Christmas is not supposed to be about money. All that stuff with the money changers and the temple came much later. (Check the Bible for details.) Christmas has become what we’ve decided we want it to be – which means it is a wide variety of things to a very diverse set of people. For me, it is tradition, reflection, and a bit of indulgence. One indulgence is the list of movies I pick from every year. The thing that surprised me as I listed them was how many deal with money. I watch them for their silly, sappy, sweet nature. I like having reasons to smile, no analysis required. Money, however, drives the plot of many; which makes me go, hmm. What treasures are involved?
Christmas is not supposed to be about gifts, either; but those three wise men probably set the tone. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were not cheap, which is why they were mentioned. A poor couple forced to travel in winter that couldn’t find lodging find shelter with the animals. That’s better than many homeless manage, but not an auspicious beginning. A few days later (as I recall from my readings), great gifts are bestowed upon them. It wasn’t until I reflected on the movies and the money that I began to wonder. What did Joseph and Mary do with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Were they treasured forever, or were they expected to exchange them for something they immediately needed, like food and shelter?
Christmas is also about more modern stories. Has any story generated more modern Christmas traditions and icons than A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens? One of the reasons he wrote it was because his wife was pregnant, again. (They eventually had ten children.) Much of Dickens’ work was about the income and wealth inequalities of the time, much of which is mirrored today. It would be interesting to see which story has more movies associated with it, Joseph and Mary’s, or Scrooge’s.
My short list of holiday movies would probably be longer if I spent an hour browsing imdb.com, for the five that come to mind the easiest are;
- Muppets’ Christmas Carol – “Light the lamp, not the rat, light the lamp, not the rat!” – Charles Dickens meets Jim Henson, which also means the best Ghost of Christmas Present I’ve seen; the ultimate being living in the moment – and nowhen else. Also true to the dissonance between the rich and the poor, and the possible revelation.
- Scrooged – “Sometimes you have to *slap* them in the face just to get their attention!” – The runnerup for the Ghost of Christmas Present; Carol Kane hitting Bill Murray with a toaster to change his perspective. The rich and the poor, again; with a willingness to show the dark turn of homelessness, and the inevitable revelation that is broadcast to millions through the wealth of a major network because that’s the way the world works now.
- White Christmas – “You know, in some ways, you’re far superior to my cocker spaniel.” – It’s a musical, so it is about song and dance; and the thing that gets them on the train is money, the reason for the big show is money, and the dissonance between the poor dancers and the rich crooner. (Definitely good dancing. Be careful how you hold that fan.)
- Love Actually – “Thank you, sir. I did have an awful premonition that I was gonna fuck up on the first day. Oh, piss it!” – And hallelujah! A movie with Love instead of Dickens involved in the title; and even though it touches on class and wealth the message is that the season, any season, can be about something more basic and more valuable.
- Hogfather – “Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and THEN show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet… you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some… some rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.” – Okay, this one is out there; but it goes someplace I enjoy because it is simultaneously a parody of the modern holidays and a reminder that we can make them as valuable as we want, that we have the power to make it so.
- A Wonderful Life – Not one of my favorites, so I’m not going to even look up the quotes; but a reminder that the main motivation is the resolution of a banking, housing, and personal crisis.
There are other movies I traditionally watch: the entire Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Ring trilogy; but they are personal seasonal favorites for personal reasons.
Very few movies remove the influence of money, particularly for a season that is supposed to be about family, friends, emotions, charity, and generosity. The money is there, but that’s not why I watch. I enjoy the relationships, the humor, and of course the happy endings. (The goose may have a different opinion, naturally.)
This will be another very simple Christmas for me, and that’s fine. As I approach sixty, I understand why so many people approaching retirement don’t want more stuff and do want more connection. Hugs are treasures. My financial situation is about the same as this time last year, but the potential is greater; but potential doesn’t buy presents, so I’m doing what I can to make a few things for a few folks. (Gotta get to the Post Office soon.) As I’ve had less, I’ve had to view Christmas differently. What do I really care about? What do I really treasure? How much of what I’ve done in the past was by habit and expectation, but didn’t necessarily truly touch a person?
A few traditions remain. I enjoy cooking, so a feast of some sort will occur. I like the lights, and put up a few (and feel sorry for the outdoor tree that died and is simply acting as a scaffold for lights this year.) A few cards have gone out, but at least one less this year because my Dad died a few months ago. Cookies (gluten-free) have been baked, and some are being shipped, and some are definitely only to be consumed in Washington State because one particular ingredient isn’t supposed to cross state lines. The caroling has already commenced on my evening walks. With less than ten days to go, it will be interesting trying to get a tree again. Maybe I’ll do what I’ve done recently, help someone clear a bit of their property by picking a volunteered Charlie Brown tree that would be cut in the spring anyway.