"A Christmas Carol" and "It’s a Wonderful Life" have become the traditional films that are symbolic of the season, but for me the key movie is the original 1947 version of "Miracle on 34th Street." In it, a nice old man who claims to be Kris Kringle is institutionalized as insane. A young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing. So unlike the other two classic films, this story isn’t about an individual’s redemption but rather addresses the much bigger question at the heart of Christmas: Is There a Santa Claus?
In my mind, Santa isn’t about elves at the North Pole, or even believing in magic. He’s about the principle he represents. Santa Claus gives to everyone, not because of what they do for you, or what they mean to you, but just because they’re nice. No quid pro quo. No worship necessary. Kids don’t even have to believe in Santa Claus. They just have to be nice and they’re on the gift list.
I love the movie so much that it inspired the title of my holiday short story, “Mystery on Capitol Street” which was posted on the Echelon Shorts web site. In it my private eye Hannibal Jones gets lost on Christmas Eve and has to crash at an unknown motel. There’s no room at the inn but the manager lets him sleep in a small, unrentable space. Of course he stumbles on a murder that needs solving and, although it isn’t really his job, he decides to help the obvious suspect – just because she's nice.
The Miracle in the movie concerns the two giant department stores that dominated New York’s 34th Street at the time, Macy’s and Gimbel’s. Santa convinces the rival owners to shake hands and to direct shoppers who don’t find what they want in their own stores to their rival’s. The heroes of the film also get a NY court to rule that there IS a Santa Claus, which I suppose is a miracle in itself.
There’s a miracle in my story too, but you’ll have to read Mystery on Capitol Street to find out about it. But first, seek out this classic film and see that it really IS the most moving of the holiday fare. And if you disagree... well, what's YOUR favorite holiday movie??