This article is part of The Daly Planet Presents: The Twelve Days Of Christmas Movies, a daily series leading up to Christmas Eve 2015. To see all other entries click here.
What is Christmas really about? We’ve been talking about Christmas movies for the past 11 days now and I still don’t think we’ve fully gotten a handle on what the holiday actually is. We certainly know what is is not about: things, stuff, presents. It’s amazing to see just how many Christmas stories, from Dickens to Lampoon, deal with the commercialization of the holiday. That even all the way back in the 1800s we were still dealing with people losing the true spirit of what Christmas is, succumbing to materialism and capitalism.
I’m choosing to end the Twelve Days of Christmas Movies on Miracle on 34th Street for a very specific reason. The Christmas classic, like many of the movies we’ve covered this week, attempts to explore the true meaning of Christmas. And like these other movies it deals with the familiar themes: charity, good will toward men, and rejection of material desires. But unlike these other movies, Miracle also discusses an equally important christmas theme: faith.
I’m not talking about religious faith. That is, of course, a very important aspect of the holiday for many people. But Miracle on 34th Street isn’t a very religious movie. No, what I’m referring to here is faith in other people. While on the surface Miracle appears to be a movie about the existence of Santa Claus, I would argue it is much more than that. Our main character, Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), was betrayed by her former husband after he broke her heart and left her and her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood). Doris’ response to this was to retreat from the world and lose her faith. Doris doesn’t trust anyone and makes a decision to look at the world from the most pragmatic angle possible. She is terrified of being hurt again. What’s more, she doesn’t want the same thing to happen to her child. The result of this is that she doesn’t allow Susan to be a child. Refusing to teach her of Santa Claus. Not letting her play pretend or make believe. Doris’ lack of faith is echoed in her daughter, and it’s slowly destroying the both of them.
Enter Kris Kringle.
Kris begins to shake up everything and challenge the narrative that Doris has constructed. That Santa is fake and that believing in things is silly. The brilliance of this movie is that the main story seems to be constructed around making little Susan believe that there is a Santa Claus. And on the surface it is. But Susan is a child, and convincing a child to have faith and trust in something is easy. The real challenge of the movie is to convince Doris to have faith again. To trust in another person; in this case romantic interest Fred Gailey (John Payne). And in this, the movie is so smartly designed. In each scene in which we see Susan interact with Kris, we also see Susan and Fred interact. As Susan begins to believe that Kris Kringle could actually be Santa, Doris starts to believe that Fred Gailey could actually be a good man.
It’s no surprise that when Kris Kringle loses his temper and finds himself in a precarious legal situation, it is Fred that swoops in to save him. By having Fred align with a man who actually believes in Santa Claus, the movie forces Doris to make a choice. If she wants to continue whatever is happening with Fred Gailey she must trust him. She must have faith in a man, despite all logic telling her not to. Because, after all, how in the hell could you legally prove that Santa Claus exists? Doris, showing real growth, decides to stick by Fred, to have faith in him and his abilities.
In the end, through some hilarious and heartwarming legal loopholes, Fred Gailey is successful. Kris Kringle is legally declared Santa Claus and Susan finally starts to believe in him. Her faith in Kris was rewarded. But to me this isn’t the real victory of the movie because Doris has also had her faith rewarded. By opening herself up to Fred Gailey and trusting in him, Doris has found happiness for both her and her child. That is the power of faith.
We’ve all had moments that have tested our faith in people. Sometimes people screw you over. Sometimes they betray your trust. After all, people can be selfish and stupid. But people can also be absolutely wonderful. Miracle on 34th Street is showing us that if we’re too afraid to put our faith in them we might never find those wonderful ones. So when I think about this movie I like to remember that the real miracle on 34th street had nothing to do with Santa Claus. The miracle was one hurt woman finding her way to love again, and that all started with faith.
I hope you all have enjoyed our 12 Days of Christmas Movies coverage as much as we’ve all enjoyed writing them. I’m sure there were a lot of your favorite classics that we didn’t get to this year, but that’s what next Christmas is for! From everyone here at The Daly Planet, have a wonderful holiday, a Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year!