The film was not a box-office hit upon initial release and was panned by some critics. It was only after its copyright was not renewed in 1974 that people began to take a second look at this film. When it entered the public domain, more and more television stations began airing the film free of charge and royalties, and it was in the 1980s (the beginning of the home video era) that the film finally received the acclaim it didn't get in 1946, thus becoming a perennial holiday favorite. The film's public domain success is often cited as a reason to limit copyright terms, which have been frequently extended by Congress in the United States.
Two colorized versions have since been produced; they are widely considered to be of inferior quality to the black and white original and are often held up by opponents of colorization as an example of the flaws associated with the process. For many years, some stations paid substantial royalties to show a colorized version as it was viewed as more profitable to show the colorized versions than the black and white original.
Then, in 1993, Republic Pictures (whose predecessor, National Telefilm Associates, originally bought key rights to the film, including the original television syndication rights, the original nitrate film elements, the music score, and the story on which the film is based ["The Greatest Gift"]) scored a landmark court victory restoring the film's copyright. As a result, the film is no longer shown as much on television (NBC is currently licensed to show the film on U.S. network television), the colorized versions have been withdrawn, and Republic now has exclusive video rights to the film (under license with Artisan Entertainment).
The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
A popular belief is that Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie were named after secondary characters in the film. This has been denied by the producers of Sesame Street. Furthermore, there was little relation between the two characters, save a single brief scene in the movie.
Another rumour, which is purely coincidental, is that Pink Floyd album, Wish You Were Here can be played along side the film with key events is the movie tieing in with song lyrics. The similarities are said to be more noticible then that of the other Pink Floyd movie sync from The Wizard of Oz.
Among the other cast: Donna Reed as Mary Hatch; Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter; Ward Bond as Bert; Beulah Bondi as Mrs. Bailey; Gloria Grahame as Violet; H.B. Warner as Mr. Gower; Frank Faylen as Ernie, and Henry Travers as the angel Clarence.