Ginny Grainger (Steenburgen) is the mother of two children, Cal (Magwood) and Abbie (Harnois). Her husband, Jack (Basaraba), has been out of work since June, and they have to move out of the company house by January 1. He enjoys fixing bikes in his basement and hopes to give one to his children's friend, Molly Monaghan, who is poor and that's all she wants for Christmas. Although Jack would like to open a bike shop of his own, doing so would use up all their savings, which Ginny sees as a foolish move. In order to make ends meet, she works as a cashier at Glen's Food Market. Christmas is looming on the horizon which is causing even more trouble for her and like Scrooge, she loses sight of the true meaning of Christmas.
One night, Abbie goes across the street to the mailbox to send a letter to Santa Claus. After she mails it, Gideon (Stanton), an angel who has been watching the Graingers, retrieves it from the mailbox and returns it to her saying that her mother should mail it. She agrees, and as she's crossing the street to return home, a car barrels down the road towards her. Gideon stops the impending accident and allows Abbie to cross the street without incident.
The next day, the Graingers visit Jack's grandfather, Caleb. He gives the children presents: Cal a book his mother used to read to him and Abbie a snow globe of the North Pole. That night Gideon visits Abbie in her room only to learn that Ginny did not mail Abbie's letter to Santa. While talking to her, he purposely drops her snow globe and it breaks, but then he magically repairs it. He says he can fix a snow globe, but not her mother. He tells her that some things are going to happen tomorrow and not to be afraid. Meanwhile, Jack and Ginny are in the kitchen talking about their finances. He reiterates his desire to open a bike shop, but she feels that he should find a new job, as the time to start turning a profit from a business would be too long. Frustrated, Jack storms out of the house to go for a walk. Ginny races after him to try to work things out. Ominously, all the Christmas lights begin turning off all around her, as to show that the last of the Christmas spirit has been drained from her.
The next day, Christmas Eve, Ginny gets a ride to work from a friend. They stop at a gas station, where she sees a man named Harry Dickens trying to sell some of his possessions in order to support himself and his son, with little success. She shrugs this situation off and goes on with her day. Jack goes to the bank to take some money out of their savings to do some Christmas shopping for Cal and Abbie. They are supposed to wait in the car, but Abbie sees Glen's and goes over there to say hi to her mom. Ginny asks where Jack is and Abbie tells her he's at the bank. Ginny storms out of the store to take Abbie back to the car and stop Jack, only to have her boss, Herbie Conklin, see her leave and fire her. She puts Abbie back in the car and enters the bank only to discover that Harry is holding it up. Jack attempts to quell the situation, but Harry shoots him. In a panic, Harry flees the bank and hops into Jack's car with Cal and Abbie still inside. Ginny realizes that he just stole the car with the children in it, so she gets in his car and chases after him, but it runs out of gas before she can catch up with him. He comes to a bridge where the police have set up a road block. He tries to swerve around it, but the car skids and swerves off the bridge into the river below.
After learning of the death of her family, Ginny returns home to an empty house, spirit broken, and weeps. Soon after, Caleb comes to the house to inform her that the kids have been found standing on the side of the road. The police believe that Harry dropped them off before the crash, when in reality Gideon had rescued them from the river. When they return home, Ginny informs them that their father has died and is not coming back.
Later that night, Abbie runs away to the town's Christmas tree in hopes of finding Gideon to ask him to bring back her dad. He tells her that he can't fix things like what has happened to her dad. He tells her that the only person who can bring him back is Santa. Meanwhile, Ginny goes into a panic looking for her.
Gideon takes Abbie with him to the North Pole to talk with Santa Claus. Santa informs her that he too can't fix what has happened nor can he bring the Christmas spirit back to Ginny, but Abbie can. He then takes her through his workshop which is run by "ordinary, nice people," not elves. In the mailroom, he retrieves a letter that Ginny had written to him years ago when she was a child, and tells her that it may hold the key to helping her mother.
Gideon returns Abbie to her house and she gives her mother the letter. Ginny reads it and finally realizes the true meaning of Christmas: to celebrate what you have and not what you want. She walks outside to the mailbox and mails Abbie's letter to Santa. Gideon appears next to her and says, "Good night, Ginny. Merry Christmas." She smiles and replies, "Good night, Gideon." Just then, all the Christmas lights begin to come back on and from around the corner, Jack reappears and she runs to hug him.
The next day, Ginny relives the events of that Christmas Eve, but this time with a different attitude. At the gas station she buys a camp stove from Harry, who thanks her and wishes her a Merry Christmas. At Glen's, she tells Herbie that she won't be coming into work that day. He responds, "Go, and don't come back." He then smiles and says, "Until Thursday morning." Then she writes a check to Jack for the bike shop and the kids give Molly a bike. That night, she hears something downstairs and finds Santa putting presents under the tree. He then stops, looks at her, and says, "Merry Christmas, Ginny." She smiles and with tear-filled eyes, finally says the words she has been unable to say for so long: "Merry Christmas!"
Gary Basaraba...Jack Grainger
Harry Dean Stanton...Gideon
Robbie Magwood...Cal Grainger
Jan Rubes...Santa Claus
Graham Jarvis...Frank Crump
Timothy Webber...Herbie Conklin
Joy Thompson...Mrs. Monaghan
John Friesen...Mr. Noonan
- Directed by Phillip Borsos
- Written by Phillip Borsos, Barry Healey, Thomas Meehan
- Studio Walt Disney Pictures
- Silver Screen Partners II
- Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
- Release date(s) November 22, 1985
- Running time 89 minutes
- Country US/Canada
- Language English
- Box office $13,677,222