What a turbulent year it's been.
For those of us who have managed to survive 2015 with our lives intact and our freedoms hanging by a thread, it has been a year of crackdowns, clampdowns, shutdowns, showdowns, shootdowns, standdowns, knockdowns, putdowns, breakdowns, lockdowns, takedowns, slowdowns, meltdowns, and never-ending letdowns.
As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we've been held up, stripped down, faked out, photographed, frisked, fracked, hacked, tracked, cracked, intercepted, accessed, spied on, zapped, mapped, searched, shot at, tasered, tortured, tackled, trussed up, tricked, lied to, labeled, libeled, leered at, shoved aside, saddled with debt not of our own making, sold a bill of goods about national security, tuned out by those representing us, tossed aside, and taken to the cleaners.
After endless months of being mired in gloom and doom, we now find ourselves just a few weeks away from Christmas, struggling to latch onto that spirit of joy, excitement, innocence, magic and hope we had as children. Even so, it takes a monumental effort to get past the Grinches and Scrooges who can you make you feel like yours is anything but a wonderful life.
And then there's Christmas itself, which has become embattled in recent years, co-opted by rampant commercialism, straight-jacketed by political correctness, and denuded of so much of its loveliness, holiness and mystery.
Despite all of this humbuggery, however, there are still a few steps you can take to enjoy the season and hopefully make this world a better place. While it's not possible to solve the nation's problems overnight, here are some practical steps each of us can take to recapture the true spirit of Christmas within our communities
Move beyond the "us" vs. "them" mentality. Tune into what's happening in your family, in your community and your world, and get active. Show compassion to those in need, be kind to those around you, forgive those who have wronged you, and teach your children to do the same. Stop acting entitled and start being empowered. Learn tolerance in the true sense of the word. Value your family. Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and comfort the lonely and broken-hearted. Give peace a chance.
And finally, turn off the news, settle down with your loved ones, and turn on a Christmas movie that reinforces your faith in humanity. The following are ten of my favorites to help get you through the season with maximum joy.
It's A Wonderful Life (1946). An American classic about a despondent man, George Bailey (James Stewart), who is saved from suicide by an angel working to get his wings. This film is a testament to director Frank Capra's faith in people.
The Bishop's Wife (1947). An angel (Cary Grant) comes to earth in answer to a bishop's (David Niven) prayer for help. The two male leads and Loretta Young help energize this tale of lost visions and longings of the heart.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947). By happenchance, Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is hired as Santa Claus by Macy's Department Store in New York City for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Before long, Kringle, who believes himself to be the one and only Santa Claus, has impacted virtually everyone around him. Funny, witty and heartwarming, this film is stocked with some particularly fine performances.
A Christmas Carol (1951). Starring Alastair Sim, this is the best film version of the penny-pinching Scrooge's journey to spiritual enlightenment by way of visits from supernatural visitors. Bill Murray's Scrooged (1988) is a good modern film adaptation of this Charles Dickens tale.
A Christmas Story (1983). Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) is a young boy obsessed with one thing and only one thing: how to get a Red Ryder BB-gun for Christmas. Ralphie's parents are wary, and his mother continually warns him that "you'll shoot your eye out." This comedy has some classic scenes, however, Bob Clark's adept direction never loses the focus of the story: the yearnings of a child for the magic of Christmas morning.
One Magic Christmas (1985). If you grew up in a family where times were tough, this film is for you. A guardian angel (Harry Dean Stanton) comes to earth to help a disillusioned woman (Mary Steenburgen), who hates Christmas. This, of course, poses serious problems for her husband and two children who groove on the yuletide. This tale of redemption and second chances is a delight to watch.
Prancer (1989). This story of an eight-year-old girl (Rebecca Harrell) who believes that an injured reindeer in her barn is actually one of Santa's reindeer is one of the most down-to-earth Christmas films ever made. It shows how the love of an individual, even if it's a little girl, can change not only other hearts but the course of historical events.
Home Alone (1990). Eight-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is accidentally left alone at home in a Chicago suburb when his parents, siblings and assorted relatives fly to Paris for Christmas. Good riddance, or so Kevin thinks until he runs into all kinds of problems, including two burglars. Written by John Hughes, the story centers on the importance of family relationships.
Elf (2003). Will Ferrell is marvelous as Buddy the Elf. As a baby, Buddy snuck into Santa's bag and wound up at the North Pole, where he was raised as an oversized elf. From there, he begins a journey back to the "real" world to find and establish a relationship with his father. This film has it all--Santa, elves, family problems, humor, emotion and above all else, a large dose of the Christmas spirit.
Get Santa (2014). This British film is a rare gem. Santa, played by Jim Broadbent, has crashed while test-driving a new sleigh and turns to fresh-out-of-prison ex-con Steve and his 9-year-old son Tom to save Christmas. The film has enough heart and Christmas magic to touch the most determined Unbeliever, and then for laughs, tosses in some farting reindeer, a jailbreak, a car chase, and a trip to the North Pole.
As these films illustrate, it is possible to move beyond the self-centered, materialistic, cynical world that imprisons us--a materialistic world that has our young people growing jaded and skeptical--and reclaim the loving, giving, magical spirit of Christmas.
More than a century ago, the editor of The New York Sun addressed this growing cynicism in his response to a letter from 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon, whose friends had told her there is no Santa Claus. This was his answer.
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little...
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus... There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished...
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see... there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.