On one crisp December evening, two decades ago, my husband and I celebrated our very first Christmas together as a married couple. One of our yearly traditions, which we established that very Christmas season, has been to settle in front of the TV with a large bowl of popcorn and sodas for a quiet evening enjoying the holiday classics.
That evening, my husband flipped the channels and excitedly noted the film "It's a Wonderful Life" had just started playing. After learning that I'd never seen it, my hubby enthusiastically said, "You have to watch this movie - it's one of the best films EVER."
I guess my prejudice toward black-and-white TV was rearing its ugly head. I was in no mood to watch a dated film that I thought was of no relevance to us. I encouraged my hubby to see if he could find one of the many holiday classics that we enjoyed as kids growing up in the late 1960s, early 1970s timeframe.
My husband chuckled and said, "Trust me, you'll love this story. It's about this guy, George Bailey, who..." After relating a brief synopsis of the film, he warned me that I might find the first 45 minutes or so to be slow-moving. Still, he encouraged me to pay attention closely. "Remember everything happening now to this guy, George," he advised, "It'll pay off in the second part of the film."
As I watched George struggle with his devoted wife to raise their kids and pay the bills, report to a job that he never really wanted, battle his devious nemesis Mr. Potter, and yearn for a life that might have been, I thought - okay, there are some universal themes here. But this was a Christmas film? I couldn't make the connection, and really wasn't in the mood to continue watching anything that wasn't about Christmas.
I was getting ready to go into the other room to finish my Christmas wrapping when, suddenly, finally, it was Christmas Eve in George Bailey's little world. I remembered looking at that serene little town, decorated for Christmas and bathed in fluffy white snow, and wishing that I lived in such a place.
And just as my husband had promised, over the course of the next several minutes, everything started to come together. By the end of the film, as I watched George Bailey come to the realization, with his cherished family and lifelong friends gathered around him under his Christmas tree that George Bailey, representing every man and woman, ultimately realized that he surely had had a wonderful life. I wiped away a happy tear from my eye, knowing I'd viewed something very special.
Then two and then four Christmases later, as I sat in a rocking chair, at first with our newborn baby girl and then her baby brother, I watched It's a Wonderful Life with my babies. I have subsequently repeated this tradition with friends and relatives of all ages. Many of them, like me at first thought they were dealing with an out-of-touch film from the mid-1940s, only to come to realize the timeless, wonderful gift we've all been given by Frank Capra.
Since Christmas 1985, I have watched "It's a Wonderful Life" countless times. I agree with many other viewers - it is not only hands-down, the best Christmas movie, but perhaps my most favorite movie of all. I love and cherish it for so many reasons, perhaps most of all because it really makes you stop to think about what's important in your own life.
And the most special moments of all are those times when I get to share "It's a Wonderful Life," as my husband did that one Christmas so long ago, with someone who is watching the film for the very first time.
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