It's a Wonderful Life

Here are a few holiday treasures I’ve collected over the years from my reading and viewing. Consider them my gift to you this holiday season:

From “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Clarence Oddbody (on being assigned to assist George Bailey): Is he sick?

Supervisor: No, worse. He’s discouraged.

George: What is it you want, Mary? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Yeah. I’ll give you the moon, Mary. … Then the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and toes and the ends of your hair. Am I talking too much?

Neighbor on a nearby porch: Yes, why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?

George to Clarence (after fishing each other out of the river): You look about like the kind of angel I’d get.

Clarence to George: You’ve been given a great gift, George, a chance to see what the world would be like without you. … Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he? … You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it all away?

Mr. Potter to George: Peter Bailey was not a businessman. That’s what killed him. I don’t mean any disrespect. He was a man of high ideals — so called. But ideals without common sense can ruin this town. … What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class and all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir ’em up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas.

George: But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Doesn’t that make them better citizens, better customers? … Just remember, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying, the living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book, he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be.

The end of “Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry:

The magi, as you know, were wise men — wonderfully wise men — who brought gifts to the babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days, let it be said that of all … who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Sermon at the end of the film, “The Bishop’s Wife”:

Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts, especially with gifts. You give me a book. I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer. Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. Oh, we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled. All, that is, except one. We’ve even forgotten to hang it up — the stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most and then, let each put in his share: Loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance — all the shining gifts that make peace on earth.

From the New York Sun, Sept. 27, 1897, by Francis Pharcellus Church, editorial writer:

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. … Not believe in Santa Claus? You might as well not believe in friends! … Nobody sees Santa Claus but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor adults can see. … Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that are unseen and unseeable in the world. … There is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, not even the united strength of all the strongest men who ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view the supernatural beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. 

(Published each year until the paper’s demise, 52 years later)

From a sermon by James
Allan Francis:

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village and worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was 30. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never traveled 200 miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. …

Twenty long centuries have come and gone, but all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, have not affected the life of humanity as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

(Adapted by the late Rev. Harry Parker of First Baptist Church of Oak Park)

“The Wicked Fairy at the Manger,” by U.A. Fanthorpe

My gift for the child:

No wife, kids, home;

No money sense. Unemployable.

Friends, yes, but the wrong sort 

The workshy, women, wimps,

Petty infringers of the law,

With notable diseases,

Poll tax collectors, tarts;

The bottom rung. 

His end?

I think we’ll make it

Public, prolonged, painful.

“Right,” said the baby. 

“That was roughly what we had in mind.”

From “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens:

Scrooge (trying to placate the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley): But you were always a good man of business, Jacob

Marley: Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

Scrooge: Poor boy! I wish … but it’s too late now.

Ghost of Christmas Past: What is the matter?

Scrooge: Nothing. Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something — that’s all. 

Ghost of Christmas Past (smiling thoughtfully, then waving his hand): Let us see another Christmas!

From “No Apologies for Loving Christmas” by Garrison Keillor:

The basic idea of Christmas is a cheerful one: that we are all connected to all of creation — the fish, the forests and mountains, the stars, the solar systems, and infinity itself — by the love of the Creator who came to Earth in the form of an infant and was first recognized as divine by poor uneducated shepherds and by travelers from afar, a story that endures despite all the tinsel and glitter. You can take the story literally or partially or as a metaphor, and it will warm you. … Last week in New York, I stood in a crowd of strangers, some believers, others not, and someone started singing about the calmness and brightness, the radiant beams, and everyone sang along, quietly, a cappella, and we were united in a common mystery. There it is. Unto you a child is born in the city of David. Make of it what you will. God bless you all, each one.

(Published December of 2015, three days after my mom died)

From “A Christmas Story,” written and narrated by the great Jean Shepherd:

They looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.

(Ralphie at the dinner table after asking for the Red Ryder B-B gun)

Why … there could be anything in there!

(Ralphie’s dad just before opening the crate holding his major award)

He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master. … In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenity that, as far as we know, is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.

(Ralphie describing his father during his battles with the furnace)

My favorite Christmas carol couplet (from “O Come,
O Come, Emmanuel”

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadow put to flight.

From the beginning of “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote:

Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning, more than 20 years ago. … Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar. A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. … “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather.”

Whether you prefer fruitcake or figgy pudding or pumpkin pie, “A Christmas Story” or “A Christmas Carol,” to quote another carol:

I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

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