It’s that time of year again for the holiday themed listicle.
You know, the list/article about the top holiday (fill in the blank) for 2021. It could be The Top 10 Gifts for your (mother, sister, father, brother, son, daughter, spouse, coworker, etc.) The Top 5 Holiday (drinks, meals, desserts, etc.), and of course, The Top Holiday Movies of all time. My personal favorite!
So here’s my own short listicle of my Top Three Holiday Themed Stories. Stories that I find value in revisiting every year around this time.
Yes. The 1988 action movie. There are numerous articles you can find about why Die Hard is and is not a Christmas movie and I encourage you to Google it, but for the purposes of this listicel, it is a Christmas movie. John McClane, the fish-out-of-water NYC cop/regular guy, trying to reconnect with his wife — Holly, who has found success in the corporate world in L.A.– on Christmas Eve, but is thwarted by the Grinchian Hans Gruber who is trying to steal $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds during the company Christmas party. Look at the plot of any Hallmark Christmas movie and you’ll see similar themes. (Except for the bearer bonds and the near continuous gunfire, that is…) There’s a Clarence-like guardian angel in Al, the beat cop who’s career wings have been clipped and who talks to John over the radio, giving him support and encouragement even when all seems lost. There’s even a flurry of bearer bonds floating like snowflakes to the ground from Nakatomi tower at the end of the movie. You get the idea. All I can say is that every year I do my last minute wrapping on Christmas Eve while watching Die Hard.
It’s a Wonderful Life.
Classic. Long suffering good guy, George Bailey, sees his impact on the world around him with a little help from his guardian angel, Clarence, and realizes life is definitely worth living. In fact, it’s a wonderful life! I love watching the movie or the Immediate Theatre Project’s radio play version. Can’t help but get a lump in my throat as the town comes to George’s aid, sacrificing for him as he has for the town; and the moment Jimmy Stewart prays for help on Christmas Eve is an amazing bit of acting.
Lastly –and perhaps the most famous Christmas story ever– A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.
There have been more than 70 film and television versions, including: The Muppet Christmas Carol; the one I saw as a kid with Alastair Sim as Scrooge; and of course, Scrooged, starring Bill Murray. This is one I’ll watch for sentimental reasons, as it reminds me of a certain time in my life. And…Bill Murray can do no wrong in my eyes.
According to Wikipedia there are nearly 70 stage adaptations as well. I’ve seen many over the years but the one that remains in memory the most was the Patrick Stewart version done on Broadway back in the 90s. There’s something about one actor bringing the story and all the characters to life that’s exciting to me. Without the distraction of spectacle, the story takes on a more original meaning. In fact, Charles Dickens did over 100 public readings of the story throughout his lifetime. That’s one of the things I’m excited about with Art & Anvil’s take on this classic. The added musician will enhance the mood and storytelling further.
So– why do these classic stories still work in 2021?
I guess the thing all three of these stories have in common that intrigues me is that all three protagonists find themselves alone, and at a pivotal moment in their lives, on Christmas Eve. There are dark elements to all of the stories and that’s where the light is able to shine the strongest. John is cut off from everyone else by the bad guys, George feels alone and in despair even as he’s surrounded by everyone else in the town, and Ebenezer has chosen to cut himself off from contact with others. With a little nudge from narrative magic, they see the joy that is potentially out there by reaching out. Reaching out for help, for friendship, for fellowship, and for connection with other people. These stories connect us to that feeling of loneliness and give us hope that it will all turn out alright in the end. Recently, with world events, it’s been hard to connect. So this year, though I’ll still watch the holiday classics on my Top Three Holiday Movie List, what I’m really looking forward to is sitting in the darkened theatre, together with my fellow audience members, and experiencing the magic of the classic ghost story of A Christmas Carol with others.
Charlie Flynn-McIver is the Artistic Director of North Carolina Stage Company and a fan of classic holiday stories.