The Message of ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ – Lessons for Everyone

“I believe . . . I believe . . . it’s silly, but I believe”. Little 2nd grader Susan (played by Natalie Wood) repeats that phrase over and over on Christmas Day as she drives home with her mom (played by Maureen O’Hara) and new lawyer friend (played by John Payne) from the Long Island Retirement Home of Kris Kringle (played by Edmund Gwenn) who has recently been found by the State of New York to be Santa Claus in the 1947 movie “Miracle on 34th Street”. Disappointed she didn’t get the house that Kris Kringle said he would “do his best” to find for her for Christmas, she repeats those words over and over until she yells for Mr. Payne to stop the car and runs up the front yard into the house with the For Sale sign stuck in the yard – which was exactly like the one in the magazine picture she gave to Kris. With Susan ecstatic she got her to wish for Christmas and Doris and Fred embracing and kissing over their coming together in a common belief system, everyone turns their attention to the cane sitting in the corner by the fireplace. Fred wonders out loud “Maybe I didn’t do such a good thing after all” – referencing his victory in Court by proving his client, Kris Kringle, was Santa Claus.

I watch this movie every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day. I love it and never grow tired of watching it. It is ageless and was, in many respects, far ahead of its time. Think about it – a divorced woman in 1947 raising a child by herself as an executive with Macy’s and Mr. Macy himself proclaims she gets a bonus equal to his department store head when she hires Mr. Kringle to be flagship store’s Santa Claus. Defying commercialism and the almighty “buck”, Kris transforms and instills the spirit of the season by sending customers to its competitor because they sold a better product or had it at a lower price. In today’s terms, that’s like Google telling people that Bing can find certain search terms faster than they can!

As a lawyer, it’s the case of a lifetime – Proving that an old man with a white beard is really Santa Claus. Being out of ideas to win the case and then, at the 11thhour, having a postal employee decide to send 50,000 letters addressed to Santa Claus delivered to the Courthouse to clear the dead letter file room and dumping all those letters on the Judge’s desk. Things come together sometimes. Every lawyer worth his/her salt knows that feeling of dread when you have exhausted every conceivable brain cell in figuring out how to win for your client and have nothing left when suddenly a casual comment from your client, a witness, or a last review of your notes and exhibits sparks an idea that quickly comes together in your mind and you pull out the victory at the last second. Total ecstasy for the lawyer.

As for everyone else (including, I guess, us lawyers), it’s all about what Fred tells Doris when he tries to convince her why he is taking this case and jeopardizing his career: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not Kris on trial, it’s everything he stands for. It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.” No matter the depth of the problems a client might face in the justice system, in the end, it is really about finding, embracing, and living those “intangibles” that separate us from all other forms and make us truly happy in life.

Everyone knows the common-sense truth about Santa Claus but while watching this movie, no matter how many times you do it, you will always be pulling for Fred Gaily to pull it off – prove that this little white-bearded man from a retirement home in Long Island who knows the correct order of the Reindeer and can speak Dutch to the little Dutch girl sitting on his lap – is Santa Claus. You want this to happen because it opens up that inner part of yourself that does believe that anything is possible and kindness, joy, and love are present in all of us. In the movie, Kris Kringle tells everyone: “Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a frame of mind”. That’s why we pull for Kris to be found to be Santa Claus. We want the “frame of mind” that embodies the holiday season – be it commercial or religious and regardless of your faith – to last throughout the year – every year – for the rest of our lives. In today’s world that is a tall task – but

I believe. “

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