This holiday season finds the world still reeling from the pandemic amidst major polarization and conflict between ideological perspectives. The limits on our social interactions have amplified the psycho-dynamic separation and tensions of the growing ideological divide distancing us from each other mentally, emotionally and sometimes even spiritually. Many of us are seeking new ways to celebrate the holidays that honor and respond to the present moment.
I myself have been feeling a need to find solace in the holiday season spirit while also wanting to keep a clear head about the world situation. How can we combine the holiday light with a dive into the shadows of the great challenges ahead? One way I found is by watching integrally-informed holiday movies that attempt to both warm the heart and stir the soul, or -- from the integral perspective -- stir the evolutionary impulse within us by working with our shadow material.
Below are a few classic and newer Christmas-oriented films that can help us do just that. What connects these works is their integration of an evolutionary perspective into their cinematic realities. Their characters face challenges and have to find ways to grow and evolve through them, all the while learning deep lessons on facing their shadowy fears, healing their buried wounds and pushing through the barriers of their comfort zones. Of course they all have happy endings, but these happy endings are earned by a revelation of the heart and mind, and not solely by the resolution of a conflict. This holiday season, we can watch these with an awareness of their potential use as a form of media-assisted shadow work and bring our attention to these underlying dynamics and reflect on similar patterns in our own lives.
This year I discovered that two of the most highly regarded holiday classics of all time are integrally-informed: Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and the quintessential Santa movie Miracle on 34th Street (1947).
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
This Frank Capra Christmas classic is an early stage integral work that maps how the main character George Bailey (James Stewart) evolves from egocentric to Kosmocentric circles of care and concern. The film shows us how we can evolve through various stages while also holding onto earlier stage drives and projections. In George's case he holds onto his childhood egoic dream of being a world explorer who does great things, all the while not realizing that he was already doing great things as he developed throughout his life. The film’s beautiful journey teaches us that it is often the little things we do in life that end up having the biggest impact in the long run. The film is also told directly from the Kosmocentric witness perspective, that of the angels watching over George beyond the dimension of the world of form (Currently available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes and YouTube).
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The quintessential Christmas movie, this classic is perhaps the most magical Santa Claus movie ever and yet it shows no magic directly. The miracles Santa brings are miracles of consciousness. He is operating at a higher and more integral level than everyone else and is able to see how they are trapped in their worldviews and constructs. He gently (and sometimes not so gently) awakens them to higher dimensions of being and becoming. He is also very human in many ways, sometimes losing his faith that he can save Christmas, which only adds great depth to the wonderful performance by Edmund Gwenn. Although we end with a hint this man may indeed be Santa Claus, we are left with only a sense of standing at the edge of a great Kosmic mystery (Currently available on Amazon Prime, Disney+, Google Play, iTunes and YouTube).
12 Dates of Christmas (2011 TV Movie)
A sweet and sappy Christmas movie that uses the integrally-informed evolutionary time loop formula from Groundhog Day with a Christmas spin and a female main character. 12 Dates is a cute little movie filled with holiday spirit, light on the outside with deep evolutionary patterns on the inside as the main character grows, heals and evolves through several stages of development (Currently available on Amazon Prime, Disney+, Freeform, Hulu and iTunes).
Dear Santa (2011 TV Movie)
Another sweet and sappy Christmas movie that follows a female character through her evolution during one holiday season. Our main character is swept into a period of accelerated development when a little girl's letter to Santa appears to magically find its way into her hands. The letter sends her on an emotional journey that helps her evolve from an egocentric spoiled and ditzy rich girl to a more mature woman whose circle of care and concern has expanded to include all of humanity (Currently available on Amazon Prime, iTunes and YouTube).
Extending my search beyond individual movies, I have been researching the entire genre of holiday movies, in particular Hallmark Movies, and mapping their structures of consciousness patterns to see why these genres are so successful across religious, cultural and political boundaries.
Hallmark Movie Genre
Holiday movies in general owe their roots in many ways to the two integral holiday classics we examined above, It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. The Hallmark movie genre includes the holiday movie genre but also other types of family-friendly works. These include its classic Hallmark Hall of Fame for its highest quality more literary works. They also include its Hallmark Channel original movies, which cycle through seasons of celebration and romance with a yearly slate of movies focusing on Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentines Day, Easter, Passover, wedding season, and special seasonal love stories for winter, spring, summer and fall. Hallmark also has a mystery channel which adds the “solving a mystery” twist to their genre patterns. This genre is so successful it is being copied by other channels and services including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Lifetime, Freeform and UP TV. All told, hundreds of these movies have been produced over the years, and in recent years around 30 to 40 are released each year.
What I have learned from analyzing all these works is that the Hallmark movie genre in particular is in many ways integrative. It seeks to integrate traditional, modern and postmodern worldviews and values. It works to transcend the polarities we see in the world around us right now.
The Hallmark holiday movie universe, for instance, is a world where political ideologies are mostly transcended, showing us a world in which conservative, traditional, liberal and progressive values can co-exist and actually support each other. So rural and small town America becomes the symbol of family and traditions that ground us. The city is where we go to find our dreams, search for ourselves and learn valuable life lessons. But in the end we can only truly find our true selves and live our dreams when we return home after all our seeking and find everything we were seeking inside ourselves...with the help of family and friends and sometimes even otherworldly forces. Sometimes these stories even transcend the rural/city divide by having a story take place solely in one environment but represent the traditional-progressive integration values within subcultural patterns.
In this cinematic universe most of the stories are love stories, and they tend to focus on a strong female lead. Both men and women (and more recently of different races, faiths and gender identities) are seen as being able to have it all once they realize that the achievement of worldly goals is not truly valuable unless it is human centered and human grounded.
(Hallmark movies are available online on Hallmark Now streaming service with a 7 day free trial)
Whether we just watch the classics or dive deep into the feel-good movie ocean, with these movies we have the potential to lift our hearts and spirits while reflecting our own inner and outer challenges. We can consciously use these works as a mirror for our own challenges, and as a way of facing and working through that which has wounded us and been buried in the shadows of the unconscious. We can even get a taste of a possible future where the cultural divide no longer exists, a place of “peace on earth and goodwill to all.”