Saturday, December 19, 2009

Otherworldly Christmas visitors

One of the most interesting aspects of the winter holidays are the ideas of intervention in the lives of mortals by otherworldly visitors at Christmas. Whether those visitors are ghosts, angels or Santa Claus himself, magical characters abound at Christmas.

Some of my favorite otherworldly characters are Marley's ghost and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future from Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The best Marley's ghost I've ever seen in movie form was Sir Alec Guinness in the movie musical of Scrooge. He was creepy and funny all at the same time. When Scrooge cowered away from Marley's ghost it was easy to see why.

The ghosts of Christmas Present and Future tend to look the same. Christmas Present is a jolly, huge fellow and Christmas future wears a black shroud. Moviemakers have taken some license with the Ghost of Christmas Past though. CP has been played as a whipcord thin young man, a pure young woman, an older woman in fancy dress and a number of other ways. I think it's because Dickens himself is very vague. He describes a figure both young and old with long white hair but the bloom of youth in its face. A thing with one arm then many arms, ever changing.

I really love Dickens' imagination and his ability to create these incredibly memorable characters that have so captured human spirit and memory that Christmas isn't really Christmas without them. I can't imagine a Christmas without watching the musical Scrooge starring Albert Finney or the classic Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol.

Another holiday favorite otherworldly character for me didn't originate in a book, but in a movie. Who can forget Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second Class from It's a Wonderful Life?

When George Bailey thinks the world would be a better place without him and he'd be more valuable to his family dead, Clarence steps in to save George. And he not only saves him by fishing him out of the cold river into which George jumped, but Clarence saves George's very soul. He shows George how the world would have been different had George never been born. The world without George Bailey is a cold, unhappy place.

As Clarence tells George "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?" George learns an important lesson as a result of his otherworldly Christmas visitor and so does the audience.

And let's not forget the grandest otherworldly visitor of them all: Kris Kringle. Santa Claus. Jolly Old St. Nick. He's made an appearance in Elf, Santa Clause and any number of other films, but the grandaddy of Santa stories is the Miracle on 34th Street. Miracle is both a book and a movie, but I remember the movie best. There have been several versions. I adore the original with Edmund Gwenn but I also liked the for TV version featuring Sebastian Cabot as Kris Kringle.

Whichever version you love best, the message is that even when things are hard, you should have faith and believe because when you believe, good things happen.

That is the common theme in these stories of otherworldly visitors at Christmas. That somehow goodness can triumph. That goodwill toward men can be carried with us throughout the year if we just believe. Kindness and mercy can change even the hardest sinner amongst us into a good person. It's why when I watch these movies or read the books that I get misty eyed and my throat closes. Hope shines through even the murkiest nighttime of the soul and can light the future for us all.

So, as Tiny Tim said, "God bless us, every one."


  1. Neat post! I didn't grow up with Christmas or Santa or Kris, so they have no emotional weight with me. But I've seen It's a wonderful life a bunch of times, and, of course Xmas Carol. The former is a little too sweet for my taste, but I love the Dicken's story. I haven't seen the most recent incarnation of it, but am looking forward to it.

  2. Thanks for commenting Annie. I haven't seen the animated Christmas Carol yet either, but I want to go see it in a theater. It looks great.