For as long as I can remember, my cousins and I would always try to find inventive ways to pass the time during holidays, especially on Thanksgiving. You know during those awkward in-betweens where it’s not quite dinner but you’re over the appetizers or when you’re trying to get out of cleaning the dishes before dessert? Well, we learned to master the art of excuses — from board games to drawing names for Secret Santa, we were also particularly good at avoiding dull moments. 

My personal favorite excuse of ours was when we used to make our own movies — we had everything from make-shift costumes to planned out scenes. My brother would play the director, who doubled as our producer, and as the eldest of the cousins, we all followed him blindly. We had sequels and — what I always liked to think of as — long-awaited premieres. Our most critically acclaimed dramas were titled CIA for Dummies. But I guess somewhere along the line we all grew up — one cousin became a paramedic, one is getting her masters in teaching, the other getting hers in mental health counseling, and my brother, our beloved director, ended up winning a real Emmy! He’s now on his way to becoming a lawyer, but that’s beside the point. The point is that we all somehow grew up while no one was paying attention, and suddenly no one wanted to put on the costumes and take out the cameras and write the scripts anymore.

 As the youngest, I think I reflect on the fact that we all have grown up a little bit more than everyone else in my family reflects on it. My mom says it’s because I’m like Peter Pan, never wanting to grow up, but I am not quite sure that’s an abnormal trait of mine. Since they’re all real adults now, our Thanksgiving was a little smaller than normal. There were no board games or a ‘12 Years Later’ edition of our own cinematic tales. However, my cousin Katie (the future teacher) and I still found a way to pass the time. She grabbed the pack of conversation starters my mom likes to keep in our living room and just started asking me questions. One of the questions that came up was “What’s your favorite family tradition?”, which propelled us into a back and forth of reminiscence.

When I was reflecting on this conversation with Katie, I figured I’d want to type up some of our answers for you all. But I realized that at the end of the day our answers weren’t the thing that struck my fancy in this situation. Regardless, even if I did list them, they probably wouldn’t make much sense to anyone outside our little corner of the world, and I’m not sure I’d want it any other way. They’re mainly a bunch of ‘You had to be there moments’ that seem to repeat themselves annually, and I’m afraid I wouldn’t do the nostalgia much justice if I tried to describe them. In the grand scheme of life, these moments are only freeze-frames of time, and yet, they’ve created the film reel of what we collectively think of to mean family. Play that film reel back, and you realize the immeasurable impact it has had on our memories, our togetherness, and our (now) adult-ish selves. In hindsight, it was this synergy of words and film and memory that really piqued my interest. 

That being said, I think that in order to really understand where I am coming from I actually do have to reveal my favorite holiday tradition of all. Every year on Christmas, my parents, my brother, and I watch It’s a Wonderful Life. The 1940s black-and-white film takes us on the journey of George Bailey’s life, from when he was a child into adulthood — it follows him through his trials and tribulations, finding love and losing dreams, until the moment he is about to end his own life. He is then saved by his guardian angel Clarence, who shows him what the world would have been like without him, and in the wise words of Clarence himself, the viewer realizes along with George, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” In a much more literal sense, it takes us through George’s own film reel of life.

Over the years I have grown to appreciate the film for what it means, but if we are being honest, it definitely went over my head when I was younger. However, it was a fun little game I’d play in my head, as I’d try to put together new pieces of understanding. This manifested itself in the form of quotes I now know by heart and scenes I could quite literally act out for you, and as those pieces have pretty much fallen into place, I think I’ve finally realized why I love this tradition so much.

First off, I’ve always enjoyed watching movies — if you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you know that I have this ability to imagine and digest films in a more visceral way than most people. It shouldn’t be shocking that I actually study film in school, along with psychology, which should also be no less of a surprise. Maybe it was our homemade movies as children, or traditions like the yearly family viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life that brewed these fascinations. Maybe it was more of a chicken-egg scenario about what came first. 

Nonetheless, there’s always been something magical about this particular movie. It reminds me that sometimes life really is just about those little moments — the seemingly insignificant ones that happen in-between all the big stuff, yeah, those are where the real feelings are. Joy and sadness, anger and excitement, courage and anxiety are all their most pure when they’re unexpected and fleeting. I believe that it’s through these moments that our life touches other people’s lives, and without them, it all feels a little empty. It also reminds me that even without knowing it, we’ve all had some impact on somebody else. In a world that sometimes makes you feel very small, it’s comforting to know that without you, the universe would be significantly different. 

The film’s holiday setting places it perfectly in the time that we often need these reminders the most. As much as the holidays are filled with overwhelming joy and love, they’re also the time where loss squeezes at the heart a little more and sadness seeps into the brain a little easier. It’s often difficult to replay that reel and project it onto the movie screen that is your brain, but sometimes it’s worth a try — because really, who would I be if it hadn’t been for things like CIA for Dummies or even the family love for this movie? And although sometimes it’s easier said than done, I think when we try to playback those stitched together freeze-frames, most — if not all — of us can affirm some more of good-old Clarence’s words, “You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life.” 

Anastasia Meininger is a college student currently studying psychology and communications.

She has been writing for The Daily Feels since she was 15 years old. Now 18, her life may have changed, but her wonder and passion for storytelling has remained the same.  Falling in love with performing arts at a young age instilled this passion, as she found comfort in the idea that everyone and everything had a story.

She loves listening to music, taking photos, and dreaming of places to travel one day. Her family and friends are her most prized possessions, and her hometown of White Plains holds a permanent place in her heart.

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