Santa Claus. He is just about synonymous with Christmas and its secular imagery and is one of the first fantasies we become aware of in our childhood lives. He is like all the fairy tales we are enthralled by and loved to experience...but at the time he was different. He was REAL. He actually existed in the here and now and would come to our homes once a year to perform a feat of magic. That was something worth believing in. Sure, if you really really thought about it you could poke dozens of holes in the story. For example, it would be impossible for a man, even in a flying sleigh, to travel to every child's home on one night. Its also impossible to climb down even the largest of chimneys without killing one's self. And what about houses with no chimneys? How is that supposed to work. What those nay-sayers forget though is the power of faith...faith in the improbable (but not impossible). For example, any man with a flying sleigh certainly could have some magical time warp abilities to bend the hours of Christmas Eve to his purposes...and if he can do that, certainly he can find magical ways into people's homes, and he can have magical ways of carrying all the gifts he needs to distribute. Those are the kinds of loopholes we used to justify Santa's existence to ourselves despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. No wonder we are often so disappointed and disillusioned when we finally decide it is time to stop believing, because it feels as though we have wasted so much time and energy on something fruitless. However, that doesn't stop Hollywood from trying to get us to believe again. In fact, one of the most famous Santa Claus films is built around the concept of rediscovering our belief in Santa. Let's go back to 1947 and the famous Macy's Department Store to experience Miracle on 34th Street.
The film begins on Thanksgiving Day and harried Doris Walker, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade events coordinator, is in a pickle. It is nearing the end of the parade, which means it's time for Santa's float, and their Santa Claus is deeply intoxicated. To make matters worse Kris Kringle, a passing old man, is indignant at Santa's behavior. Doris turns the negative into a positive however when she asks Kris, who very much looks the part of Santa, to fill in for the crocked Claus. Kris fits into the role nicely and does so well that he is asked to be the official Santa for Macy's. Kris doesn't do everything the Macy's way however, and he tells several parents to go to competing stores to get the toys that their children desire, gaining even more customer support for the store. He seems like the perfect Santa Claus, but things take a turn when he begins to suggest though both what he says and through his actions that he is the real Santa Claus...even getting Doris's daughter Susan (who hasn't believed in Santa for years) to believe in him as well. This eventually calls Kris's sanity into question, and following an altercation with an employee he is put on trial. Will he be put in jail, or will he manage to make everyone believe the impossible.
Miracle on 34th Street is a true classic as far as Christmas movies go and, though its premise is fantastic, it manages to stay rooted in a reality which is completely appropriate and refreshing for a film about the question of the reality of Mr. Claus. Kris is never seen performing magic, but he does know the language of an orphaned child who comes to see him, and also seems to know everyone's name. He also never tells anyone that he is Santa Claus until he is told to say that he is not the jolly man. In many ways, this is more a film about the question of sanity than it is the question of there being a Santa...but it is done so expertly that by the end, you really have no reason to think that Kris is insane. The film ends ambiguously, though leaning toward the confirmation that Kris is Santa...and that is all the better for it. The fact that it never answers the question for us makes it even more poignant, because it forces us to make a decision. Personally, I think that Kris is the real Santa Claus...and I hope I get to meet him someday.