Panida hosts Christmas classics Polar Express and It’s a Wonderful Life

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

The Panida Theater is hosting two of the biggest Christmas classics with a special double-feature screening Saturday, Dec. 3 of Polar Express and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Neither film needs much of an introduction, but for those who are somehow not in the know, suffice to say the season wouldn’t be the same without them. 

Polar Express will screen at 2:30 p.m., thrilling and inspiring audiences with the story of a young boy who has begun to doubt the magic of Christmas, but is reminded of its wonder when he’s whisked away on an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole.

Adapted from the children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg — and featuring an animated version of Tom Hanks as the conductor of the titular train — it’s a seasonal staple in many homes, reminding viewers of the power of belief.

It’s a Wonderful Life will be up next at 7:30 p.m., bringing the iconic 1946 film directed by Frank Capra to the historic Panida big screen.

One of the most iconic scenes from It’s a Wonderful Life. Courtesy photo.

Though 76 years old, the story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) still feels immediate — an ambitious young man whose greater aspirations are thwarted by circumstance, he contemplates ending it all, reckoning that it would be better for everyone if he’d never been born.

Desperate and alone on a snowy bridge, George comes close to carrying out his final act, except for a mysterious stranger, who suddenly appears and jumps into the icy river below. George leaps in to save the man, who turns out to be his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), sent from Heaven to show him the true value of his own life. 

Clarence’s lesson comes amid Christmastime, miraculously giving George a glimpse of how his loved ones’ lives would have played out without him in them. Spoiler: They’d all be much worse off, and that goes for his hometown as a whole.

Christmas movies don’t get much more traditional than It’s a Wonderful Life, and seeing it at the Panida on a snowy December evening would be the quintessential “Bedford Falls” experience.

Doors open for both screenings 30 minutes prior to showtime, and tickets are a mere $9.27 — priced with ticket fees waived and in celebration of the opening of the Panida in 1927.

Even better, catching either or both of the films counts as a good deed, with all proceeds from ticket sales going to the Panida Century Fund — a five-year capital campaign aimed at raising $1.9 million to pay for critical maintenance, renovation and operational goals in time to celebrate the theater’s 100th birthday.

Internet provider Ting has pledged $200,000 in matching funds for every donation of $5,000 or less, which means every dollar given to the Panida up to that amount is doubled. To learn more about the Century Fund, and to donate, visit

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