After starting with a bracket of 64 Christmas movie and TV show classics, we are down to the Final Four in the Fayetteville Flyer’s Greatest Christmas Movies Tournament.
There have been upsets along the way. If you are expecting “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” or “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to wear the crown, think again.
If the matches were considered again, different films/shows might have advanced. If we were putting the field together today, different selections might have even made field. But we have what we have.
Semifinal 1: No. 2 Miracle on 34th Street vs. No. 3 The Santa Clause
The climax of “Miracle on 34th Street” is near genius, using the U.S. Post office to prove that Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is recognized as the one true Santa Claus by a department of the U.S. government. It’s so good I wish I could watch it again with fresh eyes. It’s a great scene in a film that has so many good ones, such as Kringle explaining imagination to young Susan (Natalie Wood) or the touching scene on the courthouse steps when the cynical Doris (Maureen O’Hara) admits to Kris that she does believe in him. The glow on Kringle’s face makes the viewer believe, too, or at leas want to.
The Santa Clause is a clever movie about the relationships between fathers and sons when there is a divorce in the family. The Christmas trappings stretch from being fun to delightful, but the movie is about the fracture that affects so many. While the metaphor of the life changes Tim Allen’s Scott Calvin character makes to become Santa are hyperbolized, dads do struggle following a divorce, just like their children and their ex-wives. Charlie’s struggles feel real, too, despite being set against the fantastic setting of the North Pole. The central idea of a divorced dad being a bit like Santa, who shows up with presents at special times of the year and allows that to be the extent of the relationship, isn’t lost under all the decorations.
Winner: It might be sentimentality, but “Miracle on 34th Street” advances to the finals. The film is nearly perfect to me.
Semifinal 2: No. 1 A Charlie Brown Christmas vs. No. 1 A Christmas Story
Charles Schulz’ Peanuts characters are lovable and funny, but they are poignant, too. Schulz’ social commentary in the TV special almost takes you by surprise and that makes it all the more impactful. As much as Christmas is a time of joy, it is also a difficult time for those feeling lonely. The special doesn’t forget that with its main character Charlie Brown. However by way of crabby ol’ Lucy, Schulz, who dealt with depression, offered a tonic for Charlie Brown’s blues through involvement. There’s a lot of wisdom delivered in the that short cartoon.
The 1983 comedy tells it like it is. While Christmas is a time of great joy, it’s rarely perfect, and “A Christmas Story” makes that abundantly clear. It’s fun being a kid, but it does have its pitfall, too. There is nothing easy about dealing bullies, your parents demands, your siblings silliness, and crazy old aunts who make you dress like a pink bunny on Christmas. We have all felt the sting of not getting what we wanted for Christmas, and the numbness of getting what you asked for and discovering the anticipation was actually more fun than owning it.
Winner: As strong a movie as “A Christmas Story” is, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is just tough to beat.
Finals: Miracle on 34th Street vs. A Charlie Brown Christmas
This is a tough choice. Both have been a part of Christmas for me almost since I can remember. The two scenes selected show the strengths of both. Like little Susan in “Miracle on 34th Street,” when Kris Kringle speaks Dutch to the little orphan girl, I so want to believe he is Santa Claus and everything that comes with it. But, I also love and envy the resoluteness of precocious little Linus in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when he quotes the Nativity Story after Charlie Brown asks what is Christmas really is about.
Winner: As with this whole exercise, the choice is subjective and is in no way authoritative. But the winner is “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Unlike me, my mother does not love Christmas. Oh, she made it wonderful for my family like most mothers do, but for her the season is melancholy or even sad.
She grew up poor during the depression as one of five children, whose father abandoned the family for reasons she never has spoke of to me. There were years where there was no Christmas for her or her siblings.
I didn’t understand that as a child. I didn’t quite get why my mom, who is a truly loving and giving soul, didn’t care that much for a time of year that celebrated kindness to one another like no other.
I don’t remember how old I was when she told me this, but I’ve never forgotten it. When I asked why she didn’t like Christmas, she said children are hungry and cold and in need of love more than just one day out of the year.
Now, what does that have to do with “Miracle on 34th Street?”
Nothing really, but when I was 10 years old, my mom and I sat up on Christmas Eve after my dad had gone to bed waiting on my older brother to make it home to West Memphis from North Little Rock, where he had spent the evening with his finance’s family. They would be married on the forthcoming New Year’s Eve, and that made it our last Christmas together with just the four of us..
Mom and I watched “Miracle on 34th Street” that night, and my mom thoroughly enjoyed herself. She smiled, and laughed, and maybe even shed a tear. It was a wonderful Christmas experience, all our own. The next few Christmas Eve’s we repeated the tradition.
So, the film has a very special place in my heart, and will always be the No. 1 Christmas movie to me.
Merry Christmas to you and yours, and hopefully you’ll find your own special Christmas movie, too.
All the other brackets
Part 1: The Candy Cane Classics bracket, (movies from 1930-1959)
Part 2: The Mistletoe Modern bracket (movies since 1990)
Part 3: The O Tannenbaum TV bracket (made for television)
Part 4: The Egg Nog Neo Classics bracket (movies from 1960-1990)
Part 5: Yuletide Final Four & The Movie Buff-et’s Greatest Christmas Movie of 2017