Fortunately, there are a LOT of Christmas movies out there to fill that long stretch of time. But what makes a movie a Christmas movie, anyway? Is it set at Christmas? Was it originally released around Christmas? Does it feature Christmas themes? I'd say that a "yes" to any of those questions qualifies a movie as a Christmas movie. But another qualifier, in my opinion, is that it's a movie that the whole family, anyone from a toddler through a centenarian, can watch and enjoy. So here are some of my favorite family Christmas movies.
A Christmas Carol/Scrooge
There are so many different versions of Dickens' classic story A Christmas Carol that I can't pick just one. Well-known (and well worth watching) Scrooges have included Reginald Owen (1938), Alastair Sim (1951), Albert Finney (1970), George C Scott (1984), Patrick Stewart (1999), Kelsey Grammer (2004), and Jim Carrey (2009). Some versions that take a bit more license with the story (for good or ill) include Bill Murray's Scrooged (1988), Michael Caine in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Cicely Tyson in Ms. Scrooge (1997), Mickey Mouse in Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983), and of course, Mr. Magoo in Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962).
It's a Wonderful Life
Again like A Christmas Carol, the story of the film It's a Wonderful Life has inspired many stage and screen adaptations. Frank Capra's original, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, is the story of what would have happened if George Bailey had never been born. It turns out that the world would have been a much poorer place without George in it. The film's message is a lovely reminder that every decision we make in our lives can have a much broader impact than just on ourselves.
One of my personal favorite Christmas movies is The Family Man, starring Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni. Almost a cross between A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life, this film shows a career-driven business man how different his life would have been had he chosen love over money in his youth, and offers him the opportunity for his life to take a different path.
The Santa Clause
In 1816, E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote a story called "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King", and in 1892 Pyotr Ilyich Tschaikovsky composed a ballet based on that story, and the rest, as they say, is history. Famous dancers throughout the years have strived to play the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince. Many of those performances were filmed for television audiences and can still be found on DVD recordings. Among the companies whose performances are available are the New York City Ballet (several versions), Bolshoi Ballet (also several versions), Pacific Northwest Ballet (with sets designed by Maurice Sendak), Marinsky Ballet, American Ballet Theater (starring Mikhail Barishnikov), and the Royal Ballet. Even if you're not a fan of ballet, you can hardly help but be swept up by the magic of the mysterious Doktor Drosselmeyer, the growing Christmas tree, the dancing fairies and snowflakes, the gorgeous sets and costumes, and of course, the brilliant music.
All The Rankin/Bass Productions
The airings of the animated TV specials "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964), "The Little Drummer Boy" (1968), "Frosty the Snowman" (1969), "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" (1970), "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (1974), "Rudolph's Shiny New Year" (1976), and "Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey" (1977) were all much-loved holiday events growing up in my house. With impressive voice talent like Burl Ives, Fred Astaire, Shirley Booth, Mickey Rooney, Greer Garson, and Jimmy Durante, the animated characters took on delightful lives of their own. Pick up a DVD multipack and here's another wonderful movie marathon to get you into the holiday spirit!
- Miracle on 34th Street - There are multiple versions to choose from, including a 1947 version starring Maureen O'Hara, a 1994 version with Richard Attenborough and Elizabeth Perkins, a 1973 TV version starring Sebastian Cabot, and a 1959 TV version starring Ed Wynn.
- Holiday Inn - starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, a 1942 classic.
- The Bishop's Wife/The Preacher's Wife - In 1947, Cary Grant became an angel trying to save the marriage of David Niven and his wife Loretta Young, and in 1996, Denzel Washington became an angel trying to save the marriage of Courtney B. Vance and Whitney Houston.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas - I'm not a fan of the 2000 Jim Carrey remake, but you can't not love the delicious deep voices of Boris Karloff and Thorl Ravenscroft telling the story of the mean ol' Mr. Grinch and how his heart grew three sizes that day in the original 1966 animated TV special.
- National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - Most of the National Lampoon movies turn me into a grinch, but I will admit that Christmas Vacation makes me laugh, if even just for the scene where Chevy Chase nearly electrocuted himself and half the town.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas - How else to end this list than with everyone's favorite blockhead getting into the Christmas spirit with his sad little tree and his happy little beagle?
What favorite of yours did I forget to include?