As an American living in Europe, I’m often asked what I miss about life in the States. My response is usually something intangible like “the people” or “the sense of possibility.” This answer often disappoints Europeans; sometimes I think they just want me to say that Europe is better.
After watching this film, I finally have a good answer to that annoying question; more than anywhere else, Americans know how to have fun. It’s a country where adults joyfully plan their Halloween costumes, a country where my mother, eight months pregnant, hung Christmas lights from a shaky outdoor ladder because “without them it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas.”
The American commitment to fun is also at the center of this utterly wonderful film. Mr. Christmas is a portrait of a man who has spent three decades turning his northern California home into an epic display of Christmas lights, one that people travel from all across the country to see.
It’s an unforgettable piece of Americana, one that instantly melted my cynical heart and reminded me of everything beautiful about my small-town American childhood.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the incessant hum of Christmas capitalism, this film is just what the doctor ordered. Mr. Christmas is the kind of great mainstream storytelling we desperately need more of; a story that not only entertains, but also elevates one man’s hobby into a metaphor for how we choose to face life’s problems.
Joan Didion once wrote that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. After watching this film several times, I realize now that Bruce also hangs Christmas lights in order to live. It’s no small job; he dedicates several unpaid months a year to doing it.
To a European, Bruce might seem crazy, another American dreamer trying to compensate for a lack of serious culture. But we Americans know better. Like Bruce, we know that having fun is serious business, and getting it right takes a lot of work.
This Christmas, when you’re waiting in line to buy overpriced toys, or cursing at a defective string of lights, take a moment to remember why we go through this every year: we Americans decorate, dress up, and have serious fun because it’s our unique approach to life, one I couldn’t be more proud of.
Merry Christmas from Berlin.