Do me a favor. Shut your eyes and tell me what you think of when you hear the words “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas”.
What’s your initial, knee-jerk reaction? Did you shudder? Groan? Cringe? Rolling your eyes won’t do too much, friend, cause they’re closed, member? As closed as the minds of many who have already written off Mr. Cameron and his ministry, have dismissed him, resigned him with disdain as “That former child-star turned cringe-worthy Christian filmmaker”. (“cringe-worthy” is as autological a neologism as I’ve ever seen, by the way) How many of the IMDB posters who, at one point, rated this film #1 on the Bottom #100, even saw the movie in its entirety? Did the Razzies, which lauded it with a number of ironic “awards”, including “Kirk Cameron and his Ego” for Worst Duo, even give it a fair chance? What if, in the spirit of the season, we decided to open our minds and our hearts, move past our pre-judgements and anti-Cameron baggage, and just try the film out on its own merits?
So just what do you think this movie is? Chances are, it may not be what you think.
Do you imagine it’s Kirk Cameron railing against the commercialism of the holidary, complaining about the secular trappings, saying it’s gotten away from the true meaning?
Are you picturing some evangelical tract, laying the social issues on thick, complete with straw atheist scrooges who get lectured and converted with suspicious ease?
Maybe you’re probably thinking this is the same inflated complaint about the so-called “War on Christmas”, the Fox News whinging about having to say “Happy Holidays” and such.
What if, instead of all that, I told you that what this movie is all about is Kirk Cameron telling fundamentalists to lighten up and just enjoy Christmas, for what it is, what it really is? Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and all, and that the “War on Christmas” is a silly conspiracy theory?
The movie opens, appropriately enough, with Mr. Cameron in front of a fire, his hearth and home warmly decorated with everything modern Christmas. Stockings are laid by the chimmney with with care. The tree is ornamented in all its finery. And Kirk has a big cup of hot chocolate. One amusing motif throughout is how much he enjoys that festive beverage.
In the opening, Cameron talks about how much he loves Chrismas in all its finery. He loves the tree, he loves the charitable spirit it brings out in everyone, he loves the family time, and he really loves his cocoa. He then addresses the movie’s central theme. Cameron does briefly acknowedge there are some who wishes everyone would stop celebrating Christmas so loudly- but they aren’t his target, and he understands they aren’t his audience. He cheerfully moves onto the primary issue he wants to address: Fellow Christians who believe that modern Christmas has gotten too far away from its religious roots.
Cameron is preaching to his flock here, there’s no pretense otherwise, but he’s not necessarily preaching to the choir. There is a message, something to be dispelled. But he’s speaking to his fellow believers, not trying to chide or condemn, but to enrich, and enliven, and assure that everything we associate with Christmas really is okay and rooted in an acceptable Christian tradition. Cameron understands there are some grinchy fundamentalists out there who complain about what’s become of the celebration of their savior. They claim that what we celebrate as Christmas today is too secular and even has pagan roots (!), and that we need to get rid of Santa and the tree. Kirk Cameron’s message is not an angry “Put Christ back in CHRISTmas”, but that Christ never left, and that many of these grievances are unfounded, that all these beloved Christmas traditions are not only acceptable to the faithful, but in fact have a grounding in Biblical and Christian roots.
Cameron respects their good intentions but gently and thoroughly tries to debunk their bitterness and misconceptions. And, my Cameron-hating friends, what is so wrong with that? Where’s the Creationist screed? Where’s that infamous Fundamentalist intolerance we never stop hearing about? And where, the onus is on the Golden Rasberries to answer, is the EGO?
The framework of the story is simple. The Cameron family is having a very festive Yuletide gathering indeed, complete with a bearded Santaman. Kirk’s fictional brother-in-law, aptly if one-the-nosedly named Christian (played by director Darren Doane) has retreated from the fesitivities, digusted with what he sees as a diversion from the True Meaning. Kirk finds him sitting in his parked car, and patiently hears out his brother-in-law’s grievances before convincing him that it’s all good, it’s all Christian.
Cameron’s arguments are intriguingly convincing. I especially liked his defense of the Christmas tree. Christian insists the tree has nothing to do with Christmas, that it’s a pagan symbol. “Which pagans?” Kirk helpfully asks. Christian can’t say exactly, but…maybe the Druids?
Kirk Cameron then passionately and Biblically defends the Christmas Tree as a good and Godly symbol. He makes a parallel between the Christmas tree and the temple lampstand described in Exodus 25, in the design of an almond tree, of God wanting that in his house. Then he goes back even further to the Garden. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and The Tree of Life. Cameron’s intriguing metaphor is about how the only way for Adam to take back his sin would be to put the stolen fruit back on the tree. But that’s impossible for man. So Christ comes, and his ultimate sacrifice is to put himself on the tree. The Cross then, is the Tree of Life, and Christ its fruit. Kinda brilliant bit of allusion. Reminisicent of G.K. Chesterton even.
The movie continues in such a fashion, with Cameron suggesting that celebrating Jesus’s birth in December is appropriate thematically, to remember Christ even in the dark and cold, and tells the story of the real St. Nicholas, a passionate defender of the faith, charitable to children, but not afraid to take an Arian heretic face-on, and eventually helped lead to the Nicene Creed. He says that while we shouldn’t try to buy friends with presents, exchanging material goods to celebrate the coming of a God who became material isn’t the worst thing in the world if it’s done with love and charity.
It’s not a perfect film. There are some cheesy parts that detractors may project as a synecdoche for all the flaws. David Shannon’s Diondre character is generally over-the-top, and the big tech remix of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” dance sequence is pretty goofy, as is Christian’s big pratfalls into the Christmas Tree.
One flaw I think is worth pointing out, as it may be interesting to note for those cynics expecting this film to be one thing and finding quite another. The movie does contain a straw man. The Raphi Henly character, less than charitably named “Conspiracy Theorist” goes on a big rant about the “War on Christmas” , complaining about having to say “Happy Holidays” in the same breathless monologue as speculations about chemtrails. Not the most well-rounded characterization, but I include a description of this character because, I suspect, he represents what a lot of people might think “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” is all about. In fact, the message is the opposite. Cameron’s actually refuting the “War on Christmas” and includes the Henly character (who cites Fox News as a source!) as silly and overreactive. Cameron is saying there is no war on Christmas, that society does, on large, accept it, that the traditions- even when it’s hard to see- are rooted in a Christian theme, and that we should all just relax and enjoy the Christmas cheer.
Kirk Cameron knows this movie isn’t going to convert any non-believers, and I doubt my review will change the minds of any Pouting Thomases who have already stuck their noses up at Kirk Cameron and have decided to keep them there. And if this particular work isn’t as objectionable as you might hope, perhaps there’s the old ad hominem approach. Fall back on the stand-by KC complaints, that he believes in the Genesis Creation Story and abides by traditional Christian sexual morality. Whatever. I tried. On its own merits, “Saving Christmas” is a decent, informative movie with a warm heart and a positive message, and I say God Bless It!
Merry Christmas everyone.