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A Wonderful Life? Finding Capra in Today's Christmas

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It's Christmas Eve. And for most of us, thank God, it's almost over.

We've been too preoccupied with a lot of "holiday" crap to enjoy a real joyous sense of a true Christmas.

Once again, we've been subjected to an unrelenting bombardment of the usual "holiday" commercial advertising and promotions that numb our senses.

Once again, we have been incessantly exposed to the typical, almost contrived, altruistic news stories and publicized drives reaching out to the poor and needy. (My question is why most people can't be so attuned and generous year round?)

Once again, we've had to endure another year of a continuous stream of an ever-growing number of inane Christmas songs, movies, "holiday" specials and other programming to the point where it's impossible even to watch TV or listen to the radio. I used to look forward to that great Frank Capra classic starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, It's a Wonderful Life, the only really good Christmas movie ever made. But they don't play it anymore on television.

Once again, we have eaten and drunk too much, spent way more than we should on credit cards and, totally distracted, really haven't gotten much work done the last few days. It even affects Washington. I believe that if this fiscal crisis we are facing had been in July, it would have been resolved already. Obviously, President Obama and Congress were just too preoccupied with all the Christmas stuff that they couldn't keep their head in the compromise game. They too were just too stressed with Christmas travel plans to Hawaii and their home states.

And once again, when Christmas is supposed to be a holiday of peace and benevolence, we've witnessed the annual acrimonious "War on Christmas" debate about nativity scenes displayed by municipalities and whether "Merry Christmas" should be allowed to be publicly used in advertising.

It seems to take a big toll on us. Knowing that a big family gathering for my office landlord was in the offing, I asked her the other day how all her Christmas preparations were going. All she could say before she walked away quickly, her voice lowered and her words coming out in a very blunt manner, was, "It's all so stressful."

I'm Jewish, so I never have celebrated, and maybe never understood Christmas. Instead, I have stood outside of it all, contemplating this "holiday" anxiety that my Christian friends feel each year.

During childhood, the anxiety wasn't there. All I saw then was how elated my Christians friends about their new toys after Christmas. As a kid, I always felt I was missing out on something big.

But as I grew older, I even felt ambivalent about Christmas. I remembered in high school reading about the Christmas cease fires during the World Wars and listening to newscasters describe the ones that took place in Vietnam. I questioned my parents -- why they'd ever go back to fighting the next day? They couldn't give me a coherent answer. It never made sense to me, then and now.

And as I grew up, I found that the real Scrooges of the world did not have Christmas revelations at all but truly ran their businesses and our world without real humanity or Christmas spirit. When I practiced family law, Christmas Eve also became a time of aggravation when client's called incessantly, complaining about missed times for drop offs of kids pursuant to court orders and child-custody agreements.

Though this year, I have to say, there was one news item that gave me hope, and some understanding about the true Christmas spirit.

Over the weekend, the pope granted a truly gracious Christmas pardon to his former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who had been convicted and sentenced to a prison term for leaking Vatican documents and materials to the Italian press.

Gabriele had been a faithful servant of the pope and the Vatican, and had hoped in an altruistic sense that his actions would clean up corruption and debauchery within the Vatican walls, which he felt was impugning the pope's reputation.

In a truly noble act, the pope went and delivered the pardon personally to Gabriele in his prison cell.

The picture released of the encounter captures a Gabriele with a smile that instantly conveys a sense of joy and relief from both the pardon and from being again in the stoic pope's presence.

That picture captured a truly joyous, Capra Christmas moment, showing that Christmas can still be a merry and forgiving holiday after all.

Published in "Florida Voices" on December 24, 2012

Steven Kurlander is an attorney and communications strategist who writes weekly columns in the "Sun Sentinel" and "Florida Voices." He blogs Kurly's Kommentary and can be emailed at kurly@stevenkurlander.com