Holiday movies teach us important lessons

Note: This column appears in the 12/11 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/12 issue of the Peoria Times

The theme of almost every holiday movie is finding the true meaning of Christmas. Except, of course, for the movie “Jack Frost,” in which the theme is: if your absentee father dies, be alert, because there is a good chance he will come back to life in the form of a snowman, and finally teach you how to play hockey. This is another important holiday lesson.

Anyway, the true meaning of Christmas in these movies usually proves to be quite elusive at first, but is ultimately found in some form of non-materialistic love. That is why, I am sure, so many people like myself are suckers for holiday flicks -- because they make you feel good, and reaffirm what you already know to be true.

But let me ask you this: Have you ever tried, in real life, to execute a non-materialistic Christmas? Contrary to what the movies would imply (gasp!), it is quite difficult.

A few years ago, on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, my wife and I decided that we really didn’t need presents that year. So in lieu of gifts we asked some of our family to simply donate to a particular school in New Orleans. A part of us imagined that everybody would follow suit when it came to their own gifts, and we would all have one, big, giftless Christmas. But it didn’t necessarily go down like that, and two days later we were in Victoria’s Secret searching for those pajama pants that say “Pink” on the butt. It was almost as if our family learned nothing from the movie “Jack Frost.”

And what example is Santa Claus setting in all of this? I have yet to see him denounce the materialism of the holidays by replacing Xboxes with $100 United Way donations. (Plus he was a total insensitive jerk in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”) That’s why I often prefer to take it upon myself to force my agenda on others by making donations on their behalf without their consent. Take that, loved ones!

Rudolph, you idiot -- your hoof is on my toe! Your father should be ashamed...

Only a holiday movie can help us. I choose “Once Upon a Christmas,” in which former swimsuit model Kathy Ireland plays Santa Claus’s daughter and she has to save Christmas because her parents – Mr. & Mrs. Claus -- went on vacation to Hawaii (again, nice example, Santa.) Not that there is a lesson to be learned from that movie -- it is horrible – but if you buy it on DVD for someone they probably won’t want a gift from you next year. And that’s a start.

But, believe it or not, I have learned something over the years. While an all-out non-materialistic holiday would be quite a thing to experience, it’s not a reality, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For one, it could actually deprive others of the joy they derive from giving. For them, the look on your face after opening a thoughtful gift they couldn’t wait to give you is often the gift itself. And let’s face it -- gift-giving is part of our holiday culture, and the ultimate reason behind that is a good one. Finding the balance between helping those who really need it and giving to those you love may be the true, true meaning of Christmas.

That, or, spirit-inhabited snowmen. Either one.

You're right Snowdad -- this isn't weird at all!