The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air may be a very ’90s sitcom, but it’s the show we need right now. It delivers a lot of laughs, fun, and nostalgia. However, there are also new insights to gain from it as an adult. As kids, we could easily identify with Will’s perspective on life. But adult eyes offer nuance to the difference of perspective between Will and the Banks family, specifically Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil. This holiday season is a perfect time to look back at “Deck the Halls,” The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air‘s first Christmas episode. It’s funny, wholesome, and a timely reminder to never let go of our inner child, because that energy can change our immediate world.
At this point in the series, Will is still the classic “fish out of water” who inadvertently stirs up trouble by simply being himself. He’s a Philly teenager living across the country with his rich relatives, and it is his first Christmas away from home. As much as Will portrays himself as a suave and street-savvy girl chaser, he still genuinely believes in Santa Claus and the magical energy of Christmas. Will is from a different socioeconomic class than the Banks family, but he grew up with all the common trappings of the holidays: whimsical decorations, caroling, sledding, cookies, and special events in his home city.
He expects to have a similarly memorable experience this year. But Will quickly realizes that no one around him has the same energy for Christmas. Will uses his trademark humor to fondly talk about past Christmases; however, there’s a tinge of sadness and longing for the life that he was abruptly uprooted from earlier in the year.
His mission to brightly decorate the Banks mansion and build up Ashley’s Christmas spirit causes friction with their posh neighbors. But, as usual, he doesn’t let others sway him into change. Will’s determination to spread his jovial spirit results in the entire neighborhood becoming a more joyful place.
Of course, it’s easy for a fresh prince like Will to still have a ton of Christmas cheer. He’s a teenager who isn’t far removed from the wide-eyed days of early childhood. As an adult, it’s easier to identify with Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil. “Deck the Halls” features the parents, without the kids around, having a brief conversation about Christmas.
Uncle Phil reflects on loving Christmas as a kid but says it feels like a stressful blur in his adulthood. Many of us share this sentiment because we are busy with life’s many social and financial woes. Who has time to be jolly when there’s work to be done and bills to be paid?! Our “Will-like” perspective on the holidays (and life) feels like a fading memory as we get older.
Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil don’t make time to create a special and memorable experience for themselves or their family. It takes the arrival of Will and his unapologetic pushback against Bel-Air’s lack of Christmas décor to shift their perspectives. Some of us get a “Will” when we become parents or have nieces and nephews. They give us the space to see life through their youthful and exuberant eyes. But, even then, we have to make a choice to allow ourselves to bring our inner child out.
Backed by a group of adorable carolers, Ashley and Will stand up to their neighbors in defense of their bright decorations. The adults in the room suddenly realize their disconnection from Christmas. The episode ends with them taking time to reminisce about their childhood holiday memories.
But this is a saccharine sitcom ending. What about real life? The truth is, we cannot depend on nor expect a Will to help us tap into our inner child. We have to find the Will within us and make time for what gives us childlike joy. It could be a cartoons ‘n cereal Saturday morning, having a snowball fight, viewing festive lights, coloring with crayons, or simply watching our favorite holiday movies. We can even take a page from Will’s book and put up as many decorations as our hearts (and space) will allow.
This inner child connection is doubly important for those of us who may have experienced rough and painful childhoods. We have the chance and the choice to nurture that kid who didn’t get what they deserved right now. Why not give yourself the gift of unadulterated joy, even if it’s only for a moment? As the Fourth Doctor once said, “there’s no point in being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”
Will not only changes the way that his wealthy neighbors feel; he also shifts how the family celebrates Christmas in the future. Future Christmas episodes show them taking special trips with Will’s mom, telling stories, reveling in Santa excitement, and putting up a litany of decorations. Will may be the cause of some headaches, but he also makes their world brighter on a nuclear level.
Imagine the positive impact we can have if we allow ourselves to tap into our inner child. The energy we put out into the world is contagious, especially to those around us. And if we are going into our childlike state of mind and temporarily setting aside all the adulting for things are whimsical, curious, and spontaneous, it can encourage others to see their world from a different perspective and step outside of their norm. Will’s infectious Christmas energy in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is all the permission we need to pour into the child within us during this season… and beyond.
Originally published December 4, 2020.
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