At holiday time, it's hard to resist another viewing of those favorite Christmas shows. Between celebrating and gifting, there will be traveling and visiting and, for those who seek it out, quiet moments of reflection on the grand themes of the past year. This close to year's end, we indulge in the inevitable hope that the new year will bring more blessings than curses.
Good stories reflect life's grand themes: questing for spiritual peace, the villainies that thwart it, treacheries and triumphs, and the constant tension between good and evil, from which those blessings and curses are born. Perhaps the most meaningful stories are the ones that fill our need at this cold, dark time of year to find comfort and a communion of the human spirit among our fellow travelers. We all know the uplifting message of the Charlie Brown special. And there are so many other worthwhile shows as well.
Two of my favorites are "Gift of the Magi" stories. In 1955, Ralph and Alice Kramden played out a Christmas "Honeymooners" saga in which she bought him a bowling bag for Christmas, not knowing he had to sell his ball to counter his selfish impulses and to upgrade his gift to her. Beyond his clumsiness, the message of marital patience and love despite the other's shortcomings comes through as clearly as a bell on a quiet winter night. After the show, when the actors step out of character, the message comes down through the ages: it's the love of one another; that's all, baby, the love.
The other "Magi" story is a Muppet production suitable for children and adults alike: "Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas." When I watched it with my toddler 27 years ago, it was already nine years old, but I fell in love with the simple message that even though life's villains take advantage of you and may even prevent fulfillment of your best-laid plans, your loving intentions and efforts provide their own spiritual comforts, which outweigh all material strivings. My son is grown now and living far from home, but every year when I watch that show to re-live the simple message I shared with him so long ago, he's not so far away.
The theme of journeying toward an epiphany or the fulfillment of some purpose also appears in great Christmas shows. A well-known family favorite is Earl Hamner's "The Homecoming." Watching it as a teenager in 1971, I fully grasped the idea that loving our fellows and sharing abundantly out of our limited means were the keys to a happy life. Now, thanks to digital technology, my family can enjoy this treasure every year. Even though we know many lines by heart, our suspense builds until the moment John Walton answers his wife's anxious query "But John, what will we live on next week?" with this irrational but essential and beautiful truth: "Love, Woman." In that exchange, her journey through a long day fraught with worry and his literal journey home by bus and on foot vindicate the patient love of family members toward each other.
I'm a big fan of Gunsmoke re-runs. A couple of months ago, I watched a rare episode when it snowed in Dodge City: P.S. Merry Christmas. The journey motif involved a group of orphans fleeing from their uptight, Christmas-hating teacher with the derelict-but-loveable maintenance man. The plot involves their ending up in the solicitous care of Miss Kitty, Matt Dillon, and Festus Haggen while all the while, the teacher is in hot pursuit. There is treachery, forgiveness, redemption, and a discovery of the worth of the Christmas spirit to amuse and delight viewers. I probably saw the show as a child, but watching as an adult means being able to appreciate the dipsomaniac plot twist in the big picture.
What would December be without some supernatural coziness to brighten the cold darkness? My favorite Dickens Christmas Carol rendition is the 1951 Alastair Sim production. A generous spirit, devotion to family, and responsibility toward employees are themes that come through nobly when set against the actors' exaggerated gestures and expressions. Maybe you've always wondered what Mrs. Dilber says when dashing out the door in euphoric excitement - it's "Bob's your Uncle!" Indeed, the idiom makes no sense to American ears. Nevertheless, we get her happiness.
Recently we learned a sequel to "It's A Wonderful Life" is in the works. Many detractors wonder how anything new can measure up to the timeless joy created by the angelic happenings that remake a disgruntled George Bailey into a man who can transform life's broken newel posts into emblems of loving affection. The original certainly brings tears to most eyes. And this angel idea - why not? There are villains aplenty in life, but a hefty dose of community spirit can remedy any villainous enterprise. At least in the Bedford Falls that comes around every December.
Whatever your digital joy - "Little House," Christmas episodes of '70s sitcoms, dramatic favorites - indulge with abandon. It is said that the holidays are for children. We are children of the television age. So go for it - merrily.
Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org