Christmas movie magic

Somewhere down the line on the list of things that make Christmas special and unique – you know, after Jesus, family, etc. – is one my favorite holiday traditions: Christmas movies. The ubiquitous, unavoidable and unrelenting barrage of Christmas movies. Not only are they a genre of their own, but over time, watching your personal favorite(s) takes on all the charms, commitments, and neuroses of the most indispensable rituals. After thanksgiving, we take our Christmas movies out of storage at the same time as our decorations and lights. Put up a tree. Bake some cookies. Deck the halls. Watch Will Ferrell eat cotton.

Not every Christmas movie is created equal (yeah, I’m talking to you Lifetime Movie Network), but there’s a comforting predictability to them. For instance, if the movie takes place in New York (or other Center-of-Commerce city), you kind of know how the story goes already. Overly ambitious/stressed businessman shuffles around trying to make the sale/get the promotion/support loved ones. Said person has forgotten his priorities and through the course of the movie, different people/angels/children/animals/Santa will come in and remind him what’s important. You can be pretty sure that whatever the problem was, it will come to a head on Christmas Eve, at which point, the person will quit his job or tell off his boss or his overly competitive office rival, immediately after which he’ll run through the streets and find his wife/girlfriend/woman-he’s-been-too-afraid-to-ask-out and promptly kiss her on the mouth without letting her say anything. Probably in Times Square. The End. Is the movie I just described A Christmas Carol? The Family Man? It’s A Wonderful Life? Who knows? Who cares? We eat it up and we watch it over and over again. We love that movie!

Or the “Dysfunctional-family-remembers-they-really-love-each-other” movie (which is the other major Christmas sub-genre, usually set in Farmland/Suburbantown America, am I right?) (Home Alone, The Family Stone, everything on The Hallmark Channel). Or the “Everyone-finds-their-perfect-mate” movie (ever watch Love Actually with the wrong people? Oof!). Or the “Spirit-of-Christmas-defeats-Cynicism/Commericalism/Unbelief” movie (Elf, The Santa Clause, etc., Miracle on 34th St). They all have the sort of one-note character types, cloying sentimentality, and predictable plot development that we’d never tolerate at any other time of the year. But during Christmas, it brings us comfort because it reminds us all of the things we treasure and the way we all hope it ends, all by Christmas Eve, all in movie shorthand.

Perhaps Christmas softens us in the best sense. Even the cinephiles among us lay aside strict critical analysis, hard cynicism, and the demand for something original. We find comfort in familiar stories and jokes and rhythms. On Christmas, we prefer homemade to Iron Chef. We watch simple stories, remembering how nice it is to believe that they are possible. For those of us who have heard that original Christmas story thousands upon thousands of times, maybe Christmas movies ought to remind us how comforting it ought to be that the simple story of God coming to be with us is more than possible. It’s true.

Here are All Saints Staff’s five favorite Christmas movies. What are yours?

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas (Charlie Brown, Snoopy, et. al)…Even kids can be cynics, and even kids remember that we don’t need to be.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Boris Karloff, Animated)…Besides the being the best adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book, who of us doesn’t need our hearts to grow?
  • Elf (Will Ferrell, James Caan)…Because seeing James Caan sing makes you wonder why you’re not.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (James Stewart, Donna Reed)…*sniffle. sniffle* I can’t write this sentence. I’m still crying at this movie.
  • Christmas Vacation (Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo)…”bzzzt!”