— “It's a Wonderful Life,” directed by Frank Capra, 1946.
The Tale: Beset by bad luck, a bank run and shattered dreams, George Bailey (James Stewart) is about to jump off a bridge on Christmas Eve shortly after World War II. But a guardian angel in training, Clarence, grants George's wish that he had never been born. He reveals George's accomplishments and earns himself some wings to-boot.
Lesson: A person's real worth can be measured in family, friends and selfless service.
Notes: Based on “The Greatest Gift,” a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, the movie is among the most popular of all time. But it was a box office bust and fizzled at the Oscars. Some considered it communist propaganda with its indictment of the monied class and the spread-the-wealth zeal of the Building & Loan.
— “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens, 1843.
The Tale: Ebenezer Scrooge is so consumed by greed and downright meanness that he's visited by three spirits looking to rehabilitate him at Christmas in Victorian London. They lead him on a back-and-forth journey through his past, present and future. He gets a fly-on-the-wall look at how the Cratchit family really feels about him before he emerges kinder, gentler and joyfully tossing money around.
Lesson: It's never too late to make amends and let charity into your heart.
Notes: The story was hugely popular when released for Christmas, with an unblinking look at social injustice and gaping class disparity. By some accounts, young Dickens wrote it to pay off a debt, but high production costs cut into his profit.
— “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry, 1906.