A Christmas confession revealed

Dec.15, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

Today, in the spirit of the season, I am going to share a dirty little secret.

I realize that there is a risk that I could be asked to turn in my man card for admitting such a thing, but I just can’t help it.

The sad, simple, unvarnished truth is I like Christmas movies.

I am a sucker for all kinds of Christmas movies, from the timeless classics to the latest made-for-cable features.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I am a fan of the 1966 Dr. Seuss gem, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” directed by Chuck Jones and featuring the voice of Boris Karloff. I always rooted for the Grinch.

But, perhaps less predictably, I must also confess to having sung along with Burl Ives during “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” (while under the influence of some especially potent eggnog).

One can’t help but like old Burl. Even when he played a bad guy in the movies, he always seemed like someone’s granddad, and “Holly Jolly Christmas” is a catchy tune, no matter how old one is.

Other favorites include “Love Actually,” which was released in 2003 and became a classic in its own right, and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” directed by the brilliant Jeremiah Chechik.

Of the 732 remakes of “A Christmas Carol,” the 1951 Alastair Sim version still gets my vote.

One might ask oneself what all of these movies have in common, and why on earth a curmudgeon would allow himself to fall under their spell.

They may be saccharine-sweet or include ridiculous conflicts such as helping a lost reindeer find his way back to the north pole, saving Christmas, or going to court to prove that Santa really is who he says he is, but the most important thing that all these films have in common is a message of hope.

This too, may seem like a contradiction for a cantankerous world-weary old writer, but it is not.

Some people see the curmudgeon as an ill-tempered antisocial pariah, and while these things may be true, there is more to it.

To some, he may seem malevolent, but a curmudgeon does not point out the absurdities in life simply for the sake of being mean.

That would be far too easy.

If a curmudgeon is impatient and critical, it may be because his very nature is one of hope and optimism.

If he scoffs at the foibles of human behavior, it is not because he despises people (although there are a few he doesn’t like very much). It is because he sees beyond the surface of things and believes we can do better.

His disdain for mediocrity may make him seem inflexible.

However, his cynical view may simply illustrate his belief that, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, the human race is capable of much better things.

A curmudgeon wants us all to succeed, which is why he is so disappointed when we fall short.

In these uncertain and often frightening times, we could find plenty of excuses to lose faith in the future.

But, at Christmas, more than at any other time of the year, we may get a brief glimpse of the better side of human nature.

We might see people being good for goodness’ sake, as the old song goes, and doing things for others just for the joy of it.

Christmas movies suggest that there are reasons to hope, to believe that things can change, and good things can happen.

And, if we believe some of those films, we might even start to think that romance is not dead, there is someone for everyone, and things will turn out for the best in the end.

Christmas movies can also provide comfort by showing us that there are families even more dysfunctional than our own, and people whose lives are much more complicated than ours. If these birds can thrive, the films seem to say, so can we.

Life is not all happy endings and rainbows, but it is not all doom and gloom, either.

We only get to go around once in life, so we might as well have some fun along the way.

If this means believing in flying deer and fat guys in red suits climbing down chimneys, then so be it.

There are a lot of things we can’t explain, and we may not be able to prove that Christmas magic exists, but then, we may not be able to disprove it either.

There is nothing wrong with believing that there is such a thing as good magic. Perhaps the odd blissful miracle can happen. We see plenty of evidence of the other kind. It is a miracle how the cost of health care continues to increase by double digits each year without the quality of care improving. It is like magic how quickly my 401(k) balance disappeared this year. So doesn’t it seem reasonable that happy magic should exist to balance things out?

Even if it is just mindless escapism, settling down to watch Christmas movies on a cold winter’s night is not a bad way to get a dose of holiday cheer and make the world seem just a little brighter.

In the eternal battle between good and evil, Christmas movies strike a blow for the good guys.

I wouldn’t want this to get around, but the truth is, for a few weeks each December, I actually enjoy casting off the mantle of cynicism and getting swept away by the fantasy of Christmas magic.

Don’t tell anyone I said that. I’ll deny everything.