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Watching a Christmas Classic . . . Finally

Visiting Bedford Falls for the first time.

“I’m going to watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ tonight if anyone is interested in joining me,” I announced. “It will be my first time seeing it.”

“What is ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’?” my 11-year-old son asked.

It’s the kind of question you might expect from a kid who doesn’t celebrate Christmas or from one unfamiliar with Christmas movies. It’s not something you’d expect from a kid with a father who has a list of Christmas movies he likes to watch each year. 

“It’s a movie that runs on TV every Christmas season. It’s been airing on TV for as long as I can remember,” I said. “It might have been on TV when I was your age.”

“And you still haven’t seen it, Dad?”

“No,” I said, almost embarrassed to admit that I had ignored the movie for so many years.

While “It’s a Wonderful Life” has never been included in our Christmas movie lineup, apparently it is impossible to escape some exposure to it.  

“Is that the movie about the guy who gets to see what things are like if he’d never been born?” he asked, realizing he had heard of the movie.

“That’s the one,” I said.

“I’ll watch it with you,” he said.

After dinner, everyone except my teen son gathered around and we watched “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It didn’t take me long to realize why the film is a favorite of so many people.

George Bailey is a hero you want to see win. As far as villains go, they rarely come as formidable (or evil) as Mr. Potter. And who, other than Mr. Potter, can argue with the idea of helping your friends and neighbors have a happy life?

My kids loved the graduation party scene. Apparently, nothing is as funny as watching a pair of dancers fall into a swimming pool. My 11-year-old son was also amused by Uncle Billy being drunk. Not sure what it is about movie drunks that kids (at least mine) find so funny.

While I enjoyed “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I’m still kind of puzzled that it has become a Christmas classic. It’s a great movie, but, to be honest, a movie where the central character is dealt so many setbacks that he’s contemplating taking his own life seems an unlikely candidate for a perennial holiday favorite.

But maybe “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a holiday staple precisely because it doesn’t shy away from some of the darker aspects of life. I think one of the reasons I’ve been so hesitant to watch the film is because, to me, the title sort of implied that the whole movie would be about people singing Christmas carols, drinking eggnog, and having a swell life.

But after watching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I think people watch it because George Bailey is an inspiring character. Maybe George Bailey gives us a chance to reflect on our own lives or the lives of the people who have helped us during our life’s journey. Or maybe people watch because we want to believe that no matter how cruel or harsh life can be, people who are good remain that way.

As I watched George Bailey have his own dreams crushed, I wanted him to continue caring for others. When George Bailey resisted Mr. Potter’s tempting offer, it was affirming the idea that good isn’t always corrupted by evil.  

The movie’s idea that the good you do has the ability to help so many people is something that should resonate with many people. It’s certainly preferable to the message that only those who are famous or wealthy can make a real difference in life.

While this year marks my family’s first visit to the sleepy town of Bedford Falls, I’ve got a feeling that it won’t be our last. 

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