Holiday traditions abound and that includes the various sub-traditions within the larger ones. Sure, most of us give and open presents to celebrate Christmas but whether you do so on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning has divided many a newly-joined couple. We have food traditions but whether you and your family prioritize cookies or dinner or waffles for breakfast depends upon what you and your family choose to do year over year, generation over generation.
The annual watch of specific movies has become one of my favorite adulthood traditions. I watch two each year around Christmas and
force welcome my partner and any other loved ones in the vicinity to participate. I am referring, of course, to It’s a Wonderful Life and Die Hard.
It’s a Wonderful Life
This move though. For those who haven’t seen it recently or at all, it likely appears plastered with a veneer of old timey treacle and sticky boredom. But dust off your blurred perceptions about 1940s movies and you’ll find a radical fable against capitalist consumerism and self-aggrandizement and for community and the power of public service.
George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) wants to be an explorer. He wants to travel the world, go to college, become an engineer and build things. He wants to shake the dust of the crummy little town of Bedford Falls off his feet and see the world! George Bailey does none of those things. Instead, he makes the decision time and again to prioritize his community, represented by the Bailey Savings and Loan, over his own desires and ambitions.
Over the decades, George makes a family with Mary Hatch (Donna Reed)—who may be an actual witch so good is she at making her dreams come true—and builds up a shell of resentment and frustrated dreams. It isn’t until his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), grants George’s wish that he’d never been born that he gets to see the impacts his life has made. What he discovers, of course, is that he’s really had a wonderful life.
Look, I know that the internet—as the internet is wont to do—wants to argue about whether Die Hard is a “Christmas movie” or a “movie that happens to be set on Christmas.” Who cares? I watch it at Christmas as an annual ritual and that’s enough for me to make it a Christmas movie.
I love this movie for it’s remarkable supply of jokes and witty repartee. I love that John McClane (Bruce Willis) exists in a world before action heroes were essentially super heroes, instead showing the grime and physical toll of single-handedly trying to battle multiple terrorists-cum-thieves. I love that he grows as a person, realizing that his love for his wife and his family matter more than his bruised male ego (setting aside the reinscription of the patriarchal nuclear family implied by the ending). I love that Bonnie Bedelia’s Holly Gennaro McClane takes zero shit from anyone.
But more than anything, I love Alan Rickman in this movie. As Hans Gruber, the man-with-the-plan of a heartless gang of hostage-takers, he exudes evil wrapped up in charm and charisma and topped off with a big ol’ bow of camp. Let us raise a glass of eggnog to him!
“You ask for miracles, Theo? I give you the F. … B. … I. …”
“I could talk about industrialization and men’s fashions all day but I’m afraid work must intrude.”
As a holiday tradition it clashes against the forced cheer that often accompanies the season while including the requisite heart warming connection with family and friends. Yippee ki yay!