It’s that time of year again.
Yes! Whether you self-identify as a Saint Nick or a Scrooge, the holiday season is once again upon us. It’s a time of year that brings about many oh-so-joyful consequences: extremely busy shopping malls, ugly sweaters and visits with Great-Aunt Fran—who always holds you hostage by showing you pictures on her iPad (“And here’s a shot of me with your fourth-cousin Randy—look, we even took a selfie!—and here’s the hotel room I stayed in when I visited him last spring and here’s the free breakfast they served in the lobby…”) so that your only escape is to drink an entire punchbowl of spiked eggnog.
‘Tis the season!
Not to mention the yuletide mania that spreads through pop culture during the holidays like a virus. Every year, it seems, there’s a whole new slew of products being churned out: holiday albums (“Listen to One Direction sing your favourite festive classics! They’re the exact same songs you heard on last year’s, but this time… They’re ACOUSTIC!”), animated specials (“How The Minions Saved Santa”) and must-have toys (“Forget that lame ol’ Elf On A Shelf—if you want your kid to have a special holiday season, get them a Rudolph On A Rooftop!”)
Despite the obvious frustration many of these offerings can elicit, there have, in fact, been some worthwhile additions to the festive pop culture canon.
Take Home Alone, for instance. As a tried-and-true child of the 90s, this flick has become a perennial staple of my December. Always screened via a VHS copy with its cardboard sleeve now almost entirely disintegrated—and don’t you dare think about fast-forwarding through the previews at the beginning! Those advertisements for Pepsi and Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest are now as integral to the Home Alone experience as Macaulay Culkin himself. I honestly think I’ve watched this more than any other movie in my life; in fact, its entire script—trust me when I say that I could recite it—is so ingrained upon my psyche that I find myself constantly suppressing the urge to slip an out-of-context Kevin McCallister-ism into everyday conversation. (I’m not sure the lovely staff at the HIL Commons Cafe selling me my medium coffee would appreciate it if I told them to “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”) But no matter how many times I watch it, I’ll never not tear up at the ending, and the movie’s message about how it is never too late to show your appreciation for your loved ones—your family, your friends, your neighbours—is a worthy moral any time of year.
Same goes for It’s A Wonderful Life. While Home Alone earns its place on the Ryan Gaio Essential Holiday Pop Culture List due to sheer quantity of viewings, Wonderful Life earns its esteemed status through quality. Now, I know I have some biases: I’m a sucker for nostalgia, so anything in black-and-white certainly preaches to my personal choir, and I recognize that the film’s fictional setting of Bedford Falls reminds me so much of my small Ontario hometown I sometimes wonder if it was filmed there—but even despite these qualifiers I can’t help but feel there’s a little bit of George Bailey in all of us. His inability to recognize his own self-worth and his significance to the people around him—a significance that is so obvious to everyone but himself—feels as relevant to audiences in 2017 as it was upon the film’s 1946 release. Sometimes, unfortunately, life causes us all to feel this way. But I leave every viewing with a renewed conviction that, although there may be times where it feels otherwise, this is, indeed, a wonderful life after all. (In addition to having “Auld Lang Syne” stuck in my head. No spoilers.) As with Home Alone, this is a moral-of-the-story that transcends the season, and is a lesson we would all benefit from (re)learning the whole year through.
My point is—and I hope any other Home Alone-loving readers will hear those three words in the voice Kevin McCallister uses as he urges Old Man Marley to stop being afraid and call his son; this is admittedly a deep-cut reference, but a reference nonetheless—this time of year can feel superficial, empty, and overall frustrating. But there can also be significant, heartfelt meaning found if you’re willing to look for it.
And if not? Take another swig of eggnog and smile for an iPad selfie with Great-Aunt Fran. After all, the holidays only come once a year.