“A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear.
War is over, if you want it
War is over now.”
― John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
What a year.
It feels as if government Grinches and corporate Scrooges have been working overtime to drain every last drop of joy, kindness and liberty from the world.
After endless months of gloom and doom, it’s hard not to feel like Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas as he struggles to feel happy and find the true meaning of Christmas in the midst of rampant commercialism, political correctness and the casual cruelty of an apathetic, self-absorbed, dog-eat-dog world.
Then again, isn’t that struggle to overcome the darkness and find the light within exactly what Christmas—the celebration of a baby born in a manger—is all about? The reminder that we have not been forgotten or forsaken. Glad tidings in the midst of hard times. Goodwill to counter meanness. Innocence in the face of cynicism. Hope in the midst of despair. Comfort to soothe our fears. Peace as an answer to war. Love that conquers hate.
As “fellow-passengers to the grave,” we all have a moral duty to make this world (or at least our small corners of it) just a little bit kinder, a little less hostile and a lot more helpful to those in need.
No matter what one’s budget, religion, or political persuasion, there is no shortage of things we can each do right now to pay our blessings forward and recapture the true spirit of Christmas.
For starters, 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. Talk less, and listen more. Take less, and give more. Stop being a hater. Stop acting entitled and start being empowered. Learn tolerance in the true sense of the word. Value your family. Count your blessings. Share your blessings. Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and comfort the lonely and broken-hearted. Bridge bridges, and tear down walls. Stand for freedom. Strive for peace.
One thing more: make time for joy and laughter. Shake off the blues with some Christmas tunes, whatever fits the bill for you, be it traditional carols, rollicking oldies, or some rocking new tunes. Watch a Christmas movie that reinforces your faith in humanity.
Here are ten of my favorite Christmas movies and music albums to get you started.
First the movies.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). An American classic about a despondent man, George Bailey who is saved from suicide by an angel working to get his wings.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947). An angel answers a bishop’s prayer for help in this tale of lost visions and longings of the heart.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Kris Kringle, hired on as Santa Claus by Macy’s Department Store for its Thanksgiving Day Parade, forced to prove he’s the real deal or serve time in a psych ward.
A Christmas Carol (1951). This is the best film version of the penny-pinching Scrooge’s journey to spiritual enlightenment by way of visits from supernatural visitors. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) provides a wonderful glimpse into how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Story (1983). At the heart of this timeless comedy is the universal yearning 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 tale of redemption and second chances is a delight to watch.
Prancer (1989). This story of an eight-year-old girl who believes she has found one of Santa’s reindeer is a testament to the transforming power of love and childhood innocence.
Home Alone (1990). Eight-year-old Kevin, accidentally left behind at home when his family flies to Paris for Christmas, thinks he’s got it made. Hijinks ensue when two burglars match their wits against his. A funny, tender tribute to childhood and the bonds of family.
Elf (2003). Buddy, a human raised by North Pole elves, travels to the Big Apple and spreads Christmas cheer to everyone he meets. This film has it all: Santa, elves, family problems, humor, emotion and above all else, a large dose of the Christmas spirit.
The Christmas Chronicles (2018). A sister and brother’s Christmas Eve plan to catch Santa Claus on camera turns into an unexpected journey that most kids could only dream about.
Now for the music.
Out of the hundreds of Christmas albums I’ve listened to over the years, the following, covering a broad range of musical styles, moods and tastes, each in its own way perfectly captures the essence of Christmas for me.
It’s Christmas (EMI): Great range from John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”
Christmas Guitar (Rounder) by master guitarist John Fahey.
Christmas Is A Special Day (The Right Stuff): Fats Domino, the great Fifties rocker, tackles everything from “Amazing Grace” to “Jingle Bells.”
Christmas Island (August/Private Music): “Frosty the Snowman” will never sound the same after you hear Leon Redbone and Dr. John duet.
A Holiday Celebration (Gold Castle): The classic folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary, backed by the New York Choral Society.
The Christmas Album (Columbia) by Neil Diamond.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy) by the Vince Guaraldi Trio.
The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (Fuel Records) offers up deep-rooted traditional holiday songs.
A Twisted Christmas (Razor Tie): Twisted Sister, the heavy metal group, knocks the socks off a bevy of traditional and pop Christmas songs.
Songs for Christmas (Asthmatic Kitty): Independent singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens’ inventive yuletide creations.
Before you know it, Christmas will be a distant memory and we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming of politics, war, violence, materialism and mayhem.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, there may not be much we can do to avoid the dismal reality of the American police state in the long term—not so long as the powers-that-be continue to call the shots and allow profit margins to take precedence over the needs of people—but in the short term, I hope you’ll do your part to “spread a smile of joy” and “throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.”