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Entertaining Business: Christmas movies and money

December 9, 2014

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On the surface, Christmas movies may be bits of heartwarming fluff that we turn to every year, but given the way they often accurately portray the economic struggles of their time, it is no wonder we all want a little bit of hope when we are facing similar financial struggles. 

The classic 1946 movie It’s a Wonderful Life is a perfect example. Not only does it accurately cover the multitude of flaws with the Savings and Loan industry, it also shows that one man, George Bailey, can overcome the most difficult economic strife and go up against Mr. Potter’s “Big Bank” so long as he relies on the kindness of others within his community.

Yes, there’s the true meaning of Christmas, an angel getting his wings and realizing that your family is the most important, but it offers hope there for those who have mounds of credit card debt, or sky high mortgage payments.

These holiday themed movies seem to reflect of the economic times.

Classic Hollywood films such as Wonderful Life were aimed to getting the audience to value what they had. Cartoons from the 1960s, such as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (marking its 50th anniversary Tuesday night) and A Charlie Brown Christmas preach inclusiveness while rejecting monetary values. Think about the restoration of the misfit toys, and the crass commercialism that Lucy embraces and Linus rejects.

If you look at movies from the ’80s and ’90s, many of them really focus on the excess of the holiday. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is all about having the most lights, Jingle All the Way is entirely about the frenzy surrounding a “must have” pricey toy, and Home Alone 2 has a family flying to France and a kid staying in the luxury Plaza hotel.

In the 2000s, the economy took a backseat to relationships, such as those forged in Love, Actually. (There has more recently been a backlash against the film, with critics contending it’s a class struggle, which seems just a little heavy for us.)

But current Christmas movies (such as the ones that monopolize Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel this time of year) have shown that they are in line with the current economic climate.

  • Window Wonderland (2013) features a window dresser who’s salary doesn’t cover rent for a New York apartment so he’s forced to secretly live at the department store where he works. The wealthy boyfriend in the movie is made out to be the villain, and there’s a “magical” twist where being nice helps both leads out financially.
  • Christmas at Cartwright’s (2014) features Alicia Witt as a single mom who is unemployed and desperately pounding the pavement after the place she worked faithfully for years went out of business. She’s avoiding her landlord and willing to take even a short-term holiday job in order to make ends meet.
  • The Santa Switch (2013) is about a father who spends so much time trying save his travel agency that he lost his family in the process. He’s also under the impression from society that the only way to impress his children is to buy them expensive presents that he can’t afford, and he goes into massive debt by maxing out his credit cards.
  • Let It Snow (2013) stars new Christmas movie staple Candace Cameron Bure and doesn’t seem like it fits this mold as it focuses on the wealthy daughter of a rich developer, but there’s a lot in this movie about big corproations buying land, leveling anything that exists and putting up cookie cutter buildings instead of working with charming original properties.

The one thing all of these movies have in common is that by the end, be it through angels or Santa magic or just kind acts of humanity, everyone ends up in a financially secure place that’s filled with love and happiness. Isn’t that what we all wish for this time of year?

Whether it’s entertainment, or business, it’s certainly Christmas.

Story Ideas 

Culture and finance of It’s a Wonderful Life 

It’s a Wonderful Life’s accurate S&L scenes

Was George Bailey a subprime lender? 


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