Local News: Mission Mississippi’s Prayer Breakfast for Tuesday, December 27, will be held at Farish Street Baptist Church (619 North Farish Street in downtown Jackson), where Rev. Hickman Johnson serves as pastor. For more information, contact Patricia Edwards at (601) 355-0636. The purpose of these prayer breakfasts, held twice a week throughout the Jackson area, is to promote greater unity in the Body of Christ across racial and denominational lines. To learn more, go to www.missionmississippi.org.
The “Santa really is real after all” theme has been done to death over the years on film and in books, and the majority of these stories fail to hold up with time. Miracle on 34th Street, released in 1947, is the rare exception, as it avoids being clichéd and manages to be heartwarming and child-like, without succumbing to childishness or sentimentality.
1. Plot Summary
The classic story tells of a kind, white-bearded old man who is hired to be Macy’s new department store Santa Claus. To everyone’s surprise, though the new hire is a huge hit with customers, he seems off in some ways—he calls himself Kris Kringle and believes he is the real Santa Claus (incidentally, “Kris Kringle” is an Anglicized alteration of the German phrase “Krist Kinder”, which literally means “Christ Child”).
This is especially interesting since Doris, the woman who hires Kris, is adamantly opposed to teaching Susy, her daughter, about Santa Claus. Doris, Susy, and Fred, Doris’s new boyfriend, all think Kris is a dear, likeable old man, but they’re conflicted about his incredible claim.
It all comes to a head when Kris has to go through a lunacy hearing where Fred, now his lawyer, has to not only prove that Kris is not insane, but also that he is Santa. The film uses a light touch, leaving the viewer wondering even to the end whom Kris really is.
At no point does Kris outright claim to live at the North Pole—he never denies that he lives at a home for the aged in New York. The presence of a cane that resembles Kris’s in the house that Doris and Fred decided to buy makes the couple wonder if Kris really is more than they’d originally thought. Had one actually seen Kris flying around with reindeer in the end—which is the tendency in so many modern “Santa is real” movies—this would’ve spoiled it. Better to suggest, rather than to overdo it.
2. Positive Elements
Unlike our modern society where Santa has come to symbolize and epitomize the commercialism of Christmas, Kris insists that Santa embodies the true spirit of Christmas. Giving, not profiteering, is his desire. His priority is that children should be happy, not that they should make department stores lots of money.
Doris (played by Maureen O’Hara) unwilling to teach her daughter about Santa, is portrayed as a cynical, unfeeling woman. In disbelieving, Susy (portrayed by Natalie Wood) is shown as having practically no imagination. In reality, it’s very possible to have a “realistic” view of St. Nicholas—that he was a fourth century Christian bishop in what is modern day Turkey, renowned for his charity—and still retain the aura and magic of Christmas. Susy is kept from all fantasies and fairy tales, and isn’t even allowed to sit in Santa’s lap at the store. There’s no reason parents with conscientious objections about Santa shouldn’t immerse their children with fairy tales, and even tell them the Santa story, provided they don’t pass it off as fact. Just because Jack and the Bean Stalk didn’t happen, this doesn’t make it any less fun.
Edmund Gwenn, who plays Kris Kringle, offers one of the most endearing portrayals of Santa Claus ever captured on film. He’s so disarming, cheerful, and child-like that you can’t help but root for him throughout. If a jolly, toymaker did really live in the North Pole making gifts for boys and girls around the world, Kris is the kind of man he’d be.
3. Closing Thoughts
The main strike against the movie is that, though it emphasizes the importance of child-like faith and hope, at no point is the Christ Child himself mentioned—the one whom our trust and hope ought to ultimately be in. The real St. Nicholas would, of course, want to be remembered more than anything else for his service to his Lord.
In his personal life, Nicholas is remembered for anonymously giving gifts to children, in keeping with Christ’s command that our charity should be done in secret. He’s also remembered for secretly giving dowry money to a family of unmarried girls. As a bishop, Nicholas is remembered for being one of the voices for orthodoxy at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. At Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus, “Very God of Very God, True God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father”, in the words of the Nicene Creed, which summarizes the faith defended by the orthodox bishops.
Parents need not be cynics. In not passing Santa and his reindeer as factual, they can tell them a story of St. Nicholas that is even better—Nicholas may not be in a magical workshop in the North Pole, but he is with the Lord he served all his life, in heaven, a place even more magical. Certainly, Nicholas himself wouldn’t prefer it any other way.