The other evening Dear Hubby, my two sons and I settled in to carry out one of our holiday traditions – watching the movie classic, It’s A Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. It’s a tradition we started a few years ago and one we intend to continue. I must admit, the first few times I watched it, it felt kind of sappy, but every year it has grown on me and has turned into a holiday favorite. Perhaps surprisingly, even from their much younger vantage point, my sons see the life lessons contained in this non-action, old-time movie and appreciate it, once a year anyway.
I thought about why this particular old movie has grown to be so endeared by countless people through the years. Then I realized it’s about love, war, economic hardship, losing a parent, faith, family, responsibility and expectations. These themes are just as relevant today as they were in 1946. Some things really haven’t changed all that much, right?
The theme that jumped out at me in particular this year was expectations. We all have certain expectations for ourselves, our children, our jobs, our futures and even our holidays. We plan and organize thinking we can predict and plot out our futures like some kind of life road map. We like to think we know what our futures hold, at least the big picture. We like to think we have control.
Jimmy Stewart’s character had lofty plans or expectations for himself. He wanted to go to college and get out of the small town of Bedford Falls. He wanted a better job and life than his father had. Then came his father’s untimely death, the Great Depression and World War II; suddenly the responsibility of taking care of everyone else fell on his shoulders. He had to give up his dream of going to college and sent his brother instead. The expectations he envisioned for his life had to change. Instead, he had to do what others expected him to do, take care of his family and father’s business. He wasn’t very happy about adjusting what he perceived to be his life’s expectations.
Each Christmas, many of us have expectations for what our perfect holiday should look like. We shop for the perfect presents and perfect tree. We decorate our homes so they will look perfect. We plan for the perfect meal and family gathering. We expect perfect behavior from young children. Then we start making New Year’s resolutions so we can improve upon our bodies and goals in order to make the next year, well, more perfect.
It’s no wonder the holidays can be so exhausting, especially for the perfectionists among us, which thankfully I am not!
I have learned what I expect in life isn’t necessarily what I will get. I have learned we must all be more adaptable because change will surely happen. Our own expectations must adapt and change as well. This doesn’t mean we must settle for less or set smaller goals. It just means we should appreciate what we have right now as well.
Since cancer barged into my life, I still make plans for the future and have expectations for where I hope to go from here. I’ve been forced to make some alterations, and I realize there are more yet to come; but as Jimmy Stewart’s character came to realize, it still is “a wonderful life” we’ve been given.
In case anyone might be interested, a second favorite holiday movie my family and I enjoy each year is The Muppet Christmas Carol, the one with Michael Caine. This Dickens classic is superbly done and entertains all ages. A third favorite is the 1994 version of Little Women starring Winona Ryder. My daughter and I even manage to get the males in the household to watch this one, although again admittedly, only once a year. Notably, the same themes of love, economic hardship and family are central in these movies as well. If you haven’t seen these classics, check them out some time.
In closing this post, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and thank you for reading my blog!
How have your expectations for your life changed?
What are your favorite holiday movies?