It’s a Wonderful Life: How the Pandemic Brings Out the Meaning in Christmas

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Kate Nonnenkamp ‘23, Staff Writer

In the classic Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey is a selfless adventurer. He dreams of traveling around the globe and getting out of his small hometown, Bedford Falls. Yet, when his father suddenly dies, George is left to support the family business: a bank. The bank isn’t particularly profitable. Unlike the cutthroat interest and debt collectors offered by other banks, Bailey Building and Loan will make a loan to anyone in the town and give them however long they need to pay it back. The bank is continuously in the red, but it protects the town from being taken over by the tyrannical Mr. Potter. George is the town’s last line of economic defense.

But this struggling bank does nothing to satisfy George’s wish for adventure. In fact, it’s quite the opposite of what he planned to do with his life. He had trips planned and job offers that would make him rich. Yet, he feels a moral responsibility to stay, if only to ensure the safety of others. He cannot make himself leave Bedford Falls.

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George isn’t the only one suffering on Christmas. In many ways, like George, a small child, born in a manger many years ago, was doomed to a life of suffering for the good of others. That child being Jesus. God sent him down to spread the message of God’s kingdom. His life was one of duty and responsibility. He gave up his hopes and faced his fears to do what God asked of him. No one would wish to turn from God to human, but Jesus did so willingly on Christmas to save others.

The pandemic has made us much like George Bailey and even Jesus. We have been asked to make sacrifices. We’ve canceled trips, we’ve been stuck in our houses, and we’ve been separated from those that we love. Our longing for new experiences and adventure has had to be put aside for the safety of others. We’ve suffered to protect our community. 

The meaning of Christmas, in essence, is the coming of a savior destined to suffer for the benefit of others. Jesus had no big party or bottles of champagne to commemorate his arrival. He came from squalor to die on a cross, all to save humanity.

This Christmas, we too must enter as saviors, ready to act for the good of others. Doing things for others’ interest is noble, but we must be careful about how far we push ourselves. When George is at his lowest, Mr. Potter says this: “You once called me a warped, frustrated old man. What are you but a warped, frustrated young man?” The weight George carried on his shoulders, frustrated and warped him. They made him question whether he even deserved to live. 

In a similar vein, the pandemic has brought many to their lowest. Much of the media brings painful nostalgia of how life once was. Each socially distanced meeting makes six feet feel even farther. In all the stress and loneliness, we must find a way to avoid becoming “warped, frustrated young men.” 

There is no set way to do that. We are supposed to be celebrating together on Christmas, but we couldn’t be further from that. Being with others, and suffering for them, is a pillar in the Christmas spirit. And yet, we must celebrate from six feet away or farther. However, one thing to remember is that those six feet are for the protection of the very people from whom we separate—sacrificing for the good of others, the true meaning of Christmas.