I’m not sure what year it was, but I know when it happened. My first grown up Christmas. The year of revised expectations. I think it was when I was in high school. All through the final build up to the day, something was wrong. Something was missing. Something wasn’t Christmas about that Christmas. I couldn’t put a finger on it, it just wasn’t working. Into that malaise, none of my gifts that year were anything that was particularly able to excite me. Maybe I was just burned out.
I was told that there was another present meant for me. A very major present. But it had vanished. It had even vanished from memory, for I could not be told was it was. I understood. I couldn’t blame anyone. It was just one more way that holiday wasn’t working out the way I’d come to expect. In my state of mind that year, it probably wouldn’t have saved Christmas for me anyway. However, in its absence, the most significant gift I received was a movie.
It was a Christmas movie, which was already a strike against it. As someone who likes to keep things compartmentalized, being a Christmas movie meant that it was going to be out of season the next day. I respected that that view may not be widely held, and tried to look past it. It stars Mary Steenburgen, whom I’d liked in Back to the Future 3. If I recall correctly, it has Wayne Robson in a major role, and I like him on The Red Green Show. The familiar cast should have helped me like it.
However, its plot was something like a modern take on It’s A Wonderful Life, with a whole heap of problems building to a crisis, followed by a magical second chance. It ended up being more depressing than enjoyable. But I wasn’t really enjoying anything that year. I still have no idea why, but there was no magic in my Christmas, and One Magic Christmas didn’t provide any.
With the movie fresh in my mind now, I think the two main parts of the problem were that it’s a much more pure drama than anything I would have ever expected, and I wasn’t in a frame of mind to be receptive to what it actually does. Ginny’s life is already miserable, and in order to find the Christmas Spirit, she has to reach a much lower point than that, so that she essentially has nothing left but faith in Christmas magic. It’s like if It’s A Wonderful Life spent two thirds of its runtime on the day Uncle Billy lost the money. The moments of relief from the depression are subtle, and not something I was originally able to notice, let alone appreciate. The payoff of the unrelenting hardship is the catharsis of how her experience has changed her, and maybe it is arbitrary, and the magic involved confusing, but now it feels good anyway. Over ten years later, when if anything I’m more of a pragmatic adult like Ginny, I can let the movie’s magic in.