Niagara Gazette — No matter how many times I read and watch them, almost always with loved ones, sometimes all alone, movies like “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Holiday Inn, White Christmas,” “A Christmas Carol,” “White Christmas” and “Meet Me in St. Louis” and great reading like Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” always lift my spirits and put me in the right mood at Christmas time.
Leading up to the big day, one of my personal favorite Christmas traditions, besides gift shopping for unique presents at little locally owned and operated shoppes, cooking, eating and sharing special treats from around the world, and reconnecting with long-lost friends and family, is to gorge myself on classic holiday stories, especially Christmas-themed movies and, of course, singing and playing as many of those joyful Christmas songs as possible; music makes almost everything clearer, if not better, doesn’t it?
This year is no different except that watching the memorial celebration of Nelson Mandela’s amazing life reminded me of one of the worlds most appreciated, my number one favorite Christmas movie of all time, Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey.
No, Bailey and Mandela have little in common, but the theme, based on writer Phillip Van Doren Stern’s 1939 short story, “The Greatest Gift” permeates Mandela’s reality as Bailey learns, with the help of his appointed guardian angel, Clarence Odbody what life in Bedford Falls would have been like without him.
Searching the 500 cable and internet television channels for the film during the wee hours yesterday, instead of the movie, I came across and began to watch live broadcast coverage of the celebration of Mandela’s 95 year-long life; it was powerfully inspiring to say the least, keeping me up and awake all night long.
Soulful, yet joyous music and the constant energetic bouncing of nearly 95,000 rainbow hued people including at least 90 world leaders filled the FNB Soccer Stadium.
Swaying with and singing South African music inspired by artists like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, and Sipho Mabuse, speaker Andrew Mlangeni, one of three surviving alleged co-conspirators accused of treason in the now famous Rivonia Trial that sent Mandela and his anti-apartheid colleagues to prison for nearly 30 years, remembered Madiba, (Mandela’s tribal nickname) as “an incomparable force of leadership,” who “illuminated the way in our nation’s darkest hour.”
Mlangeni’s reference to his nation’s “darkest hour” related to what would have been a civil war which neither side could have “won,” as South Africa’s racially segregated black population was ready to face the potentially catastrophic unleashing of its white minority controlled military in what likely would have been one of the bloodiest human massacres ever seen on the face of the planet with staggering losses of human life and unprecedented destruction.
The crisis brought the world face-to-face with an ugly reality which, thankfully, few really wanted to confront, proving that one person’s influence can change the world for the better, thus reiterating the key message inherent in just about all of the most popular Christmas time movies and songs: “Life is good; even better together.”
Mandela and the ANC changed the world by changing the course of history for the better, in a sense reflecting the Christmas Spirit which teaches us to respect ourselves and each other, to be kind to and appreciate one another; that does not mean that we have to exchange gifts other than our own best attitudes and behavior toward each other.
We can only imagine what life in South Africa, indeed, the world might be like, but for Nelson Mandela; don’t we all wonder what life might be like without us?
Bottom line: WE ALL MATTER!
As President Obama said during his emotionally charged 20-minute eulogy delivered to the roaring stadium crowd, Mandela was the “last great liberator of the 20th century.” He was not only a man of politics, but a pragmatist and a flawed human being who managed to discipline his anger to turn centuries of oppression into what Mandela liked to call a “Rainbow Nation.”
The president continued, “It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth,” Obama said. “He changed laws, but he changed also hearts.”
The much loved lessons of the most appreciated Christmas time movies and music should be heeded not just during this holiday season, but year round. I think at least one Christmas song seems to fit to moment fairly well.
Written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, brother of the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley; it was set to Felix Mendelsohn’s 1840 cantata to commemorate Johan Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.
Who has not sung, or hummed the lyrics from “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”?
While it would not be fair in any sense to compare Mandela to Jesus, isn’t it fitting that he would die at Christmas time giving us another clear reminder of the real Christmas Spirit and the actual “Reason for the Season?”
As Mlangeni said to the crowd standing in the rain, a symbol of hope and blessings in the South African culture, “It would be in our collective wisdom ... to uphold the values of Nelson Mandela.”
Come on, get in the spirit and sing it with me:
Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”
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