July 15, 2019

Judaism, Actually

“It’s December again, which means it’s time to put away childish things and once again heed our era’s highest moral calling and resume our arguments about Love, Actually.

For some, the star-studded comedy is a comforting Yuletide tradition, up there with sipping on eggnog or buying things you can’t really afford for people who don’t really need them anyway. For others, it’s a catalog of iniquities, a monument to sexism, a towering inferno of a film burning bright with hot white privilege. I’m firmly in the first camp—I’m a simple man who doesn’t need much more than five or six scenes starring Bill Nighy to enjoy a movie—and I want nothing more than to throw on my Snuggie, grab the popcorn, and cheer for Colin as he goes looking for love, truth, and beauty, in the one place where all three can be found in abundance: Wisconsin. But at the risk of prolonging an already tedious scuffle, one more point, I think, must be made: Love, Actually is, maybe, the most Jewish Christmas movie ever made.

Think, for a moment, of all the rest. It’s a Wonderful Life, say, or Miracle on 34th Street, or Meet Me in St. Louis—all are as bleak as the winter solstice, the longest night of the year and a pagan holiday that inspired elements of our modern Christmas celebration. To watch a tearful Margaret O’Brien listen to Judy Garland belt out “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and then rush outside in her nightgown and smash the snowmen her family had so lovingly built, or to watch George Bailey fade from existence, is to plumb the depths of human misery. Sure, these movies all have happy endings, but they are not in the least happy movies. They are, instead, elegiac explorations of the Christian idea of grace, reminders to the faithful that God loves them not because they deserve it but because he is infinitely merciful and kind. Joy, in Christian theology and in Christmas movies alike, only comes from above, a precious gift to be discovered one morning—Christianity, after all, is a religion predicated on an epiphany—and cherished forever. And if you need to explore this idea at greater length, just ask little Zuzu Bailey about angels and their wings.”

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