Every year Hollywood releases a slew of Christmas-themed movies, most of which barely make a ripple in our collective memory. It’s a Wonderful Life is different. This 1946 movie is a perennial favorite even though it is darker, heavier, and more profound than we typically associate with fluffy Christmas movies. After all, this is a story about a middle-aged man who believes his dreams have passed him by. He fails to attain his grand childhood aspirations, he endures a business failure, scandal, and contemplates suicide. Why does such a heavy theme resonate with us, especially at Christmas?
Christmas is a time when we are supposed to be riotously happy. The media blasts us with images of happy families, glittering lights, lavish gifts, and the implication that the rest of the world is living in a warmly-lit, Norman Rockwell-like world. Then comes the New Year’s holiday which prompts us to take stock of our lives and examine our accomplishments. Is it any wonder that many of us fall a little short of this idealized world?
I think this is why Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George Bailey has made such a lasting impression. He is an ordinary man who nurtured such huge dreams and worked hard to make them happen. As he moves into middle age, he is forced to conclude most of his grand hopes will never come to pass. I think this message resonates with a lot of us.
The magic of It’s a Wonderful Life is that is celebrates the extraordinary beauty and dignity of an everyday, commonplace life. George Bailey proves to us that our lives need not be lived on an epic scale or with material wealth to have profound value. George Bailey is the salt of the earth and his tireless devotion to his family and community, even in the face of his own thwarted ambitions, deserve to be memorialized.
It’s a Wonderful Life is a soaring hymn to Christian values of honor, community, and compassion. I love that it celebrates the quiet dignity of a good man, stressing that each life has value. In a world that often overlooks such people, it elevates the life of a hardworking man into one of shining heroism.
Merry Christmas, everyone! Like George Bailey….. I am grateful for my house with the sometimes leaky roof. I am grateful for the twelve-year old car that gets me to work every morning. I’m grateful to wake up each day with a sound mind and two eyes that can see the glory of God’s world. It truly is a wonderful life.