Holidays offer us a chance to put our usual pursuits aside. But often, also, holidays provide a light to illuminate the meaning of our usual pursuits. So it is with this Christmas season and with our efforts to meet the challenge of the present crisis in America.
Over the generations, the holiday of Christmas has become deeply woven into American culture, expressing both the nature of our country and its ideals. Aside from the commercialization of the holiday, which of course reflects an important part of what America is about, there are also the deep moral values that gain expression in America during the Christmas season.
As a way into the moral meanings of Christmas in the context specifically of American culture, I'd like to look at four of the most prominent imaginative works that, over the years, Americans have found meaningful to include in their holiday celebrations.
These four are:
1) A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, and the various movie versions of Scrooge;
2) Amahl and the Night Visitors, an opera by Menotti, broadcast every Christmas season, for many years, on NBC;
3) It's a Wonderful Life, a 1946 Frank Capra movie starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed;
4) Miracle on 34th Street, a film with Edward Gwenn, Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, and the young Natalie Wood.
These works move us because of what they say about the way the world should work according to a moral vision of what life is about. They connect with Christmas, and they connect with the moral heart of America. And the issues they raise are central to the crisis that we Americans now face in the political realm, and that are at the heart of this campaign.
In the short essays to follow, I will briefly discuss each of these, and how they illuminate the challenge that faces us and how they should fortify us in our hope and resolve.
MONEY OR PEOPLE? THE ISSUE IN "A CHRISTMAS CAROL"
What is Dickens' famous "A Christmas Carol" about? It's about a man who has seriously misconstrued the question, "What is life about?"
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