Christmas Can Make It Hard to Remember That ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

Christmas Can Make It Hard to Remember That ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ December 16, 2013

I try to catch a glimpse of the classic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life every year. I rarely get to watch the entire film, but I usually watch the scene that most closely reflects my feelings about Christmas. No, it’s not the end where everyone is singing “Auld Lang Syne” and proclaiming George Bailey to be the richest man in town. Nor is it the scene where the tinkling bell means Clarence got his angel’s wings. That’s a nice touch to the story, muddy angelology notwithstanding.

The scene I most closely relate to doesn’t come at the end, with George being surrounded by friends and family. No, I watch for when the story gets dark and the snow begins to fall. When George is at his lowest, when he considers jumping off the bridge into the icy river — those are the feelings that Christmas brings out in me.

Now before you jump to any conclusions, let me be clear: I have not been so downcast as to become suicidal. But downcast I am.

Whenever I take the risk and admit my lack of holiday cheer, I don’t get a good response. I’m often called “Scrooge” or “the Grinch,” followed by a series of questions about why I feel the way I do. Quite often, I get lectured on what the holiday is truly about. I know I’m supposed to like Christmas, but I don’t.

The season itself isn’t to blame, though. Usually I cop to the excuse that I don’t like all the decorating. Or maybe it’s the pressure of giving gifts or showing up to the thirteenth holiday party with the same level of excitement and goodwill toward men that I probably didn’t have to begin with. My work often brings more stress during this time of year, too. That, and all the extra travel and wonder at another year passing usually carry the blame for my Christmas blues.

For those die-hard Christmas lovers out there, though, you must know that Christmas isn’t great, especially for those who feel alone. Even a Christmas classic like It’s a Wonderful Life focuses on the season’s loneliness, and that loneliness isn’t reserved just for the bridge scene. The last scene, the one where everyone is singing and celebrating George Bailey’s life, has embedded in it a reminder of how tough the holiday can be.

When George’s house is packed and everyone’s heart swells with cheer, they sing “Auld Lan Syne”:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And [days of] auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

If you’re not into the Scottish language, the words mean “Let’s drink to the days we may have forgotten.” “Auld Lang Syne” hints at old friends who’ve faded into memory, or lovers who have gone away. The song also reflects upon the difficulty of life and the work that comes with it. The final solution to all these things, though, is a drink with a friend.

It’s a Wonderful Life, even in its very happy ending, gives a nod to the season’s melancholy. George Bailey, smiling widely, still bleeds from the lip while he is surrounded by friends who sing him into the community of celebrants. It’s not a full-throated shout of celebration. He seems to be distracted by all kinds of things — his friends, his daughter — until he reads a note, given by Clarence the angel which reads, “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”

It seems like a syrupy ending to a terribly popular movie, but that might be the answer to the problem of the kind of Christmas blues I often encounter.

No, not the friends part — the remembering part.

It surprises me how often I need to be reminded that Christmas should be a time of celebration. Forgetting what’s around me is often the source of my depression, even in a time when I’m continually reminded of my many blessings. Being bombarded by reminders of wealth, health, and happiness doesn’t bring any of those things.

But I suppose a bit of “auld lang syne” would be a good step toward cultivating a positive view of this season. For those of us who can’t imagine anyone not being thrilled by the Christmas season, maybe remembering that “a weary world rejoices” at the coming of the Christ child. And maybe, just maybe, remembering that not everyone celebrates Christmas would cause us to be kinder or more understanding. Less demanding, even.

For those of us, like me, who drown in the stress and noise of the whole thing, maybe we could remember the hope of a birth and the presence of God. And remembering what He did. That’s enough to fill my cup of kindness to overflowing.


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