Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Other Great Macy's Christmas Story

During our last rehearsal, Joe and I briefly touched on The SantaLand Diaries as a counterpoint to the other great Macy's Christmas story, Miracle on 34th Street.

There may be one or two of you out there who are unfamiliar with Miracle on 34th Street; if you haven't seen the original, you should have plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks, but if you just can't wait, you can listen to the 1948 Lux Radio adaptation online.

The 34th St Macy's is, of course, where Sedaris got his job as an elf in SantaLand, but whereas the 1947 film (and its descedants) have all presented Santa Claus as real, and working in the perennial Flagship Department Store. Miracle's SantaLand is a place where magic happens, but Sedaris' is one filled with angry and deranged adults, elves and Santas who all wish they were somewhere else, and a corner where children throw up.

In both cases, though, the protagonists come to believe in a spirit of Christmas that transcends department store artifice in the presence of the triumph of the human spirit. Miracle's Kringle achieves his victory by making everyone around him want to believe that he is Santa Claus, and a legal technicality gives everyone the excuse they need. Our film protagonists, in other words, are looking for a miracle. Sedaris, by contrast, has a miracle thrust upon him: having spent a month working to create a facade of Christmas, and having lost his sense of genuity, Sedaris' miracle is that he finds himself, momentarily at least, believing in Christmas despite himself.

One of the reasons we keep coming back to Miracle on 34th Street is that we all sort of recognize that we don't believe in Christmas miracles. We want to believe in them, and we sometimes look for them, and occasionally when we look for them hard enough, we even find them. But most of us are so harried by the holiday season, including the unspoken social injunction that we must be pleasant and enjoy the company of everyone around us all the time, even those boorish relatives whom we go out of our way not to speak to at weddings, that most of us forget about Christmas miracles in the pursuit of Christmas logistics.

Like Sedaris in SantaLand, we're too busy to look for miracles, and when they present themselves, we're taken by surprise.

Miracle on 34th Street and The SantaLand Diaries present us two sides of the same coin of our sometimes mutually exclusive pursuits of holiday happiness, and the appearance of that happiness. As the holiday season is about to get its official kick-off here in the states, heralded by the presence of Santa Claus at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, it's good for all of us to take a moment to breathe, and remember that our experience of this season is largely a matter of perception. You don't need a miracle to make your holiday magical, and you're more likely to find perfection if you're not looking for it.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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