Yesterday was cold and windy and blustery, and I frankly couldn’t wait to pick my daughter up early from day care so that we could snuggle on the couch and watch a Christmas movie. I was a Christmas-movie addict when I was a kid, and the addiction carried over into my college years, when my younger brother, knowing the strength of my feelings, would patiently wait for me to come home for holiday break before starting the succession of Christmas movies that we insisted upon watching every year. Many of them we owned on VHS, others we had to scheme to get our hands on at the appropriate time. By the time I was in college our rotation had grown to an almost-unmanageable number. But every year, we got to work. We took traditions seriously. I don’t have the heart to rank them; because they’re all winners: I would sit down and watch any one of them with you, right now, as long as you get under a blanket with me.
1) The Snowman (1982)
This one I have high hopes for getting Ros to watch, actually; last year we spent months, well after the snow was gone, “reading” the children’s picture-book version, which, like the movie, has no words. It got a bit tiresome to go through each night, narrating the images without the help of a nice, boiled-down bit of text on each page, but I do have such a soft spot in my heart for the story. If you haven’t seen it, watch it on Youtube; it’s beautiful.
2) A Christmas Story (1983)
I get that she’s not old enough for this one yet; I can wait. This movie isn’t terribly complex and there is of course plenty of gendered stuff in it that I just can’t bring myself to condemn because I love it so much. How many of you have a quote from this movie somewhere in your lexicon? “FraGIIIILE! Must be Italian!” “I can’t put my arms down!” And of course the classic “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” I even used the clip of the Bumpus hounds sneaking in and making off with the turkey for a past-tense exercise in my beginning Italian classes, for years. It worked, because even the kids who hadn’t seen the movie (KIDS THESE DAYS!) could appreciate the silly slapstick that required no words to land perfectly.
3) Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
Wow, the early ‘80s were a good era for Christmas movies! Oh yeah, this may be one of the lesser-known Christmas specials in Mickey’s oeuvre (Netflix does not stream it, but it’s available in full on Vimeo), and yet it is the only one that makes me ugly cry whenever I watch it. TO THIS DAY! Watching Scrooge McDuck wake up on Christmas morning having had his Christmas-ghost-inspired epiphany, I would melt as I watched him shower Tiny Tim and his siblings with presents and finally show Bob Cratchit (played by lovable MICKEY!) some kindness. I can really only handle this one once a year; the feelings are just too intense. My little old heart just grows three sizes every time. Speaking of which…
4) How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Ah, Boris Karloff. You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch. Another one that the Internet generously provides in full nowadays, another VHS that’s probably still kicking around my parents’ house somewhere. We definitely watched this one every year and I definitely still found that pivotal scene with the sleigh hanging off the cliff gripping every time. There was a part of me that almost wanted the Grinch to get away with it, just once. Watching him roll all those things up in rugs, slip them in his sack, and pop them up chimney after chimney…you had to respect the effort! It actually looked kind of fun. It never stopped being thrilling to watch and live vicariously through the Grinch, just a little. Who hasn’t felt that urge to just TAKE EVERYTHING under the Christmas tree and hoard it away somewhere? I think every kid who’s ever had to exercise Christmas restraint knows what I’m talking about.
6) A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
My dad had a hand in forming this list, as the dates of some of the choices might suggest, and this was his childhood favorite. He loved to tell us about how he’d wait for it to come on TV that one time every year. And look at us lucky kids, who could just pop a tape in the old VHS player and watch it whenever we wanted! The wonders of technology. Charlie Brown was always so put upon, and his poor little Christmas tree is his perfect avatar in this film. Downtrodden and shabby, all it needs is a little love. The transformation, though visually improbable, is always touching.
7) Home Alone (1990)
Here’s another one that afforded both my brother and me some not-insignificant amount of vicarious living. Is Kevin not living his very best life when he goes to the grocery store and buys real, adult groceries? WITH COUPONS? What an inspiration. And no matter how unconvincing the whole setup now looks to adult me, I cannot watch the third act, the one where Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern get their asses handed to them over and over and over again, without feeling the realest, most chest-fluttering glee. And yes, I absolutely cry at every beat in the end. Kevin’s mom coming home, the old man reuniting with his son and granddaughter. This movie, in my opinion, does not waste a single scene, and that’s why it has everything.
8) Die Hard (1988)
I was a late comer to Die Hard; it did not appear, needless to say, in the childhood holiday lineup. I have grown a lovely, artistic fondness for it as an adult, mainly thanks to the Cine-Files podcast. It’s truly a perfect movie. And it will never cease to give my husband the opportunity to recall when he gave a memorial toast in honor of his grandmother featuring her as the hero of the Die Hard story. Ask him to tell you the story sometime.
9) Bad Santa (2003)
No, I’m not going to try to get Ros to watch this one until she’s 22. It was Christmas Eve night one year, and my brother and my husband and I needed to find a way to stay awake for the midnight church service. My brother insisted that Bad Santa was the way to go, and he wasn’t wrong.
10) It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
This is the ultimate Christmas movie of my childhood. We watched it for the first time - and I’ll never forget this - while my dad held a bare lamp next to my head and used one of those awful combs to pull all the lice and nits, one by one, out of my long, unruly hair. All four of us: everyone else on Mom and Dad’s bed, me sitting on the floor with Dad bent over my scalp. He was the gentler parent when it came to such tasks. Amazingly, this did not prevent me from wanting to watch It’s A Wonderful Life every year thereafter. It is the Christmas movie to end all Christmas movies, but what it reminds me of most is August, 2000. I was 14, riding in a rented minivan with my dad and brother (age 10). My mom had died a few months before, and we were now taking the vacation to Brittany, France, that she had planned for the four of us. We had arrived in Paris on a redeye and we had I don’t remember how many hours of driving ahead of us. My dad put me in charge of music, as I was the only one who had brought CDs for my Discman. Rather than put on Cher or Alanis Morrissette (this was most definitely my Jagged Little Pill stage), I selected the radio version of It’s A Wonderful Life that I’d gotten for Christmas on CD a few years prior. When he heard “Buffalo Gals” piping in from the stereo, my dad was genuinely puzzled. It was August, and I wanted to listen to this? He now tells me often that it was the perfect choice for that car ride. Just what we needed.
Try as I might, I could not get Ros interested in a Christmas movie yesterday. We scrolled through all that Amazon Prime had to offer and then made our way over to Netflix. Not a single thing could entice her. And then her eyes settled upon The Furchester Hotel, featuring her buddies Elmo and Cookie Monster, which is I suppose Netflix’s piece of the Sesame Street empire. A girl wants what a girl wants. It was hard to object, though, to anything that made her want to sit motionless in my lap, leaning against my chest, covered in two blankets, body totally relaxed and devoid of wriggling. Furchester Hotel is no Die Hard, but she is little and we have so much time.