, as we know him, is essentially a corporate invention, and the man himself understandably has a bit of a problem with this. So he returns during Christmas in New York to a confused and conflicted public, but little Susan sees him for what he is, even as he is put on trial and has his mental health called into question.
Sure, there’s some “meaning of Christmas” stuff, but anything that so effectively calls out what we sell to kids that we don’t believe ourselves has my respect.