Josie Ortega shares the Christmas movies that are becoming beloved holiday traditions for everyone in the family.
A non-negotiable priority in our family’s Advent and Christmas seasons is the watching of Christmas movies. In the midst of what can become an overwhelming time of year, we’re putting weekly Christmas Family Movie Night on the calendar to preserve downtime at home, just the family.
My favorite Christmas movie is White Christmas; my husband’s is It’s a Wonderful Life. By the time we’ve been married 50 years, the order in which Israel and I watch our ultimate Christmas movie list will be well established.
One year, he gave me a hard time for making us watch Love Actually too early. (You want to save the favorites for closer to Christmas.) We both enjoy the new classic The Family Stone, as well as Nothing Like The Holidays, which we realized is essentially the Latino version of a very similar plotline.
Mostly, we’ve bickered over the scheduling of Christmas movies for adults—Diehard, anyone? (My husband typically chooses that one for his December birthday.) But now that our kids are old enough, it’s time to incorporate their preferences into our Christmas movie calendar. With hot chocolate in hand, let’s snuggle up and choose a family Christmas movie!
Home Alone. “This is my house. I must defend it.” What a new classic! Kids will love the slapstick. Parents might cry at some surprisingly tender scenes. (Parents also might wonder what Kevin’s mom and dad do for a living and how every adult in the movie didn’t get taken into custody by child protective services.) Still great!
Elf. Pure, ridiculous fun. Like syrup on spaghetti.
Christmas Vacation. Absolutely hilarious, cringe-worthy scenarios result when Clark Griswold tries way too hard to create warm family holiday memories. You’ll probably want to mute or skip some scenes, but we watched this in pieces last year with kids around. While adults laugh at the relational tension that perhaps feels a little too familiar, our kids found the physical comedy hilarious—the sledding scene, for example. They also loved Aunt Bethany reciting the Pledge of Allegiance instead of the blessing at Christmas Eve dinner.
Honorable mentions: Home Alone 2, A Christmas Story.
Miracle on 34th Street. With its themes of belief, kindness, and giving people another chance, Miracle on 34th Street makes a lovely Christmas movie that fights the commercialism of the season...while itself being pretty much a commercial for Macy’s. I also love its gems of delightful 1947 humor, like Mrs. Shellhammer unsuccessfully operating a telephone.
Christmas in Connecticut. I can’t get enough of Uncle Felix, who says, “Everything is hunky dunky.” And I can’t get enough of Barbara Stanwyck’s voice. It’s not to be missed.
White Christmas. My favorite! The bright VistaVision colors; the glamor and wholesomeness; the singing and dancing; the love, friendship, and the Haines Sisters! But the best character, certainly, is the General. “You’re unruly! You’re undisciplined! And I never saw anything look so wonderful in my whole life.”
With its post-war optimism and pathos, White Christmas usually makes me cry at some point. Each year when I watch, I think of my granddaddy, whom I never met. He loved this movie, one of the only World War II movies he was willing to watch.
Honorable mentions: Shop Around the Corner; It’s A Wonderful Life.
Usually, my strategy is to find movies that I like that also will work for the kiddos, but often enough it works fine the other way around.
Muppet Christmas Carol. Like most of the muppet offerings, I find this truly funny, and so very charming.
Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas. You might call this production a cousin of the muppets. It features delightful music and a great storyline reminiscent of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” in which two family members go to great lengths to surprise the other for Christmas.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Go with the original cartoon if possible.
Honorable mentions: The Star (a newer movie that follows the donkey who’s present at the birth of Jesus, with tons of famous actors lending their voices); A Charlie Brown Christmas; Little Drummer Boy.
We’re No Angels. Humphrey Bogart stars in this tale of three escaped convicts who befriend a family in order to make away with the supplies and papers needed to flee to freedom. Their murderous plans change when they find the family likable and possibly even more in need of help than the criminals themselves. It’s fun to see Bogey in a comedic role, and Basil Rathbone deliciously and delightfully plays the villain. I enjoyed this quite a lot when I watched it several years ago, and it makes a nice change of pace from formulaic Christmas movies.
The Preacher’s Wife. In this remake of 1947's The Bishop’s Wife (David Niven and Cary Grant), Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington star in an angel-sent-to-help story that might be a little more palatable than the long, depressing Jimmy Stewart movie. No offense. Plus, The Preacher's Wife brilliantly uses the church choir as a plausible way to feature Whitney Houston singing Christmas music!
The Three Cabelleros. (Not actually a Christmas movie.) Consistent with the fact that my all-time favorite is White Christmas . . . I recognize that this entire Christmas movie list feels very white! Searching for a smidge of diversity, The Three Caballeros is an old Disney animated movie that’s fun and trippy in its own way, with a short snippet featuring the tradition of Las Posadas in Mexico.
Are your favorite Christmas movies on this list? Share ideas and schedule your next movie night using FamilyApp!