What a treat to watch this Christmas classic again. Valentine Davies wrote Miracle on 34th Street when he was standing in line at a department store during the Christmas season. Recall that a classic has a great theme, tells a story in noble language, speaks across generations, and summarizes the virtues and values of a culture at its apex.
The tale of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born about A.D. 280 in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety, love, and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many traditions.
A miracle is a manifestation of Providence guiding our lives. It brings awe, makes wonder, and inspires joy. It is often allegorical, and with many applications to our lives.
The story begins with Kris Kringle who mentions his concern about Christmas as he is Providentially granted the role of Santa Claus in the Macy’s Christmas Parade. He is Providentially in place so that he can note that the current Santa is drunk and not fit to interact with children. The director of the parade is Mrs. Walker who is cynical and jaded about love and Christmas. Kringle quickly points out, “Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind… And that’s what’s been changing. That’s why I’m glad I’m here, maybe I can do something about it.”
Mrs. Walker is only looking for a quick fix with any sober Santa that can be found, not for her life—or her heart—to be changed. But for Kringle this is the opportunity he has been providentially preparing for his whole life. “You see, Mrs. Walker, this is quite an opportunity for me. For the past 50 years or so I’ve been getting more and more worried about Christmas.” It has lost its wonder, joy, and delight.
When challenged on his being the real thing, he boldly declares, “Well, I hate to disagree with you, but not only is there such a person, but here I am to prove it.” Thus, a major theme emerges from the film—proving that Santa Claus does exist!
Intangibles as a Theme
Mrs. Walker has a young daughter, Susie, who knows from her mother that Santa does not exist. Yet what Mrs. Walker and Susie need more than anything are the miracles that Christmas can bring. So convincing is Kris Kringle in his role as Santa that Macy’s hires him full-time for their New York store. He teaches Mrs. Walker and Susie by his actions that the intangibles of Christmas have been lost—things like kindness, joy, and love. “Someday you’re going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. And when you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover they’re the only things that are worthwhile,” Kringle gently teaches.
Integrity as a Theme
As part of being Santa, Kringle has so much integrity that while working for Macy’s he regularly refers patrons to their competitor, Gimbels, for toys that Macy’s is out of or does not carry. At first the store manager is furious with this apparent betrayal, but he quickly notes that customers are becoming even more loyal to Macy’s. So successful is Macy’s in this service that Gimbels and others emulate the clearly customer-centered approach to business. Here we can hearken back to Kringle’s overarching mission: “Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind… And that’s what’s been changing. That’s why I’m glad I’m here, maybe I can do something about it.”
Faith and Hope as a Theme
Kringle stays in character as Santa to the point where he is actually sent for psychiatric evaluation. Although he passes the test, he is upset with the psychiatrist and bops him on the head with his cane for his unethical professional dealings. For his actions Kringle is admitted into a psychiatric ward. Kringle is ultimately saved by an attorney who naturally has those intangibles of Christmas and he defends him in court as truly being Santa Claus.
Trial of Kris Kringle/Santa and Virtue
The ensuing trial quickly focuses on whether or not Kringle is truly Santa Claus with this with these iconic lines, “We intend to prove that Mr. Kringle is Santa Claus.” And further, the virtues of Santa are on display in this statement, “Faith is believing things when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial, it’s everything he stands for.”
The ending I will leave to you to watch again or enjoy for the first time. It never grows old. It is best summarized in this observation given by Mrs. Walker to her daughter Susie, “I was wrong when I told you that, Susie. You must believe in Mr. Kringle and keep right on doing it. You must have faith in him.” To which Susie replies, “I believe… I believe… It’s silly, but I believe.”
Is it silly to believe there is an author of the intangibles of kindness, joy, and love? Is integrity in business or life worth emulating?
What informs your purpose at Christmas? Despite being 75 years old, Miracle on 34th Street is something the whole family will enjoy together thanks to its themes, and universally heartwarming message. (At this time you can watch free with Amazon Prime.)
This past week I was able to be Santa for a few hours with my grandson Declan and a few of his friends from the Special Day Class at John Adams Academy. Many of the children could not use words to articulate their belief, but they knew who Santa was—and every wonderful and noble intangible he represents.
Featured image courtesy of 20th Century Fox