My wife, Merry, and I were watching a television film called Christmas Do-Over. It features an obnoxious 35-year-old who spends an awful Christmas day with his ex-wife and her family. To his horror, he finds himself repeating the same day over and over.
Midway through, I said, “Do you realize this is the third Christmas movie we’ve seen that’s a rip-off of Groundhog Day?” (The other two were Christmas Every Day and 12 Days of Christmas Eve.)
“Do you realize,” Merry replied, “how sad it is that we’re still watching it?”
Each December, Merry and I like to watch Christmas movies—and not just our perennial favorites. We also enjoy some of the corny movies that cable channels bring out. Last year, for example, we watched films like Christmas Caper, A Boyfriend for Christmas, and A Grandpa for Christmas. I’m not sure what psychological forces drive us to watch these movies, but we look forward to it every year.
There are a few Christmas films that I never get tired of watching. As I look over my list, I can see why: Not only do they feature compelling stories and superb acting, but they also tug at the heart in some way. They focus on themes of redemption, life transformation, or family reconciliation. Each year I see more marriages and families torn apart by conflict, isolation, selfishness, and infidelity. Movies like these may not always point clearly to Jesus Christ, but they do give you hope that change is possible. I guess I’m a sap for stories like these.
So here is a short list of my favorite Christmas films, in alphabetical order. Each are highly recommended for an evening by the fire with your spouse and your family. Most are on television regularly in December, and all but one are available on DVD.
A Christmas Carol. There are many versions of this movie, and everyone has his favorite. Many swear by the 1951 film starring Alistair Sim. Yesterday a coworker said her favorite was The Muppet Christmas Carol. I’m partial to the 1984 version with George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. But no matter what version I view, I never get tired of seeing Scrooge wake up on Christmas morning with the realization that he’s been given a second chance. My colleague Bob Lepine points out that this story is a picture of the gospel—a man is on the road to destruction when he is visited by “spirits” who point out his past, present, and future, and this leads to repentance and transformation.
A Season for Miracles. This Hallmark Hall of Fame production tells the story of a single woman trying to provide a home for the children of her imprisoned sister. While on the run from authorities, her car breaks down in a small town, and while waiting for repairs she and the children begin to make a home there as Christmas approaches. The movie combines romance with some strong statements about the importance of stability, community, and forgiveness.
The Bishop’s Wife. This 1947 classic stars Cary Grant as Dudley, an angel who appears when a bishop (David Niven) prays for God’s help to build a cathedral. Dudley quickly discerns that the bishop is so focused on his work that he’s losing sight of other priorities—including his marriage to Julia (Loretta Young). I also like the remake, The Preacher’s Wife, with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington.
The Gathering. In this 1977 television movie, Ed Asner plays a selfish, domineering man who has estranged himself from his wife (Maureen Stapleton) and most of his children. When he learns he has terminal cancer, he tries to bring everyone together for one last Christmas. This is my all-time favorite Christmas movie, and it apparently hasn’t been shown on television for years. Fortunately, you can find DVDs online.
It’s a Wonderful Life. Many people not only regard this classic with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed as their favorite holiday movie, but also as their favorite film, period. I was surprised to see that it appears on many lists of “most romantic movies” until I remembered it has several of the most romantic scenes you’ll find anywhere.
Little Lord Fauntleroy. A poor American boy living with his widowed mother learns he is the heir to his English grandfather’s title and estate. He moves to England to become Lord Fauntleroy and learn about his responsibilities before the old man dies. The grandfather lives in isolation and bitterness in his massive home and won’t allow his daughter-in-law to live with them. But the boy’s enthusiasm and compassion begin to win him over. This is a great story from Frances Hodgson Burnett, who also wrote The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. I like the 1980 television film with Ricky Schroeder and Alec Guinness, but it is not yet on DVD and is rarely shown on television. A 1935 version is available.
Honorable mention: Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, The Note, and White Christmas.