There are certain films that will forever be associated with the Christmas holiday, films that will be aired and re-aired innumerable times between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and films that parents often long to share with their children as a Yuletide rite of passage. The original Miracle on 34th Street is one -- the ultimate make-you-believe-in-Santa-Claus movie. The hilarious and amazingly still-relatable A Christmas Story is another. And, of course, the quintessential Jimmy Stewart film, It’s a Wonderful Life. That’s the one that always stops me cold. It’s not a Christmas movie.
Sure, a major turning point in the film’s plot takes place on Christmas Eve, but the entire story takes place over decades of the main character’s life. Does one scene set during a holiday make it a holiday film? By that logic, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial would be a Halloween movie. And yes, I will admit that It’s a Wonderful Life has a life-affirming, feel-good ending and the same kind of message about love and self-sacrifice that many holiday films share. But so does Finding Nemo -- and no one calls that a Christmas movie.
Most importantly, though, It’s a Wonderful Life is not about Christmas. Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Story are about Christmas. So are Elf, The Polar Express, The Santa Clause, Prancer, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It’s a Wonderful Life is about a suicidal man wrestling with his decision on whether or not to jump off a bridge. It may be a better movie than many of the ones mentioned above, but a Christmas movie? Nah.