Authors Jerry B. Jenkins, Kathleen Norris, and Francine Rivers discuss the best Christmas stories not in the Bible.
Best Christmas Story? It's a Wonderful Life
Jerry B. Jenkins
I've always been a sucker for tear-jerking stories, but somehow I missed this Jimmy Stewart Christmas vehicle until I was in my 30s and had a young family.
We were visiting my in-laws, and a rare touch of insomnia (probably the result of too many holiday goodies) saw me flipping channels alone in the wee hours. As fate would have it, I happened upon It's a Wonderful Life just as it was beginning.
I had heard of it for years, of course. Many friends listed it among their all-time favorite movies. But the title alone had always put me off. What kind of sappy Frank Capra piece could it portend? I mean, Capra-esque had become a pejorative.
But I was riveted from the first scene—what appeared to be twinkling stars talking with each other. I was born at the end of the 1940s and was fascinated by the World War II period. Stewart reminded me of my father, who had served in the war. Donna Reed, who plays his wife, looked like my mother in her prime.
Watching the main characters cavort like children left me with a list of questions for my parents: Was that really the way it was? Did you slide in the snow on shovel blades?
Seeing the brothers become men and interact in mature and loving ways with their aging father made me long for the same with my three sons.
But when the engine of the story really revved up, I knew I was in it till the end. The saga of a man longing to leave his little hometown, only to discover that everything he sought he already owned, will never grow old. Quaint and old-fashioned, this 63-year-old picture is timeless.
The next day I obnoxiously told my family every detail of the story of the man who was given a chance to experience the world as if he had never been born.
Back home I scoured the TV listings to find when the classic would show again, then insisted we all enjoy it together. The kids rolled their eyes, and their body language radiated skepticism, but soon they were as engrossed as I had been.
We watched It's a Wonderful Life three more times that holiday season and haven't missed watching it at Christmastime together in more than 25 years since. The entire family knows every line, and our kids' kids have begun watching.
Ten years ago my eldest son, Dallas, and I started Jenkins Entertainment, a filmmaking company. It's little surprise that our latest picture, What If …, is a modern take on It's a Wonderful Life. Ours shows a man getting to see what his life would have been like had he made the right choices, rather than what the world would be like had he never been born.
There's something satisfying about coming full circle and paying homage to my favorite Christmas story outside the Bible.
Best Christmas Story? The Littlest Angel
I was fascinated by angels when I was a child. And my favorite book when I was four was Charles Tazewell's The Littlest Angel, which had been published a year before I was born.
My mother and father had read the story to me countless times, and I pored over the illustrations on my own. For some reason, the tragedy implicit in the story—that a little boy has died—did not bother me that much; I was pleased to think that a child could be at play among the angels in heaven.
I suppose the story would seem hopelessly corny to anyone except a child: As heaven prepares for the birth of Jesus, the only gift the boy can bring is a small box with mementos of his life on earth—a dog's collar, some marbles, and other treasures.