Every Christmas-celebrating household has their own set of traditional movies and TV specials that they watch over the holidays. The other day, I was treated for the first time to the Christmas classic, George Seaton's original 1947 film, Miracle on 34th Street, which was not one of those movies for my family. I'm sure that young, dumb me would have balked at the black and white and never even gave it a shot. I never even saw It's a Wonderful Life until a few years ago.
Just because I'd never seen it doesn't mean I hadn't absorbed the entire movie into my brain through cultural osmosis. I already knew all of the famous beats in the movie, since, well, I think everyone does. The rest of the movie was basically filling in the gaps.
As we all know, it's the story of Kris Kringle, a man who may or may not be the actual Santa Claus (SPOILER: he totally IS), who gets a job at Macy's and spreads the Christmas cheer to a cynical, capitalistic world. His biggest challenge is to instill a little magic into the life of a serious, skeptical little girl raised by her mother not to believe in Santa. It all comes down to a courtroom trial over the existence of Santa Claus.
It's all very sweet and charming and magical. Edmund Gwenn's Kris Kringle is probably the best Santa Claus the movies have ever provided. He embodies all the patience and kindness that the spirit of Christmas should. The scenes between him and little Natalie Wood are pretty great.
It's hard not to be cynical in the face of the crass commercialization of the modern day Christmas Machine. In fact, I was going to be all snarky about the movie just now, but I totally fought the urge because that's not what Christmas is about. As skeptical as we can often be, Miracle on 34th Street is there to remind us that it doesn't hurt to let a little bit of magic into our lives once a year or so.