Have Yourself a Populist Christmas with It’s a Wonderful Life and The Bishop’s Wife

Just after World War II two very different films were released, a bare year apart, that attempted to grapple with postwar America. It’s easy to look at It’s a Wonderful Life and either see a heartwarming classic or a pile of treacle begging for a snarky rejoinder, and it’s easy to look at The Bishop’s Wife and see mainstream Christmastime fluff. But both films hide a far more interesting message, which becomes clear when you compare them with other holiday classics.

One of Christmas’ greatest traditions is arguing about how far the holiday has fallen from the pure ideal Christmases of yesteryear. It’s too commercialized! It’s too materialistic! There is a war being waged upon it! And yet, when we actually look back at the history of our most beloved Christmas movies, we see that the holiday has always, with two big exceptions, been shown as a day ...