From this perspective, real Christmas wisdom requires recognizing that there’s no going back to any childhood Eden, and accepting the fall into adulthood as Christians are supposed to accept the Fall of Man: as a felix culpa, a potentially happy fall, that offers the possibility for something even better than the original innocence — if, that is, you can keep to the narrow way, bear up and run the race.

So the Christmas classic for the middle-aged might be neither Thomas’s nostalgia trip nor Dickens’s ghost story, but the harsher medicine of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Capra’s movie trades on nostalgia but fundamentally critiques it: The lesson it imposes on George Bailey is that he should be grateful that the possibilities of youth have narrowed into what seems to him like disappointment — because that life can actually be a better life, with richer rewards, than the paths his boyhood self might have chosen.

If he can only see it, that is. Such, then, should be the middle-aged prayer at Christmas: not for the overwhelming rush of childhood memory — there will be time for that later — but for the clarity to see the present time, even 2020 with all its brutal impositions, as its own period of grace.