I wrote a silly thing for Sunday using Christmas traditions for fanfic. And I am doing a Christmas Card giveaway. All of that is kind of silly and superficial, it may seem as though I don’t take the holiday seriously. Or maybe I do, but I don’t find anything in it that can overlap with my Hindi film love. And that’s not the case, so I want to write a post about why Christmas is so important to me, and how it wraps itself around every part of my life, including the films I watch. (this is a repost from last year)
My family is German. Which comes out more at Christmas than any other time of the year. German Christmas, it’s about Christ, but it’s also about winter and darkness and light and warmth and hope. The original meaning of the “Oh Christmas Tree” song is about giving us faith that winter will end, that there is something green which lasts through out even the darkest time of year. Christmas is about coming together to survive that dark time, bringing in candles and light, bringing together family, exchanging gifts to show our love, and having one last glorious feast of indulgence before the lean times begin. Something warm to remember as we wait for spring.
(This is the kind of Christmas tree my Grandpa remembers from when he was little. Only, they used real candles and it was only lit up briefly for Christmas Eve. The middle of the night, Christmas Eve, that is when the real celebration was, light on the darkest night with the promise of joy in the morning)
This celebration of Christmas, it goes back before Christianity. But it is not unrelated to Christ. The hope of a new baby, the promise of a new era, that is part of it all, part of the light that gets us through the darkest times.
The first Sunday of Advent in the usual Christian tradition, it is about “Hope”. Based on the Old Testament prophets who promised Christ would come. It is about the thousands of years that the Jewish people suffered under slavery and oppression and survived through a shared hope for a savior that had been promised to them. Against all logic, they had hope. And hope is why they survived, a story to be passed down generation to generation, a promise that someday things would be better.
One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. It’s a silly little song that doesn’t mention Christ or anything religious, but it conveys the feeling of Christmas better than most hymns. Maybe things are bad this year, but sometime in the future, someday, it will be better. And for now, set aside this one day for that hope, for that joy against all reason, for that faith and trust in a brighter future.
(What really kills me is that this scene was recorded in 1943, so in fact next year all their troubles were not far way, it was one of the worst years of the war. They had two Christmases to get through before the happy ending)
That’s what’s important about Christmas, it is this one spot of light surrounded by darkness. Like a little baby in a stable with a star above, and one magical moment when everything appeared possible. Or the one tree that stays green in the midst of snow and darkness and cold, promising that spring will come, we will survive to a better time.
Some of the best Christmas songs and Christmas movies from America came from bad times in our history. WWII gave us not just “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” but also “Christmas Eve in My Hometown” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas”. And movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, and of course Meet Me in St. Louis (where “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” came from) revolve around the war. Christmas shines brightest during the darkest times. Even the Christmas story, it is about the hope and joy and promise of a new baby. But it is also about the awareness that this fragile child will only live 33 years, and will die a hideous death without seeing any of his beautiful dreams come to reality. This baby is a promise of a future that will come long outside of his own lifetime.
(It’s the same reason Bhagat Singh keeps resonating. Someone who died for a dream, who believed his death would have meaning, his sacrifice gave us the world we live in now)
It’s a holiday for the downtrodden, the sad, the suffering. It’s not for the rich folks or the ones who have everything going right. It’s for the slaves, the oppressed, the ones who need to dream. And so is Indian film. It’s art for those who have nothing but their dreams and their hope and their faith to keep them going. People going through the darkest of times who have to believe that someday there will be light.
That’s what appears onscreen. It is Hope. Is Joy. Is light and love and happiness. Is a fragile moment of beauty in a dark world.
Indian film doesn’t need to make Christmas movies, because every movie is a “Christmas” movie. Every movie is about magic and destiny and dreams and all those things that somehow keep us moving when times seem impossible.
Juhi Chawla’s mother died during the filming of Yes Boss, and yet she kept going out there and smiling and making us smile back at her. Karan Johar’s father was dying through out the filming of Kal Ho Na Ho, and he turned the film into a hymn to faith in a life with purpose and meaning and happiness after you are gone. Shammi Kapoor lost his beloved wife Geeta Bali, and kept going out there and making us believe in love and happy endings in film after film. The list is uncountable, the artists who suffered personal tragedies, economic woes, personal depressions. And yet they keep going. They keep giving happiness and light to the world through it all. They make us believe, because they believe, that in the end it will all turn out all right. The savior will come, winter will end, light will win over darkness.