It’s an odd year, 2013. Since the 1960s there have been no less than 216 feature Christmas films, more than four a year. But this December there’s not a manger or even a sleigh in sight at the local cinemas. So much the better, given recent offerings (Rise Of The Guardians? Please!) So this actually gives me an opportunity to let you in on one of our family traditions.
I should begin by confessing that this is a stolen tradition, but I’m a big fan of borrowing what other families have found works. As the thermometer climbs into the forties this summer there is bound to be plenty of afternoons when sitting in an air-conditioned lounge room is the only sensible thing to do. And since tired little bodies will eventually turn to the TV, why not put on something Christmassy and build the beginnings of your own tradition?
During pre-school and primary we’ve sat down with our sons each year to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol together. The film is the felt-fashioned version of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. It introduces us to Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Cain), a miserly moneylender in Victorian England who looks on Christmas as an unwelcome interruption of his financial affairs. He is surrounded by faithful figures like Bob Cratchit – enter Kermit the frog – who challenge him with their generosity –
Scrooge: Let us deal with the eviction notices for tomorrow, Mr. Cratchit.
Kermit: Uh, tomorrow’s Christmas, sir.
Scrooge: Very well. You may gift wrap them.
– but the lesson doesn’t sink home until Scrooge is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve. The Ghost of Christmas Past reminds him of all his failures; the Ghost of Christmas Present underlines the season’s inherent joy; and the Ghost of Christmas’ Yet To Come shows him where his hard-heartedness is taking him.
There probably isn’t a kid in Australia today who hasn’t been entertained by the muppets, and the crazy banter and schmaltzy songs from this film tend to stick in young minds. The best pay-off, though, is the spiritual message. This modern version only makes minimal references to Jesus but repentance remains the key message. Since the days of Dickens, Scrooge in all of his 22 manifestations from Seymour Hicks to Jim Carey has taught us there’s no future in being, “…a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous old sinner.” The miser learns that Christmas represents an opportunity to turn away from our sins and embrace the joy the day brings. The reason for that joy – the birth of humanity’s saviour – might be buried by sentimentality but a savvy parent will welcome the opportunity A Muppet Christmas Carol offers to dig it out.
But if it doesn’t provide enough assistance, you can always dig back a little deeper in the DVD catalogue…
My personal favourite is The Little Drummer Boy from 1968. Stop-motion animation can’t dilute the sadness of Aaron, a child whose heart is blackened by the murder of his parents and the destruction of their final gift. But an encounter with a child in a manger brings about an unlooked for change:
“Aaron’s heart was filled with joy and love, and he knew at last that the hate he had carried there was wrong, as all hatred will ever be.”
It’s this sort of transformation that Christmas films reach for every year because Christmas itself is an occasion that has conversion at its very core. Scrooge, Aaron and a thousand other Christmas creations point to the day’s transformative truth. You can’t have God come to earth and the world stay the same; we have been left hungry for change. Society may trim Jesus out of every event but it’s unwilling to eliminate the promise He brings:
“We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.”
Our Christmas TV traditions
Distributor: Walt Disney
Release Date: Available