Every year, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is huge spectacle, with crowds thronging the streets of New York and millions watching at home. Giant balloons, incredible floats, performances, it’s a big deal.
And every year, the big finale is Santa Claus.
Macy’s Santa is, in a way, THE Santa. And a large reason why is a movie from way back in 1947.
‘Miracle on 34th Street’ tells the story of a single mother, her precocious daughter, the handsome neighbor and an old man named Kris Kringle who believes himself to be the real Santa Claus. It’s set in Macy’s, one of the most famous stores in New York – and an even bigger deal then.
The story was originally called ‘The Big Heart’ and the film had a great cast. It was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and won two for Best Writing and a Best Supporting Actor for Edmund Gwenn as Kringle. A VERY young Natalie Wood plays Susan, the little girl who doesn’t believe in anything and acts like an adult.
It’s a surprisingly modern tale. You have Susan’s mom, Doris, a capable career woman who is bitter and empty after Susan’s father ran off years ago. Meanwhile, Fred Gailey is a bachelor who is trying to win over Doris with Susan’s help. But those elements could fit into any romantic comedy, even today. It’s Kringle who makes this story a piece of Christmas magic…
Kris is a sweet old man and a snappy dresser who is angered to find that the fellow hired to play Santa in the Macy’s Parade is falling-down drunk. Doris, seeing that Kringle is a competent, charming old man with an awesome beard, asks him to fill in. He’s such a success that Macy’s hires him to work in the store – which is kind of a problem once they begin to realize that the old man might be crazy!
Whether or not Kris Kringle is REALLY Santa Claus is never definitively answered. I’m sure we are supposed to believe he is, and belief is at the core of this story. Even if he isn’t, it’s still a wonderful and, yes, heartwarming tale.
You might have inferred that I’m fond of this story. This is true. In fact, I’ve seen every adaptation of it available! It made me understand why Santa Claus (not exactly a major part of the inspiration for Christmas, after all) is such a wonderful thing.
Because there’s something about Santa, isn’t there? He speaks to us in a very direct way. He’s accessible. We all know what he looks like, what he does and that he is on our side. We get older and, well, we leave him behind. But he’s still there for the next generation.
‘Miracle on 34th Street’ takes aim at the commercialization and consumerism of Santa and Christmas. In these days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, perhaps we needs its message more than ever.
Someone must have thought it was a story worth telling, because it was only eight years later that it was remade for television. And then AGAIN four years after that. Plus radio and stage versions.
In 1973, it was done as a TV musical which, frankly, was not great. Maybe it was the musical part, maybe it was the beard – Sebastian Cabot was pretty much known for having a beard but, for some reason, he’s wearing an obviously fake one as Kringle – but it lacked the grounding in reality so necessary to the story.
In 1994, there was a big-budget Hollywood remake. It’s also very good, but they changed the name of the department store to “Cole’s” because Macy’s wouldn’t allow their name to be used. This annoys me, but Sir Richard Attenborough is pretty good as Kringle. I like that he’s English and that his beard is quite short. It doesn’t hurt the story one bit. One major flaw in this version (and the 1959 TV version) is that Kringle is a bit too hotheaded and violent. Not like Rambo or anything, but it’s a bit scary to see (maybe) Santa Claus get upset and hit people with a cane. I mean, that’s scary, right?
But still, a pretty good remake.
I don’t know if this story will be adapted to the screen again, although there has been at least one more stage version. But the movies are out there and, if you have never seen the story – even if you have – check it out. And see if you still believe in Santa Claus.