Christmastime Reflections

This week,  I shook up my family’s television & movie comfort zone.  While we watch a lot less television than the average American family, I like for us to have one or two programs that we watch together: to stimulate conversation, to diversify our free time activities, to give me an excuse to hug my kids every night on the couch.  As a family, we tend to choose shows that allow us to discuss intersectionality and identity: Black-ish for race, ethnicity, and money; Gilmore Girls for race, ethnicity, gender, and money; Modern Family for all the things they don’t mention about race, ethnicity, gender, and money (at least in the three seasons that I’ve seen so far).

However, this week I decided it was time for a break from our usual shows, and, given the season, I pulled out the classic Christmas movies.  I felt like the kids were finally old enough to handle the black and white, uncut version of It’s a Wonderful Life, and it did not disappoint.  The family conversations about race, gender, and classism were as rich as usual. The look my 12-year-old daughter gave me when Jimmy Stewart swats the family maid on the bottom to chase her back into the kitchen…yes, I had a lot of explaining to do, and explain I did.

But I’m used to all that.

It was my 9-year-old who pulled out the most interesting question, a day later: “Mom, why do we even consider It’s a Wonderful Life a Christmas movie?”

It’s a great question.  Much of the film takes place in a series of flashbacks which do not fall in the Christmas season. From her perspective, the film revolves around power and economic struggle and the classic American dream of owning a home.  These are not Christmas ideas – they are everyday ideas – so why do we watch it at Christmas?

I pointed out that the most beloved and important scenes take place on Christmas Eve.  I mention that angels are most frequently (though not exclusively) associated with Christmas Eve.  However, these two rather superficial points were not enough for either of us. So I compared and contrasted it to A Christmas Carol – a movie that she already accepts as a Christmas film.

Both movies are driven by reflection. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is transformed by the realization that he is not engaging with the world as his best self. In It’s a Wonderful Life, George is transformed by the realization that he has been engaging with the world as his best self. These characters really are more similar than dissimilar. The fact that they are both forced to engage in reflection (by supernatural or religious figures…I’ll restrain myself from making these synonymous) at the end of the year…it seems like something to which we all relate.  End-of-the-year reflection is a near-ritualistic act in our culture, so prevalent that my 9-year-old accepted all of this immediately and without further argument (she wasn’t buying the angel angle).

I recently and randomly saw a Willa Cather quote: “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”

Brilliant quote.  Reflective learning is not everything, but it is something. It is the learning we do in the calmer moments. While we should do it more than once a year, at least most of us do it this time of year. As we all do it in the next few weeks, remember to think about the year from multiple perspectives – as George Bailey and Scrooge.  Remember that they were both bailed out not so much by the supernatural (or their religiousity) but by their friends, family, and the people who believed in them.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow!! I’ve been looming for some thoughtful words to help me get my mind right for this season. This is it! So thank you. I also appreciate your conscientious use of family television. I’ll keep that in my back pocket as my younger ones get older.

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    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Thanks, Richard. And from one parent to another – watch those tween shows – typically found on Disney and Nickelodeon- like a hawk. They are the WORST – not only mind-numbing but full of messages, many of which you might not like. Good luck 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. CogDog says:

    Your daughter is darned insightful. And your family is living the parallel of an NPR Weekend Edition I just heard yesterday, where two young people (older than your kids) watch It’s A Wonderful Life for the first time, and one asks that exact same question, “Why is it a Christmas Movie?”

    https://www.npr.org/2017/12/09/569601034/movies-you-missed-it-s-a-wonderful-life

    (I like your answer better than Scott Simon’s).

    As I grew up in a Jewish home, I never watched the movie thinking it was a Christmas movie. I know from inference the gist of the story, but now I guess it’s time to watch.

    Thanks.

    And Merry Xmas.

    (blog more, please).

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    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Thanks for sharing, Alan. I like my explanation better too :). My girls have been raised to be curious about religion, but they certainly know more about Hinduism than Christianity. My youngest daughter wasn’t even clear on the nativity story before two days ago when she finally asked why there was a sheep in my nativity set. But the Christmas story – to me, at least – is inherently one of self-reflection. I can’t think of a more self-reflective moment than becoming a new parent. Babies make you think about what you’ve done, who you’ve been, and who you want to be for that child. And self-reflection implies hope – what’s the point of reflecting if you don’t have the capacity to think about making things better? Self-reflection, hope, new beginnings are all essential components of a good Christmas movie. However, It’s a Wonderful Life is so much more than that. I’m not even sure I agree with the underlying message, although I think it was entirely appropriate for the times. George Bailey gave up on every single one of his dreams to live up to the expectations of those around him – and this was considered the “best” way of life for his generation. I’m not sure this is necessarily how we think anymore. There are some things he probably could have done differently in today’s world that he couldn’t do then (like go to college online). IDK. The movie is definitely worth watching – to start conversations if nothing else. Merry Xmas to you too, Alan.

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