During the Christmas season, I love to watch some of the old Christmas movies on TV.
My favorite all time is, of course, “A Christmas Carol,” based on the story of Scrooge by Charles Dickens. As many of you are aware, there are several versions of this on the screen. At this point, my guess is I’m in the minority in preferring the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim. It’s hard to find now as the versions with George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart seem more likely to be shown. I grew up with the Sim version, hence, he’s the “real” Scrooge for me.
The other night, my wife and I watched a 1947 film with only one version that I am aware of: “Miracle on 34th Street.”
It’s about “the real” Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, who was hired by Macy’s department store in New York City to be Santa Claus in their main store during the Christmas rush. Kris Kringle turns out to be an elderly man with an authentically long white beard (”go on and pull it,” he says to skeptical children over and over) who lives in a home for elderly folks and truly believes he is Santa Claus. Many think he is crazy and tried to have him “committed,” but I’m wandering now.
The best part of the story for me is Santa’s response to children and their parents when the kids ask for their most wished for toy. It seems that Kris had done research all through the city department stores and knew which stores had the best deals and the best toys. If a child wanted a particular toy that Macy’s didn’t have, instead of redirecting them to some toy that Macy’s did have (the corporate policy and his charge as an employee), Santa told them where to go for the toy they wanted, e.g., Gimbels, a competitor down the street!
Here’s the twist: just as he was discovered and about to be fired by his boss, a customer approached the boss and thanked him for Santa’s recommendation as to where such and such a toy could be found at another store! Even though she would not be buying a toy at Macy’s that day, the appreciative parent declared that forever more she would be a loyal Macy’s customer.
The Macy’s manager was flabbergasted. When he reported all of this to Mr. Macy, he was told that they had received hundreds of phone calls expressing gratitude for such a benevolent corporate policy and they would be loyal customers forever! They alerted all their stores to implement this policy and Gimbels and other retailers followed suit! Benevolence worked, thanks to Santa!
Full confessions: I have no such optimism or even hope that corporate America might show such a generous spirit. I’m biased that the Wal-Marts of the world will always put profits first. But, just maybe, the tide is turning, even slightly.
Recent demonstrations at Wal-Mart stores across the country suggest that consumers and employees are fed up with corporate policies as usual. Also, I’ve recently read that corporations now have an option to be chartered as so-called “benefit corporations,” meaning they include in their mission statements that they are not only obligated to their stockholders to make a profit, but they also have a social responsibility to their surrounding communities. Evidently 12 states currently recognize so-called “benefit corporations,” with 14 more considering such an option.
There is hope, perhaps, and in this season of hope and expectation, a season for generosity and giving, maybe the “true Christmas spirit” will more and more trump the profit only mentality that this season has more and more become.
Wherever we do shop, maybe we can ask local managers if they have ever viewed “Miracle on 34th Street?” Or ask if they know about “benefit corporations.”
Maybe morality can indeed influence and limit the market? Along with “A Christmas Carol,” “Miracle ...” is now part of my annual viewing ritual.
Blessed Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice and New Year to all.
The Rev. Art McDonald is pastor of the First Universalist Church of Essex.