By the time the clock strikes Christmas Eve in a few days, most of us have watched more than our fair share of holiday movies. Thanksgiving weekend alone, the annual kickoff for all things merry, aired enough sugary Christmas movies to replace the pecan pie. The year I binge-watched Hallmark Countdown to Christmas on a snowy weekend, I vowed, that from then on, to set limits on the saccharine sweet bits that populate the season like sprinkles on a sundae. There’s just so much of that stuff you can inhale before your sugar high propels you to la la land.
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” A Christmas Carol
When my kids were small, we nailed all the prerequisite family holiday movies, Rudolph, Frosty to Charlie Brown Christmas. We watched them all – from animated fun to traditional Yuletide schmaltz. We cheered the Grinch’s change of heart and Rudolph’s blinking red badge of individuality. But, like anything else, an overdose of sweet can put your teeth on edge. Maybe that’s why Christmas movies come only once a year. You need time to regroup before getting your annual fix of contrived cheer.
As I grew older and kids flew the coop, shows like Santa is Coming to Town — left. Grown-up shows rang in the season but didn’t always ring my bells. My house didn’t quite measure up to the Martha Stewart-like holiday décor that draped over every available space in every Hallmark movie. All that perfection can be exhausting. My Christmas lights would never measure up to Clark Griswold and my slowly morphing monochrome color schemed house (think coastal, remember?) would disappoint any self respecting North Pole resident.
I was beginning to like letting my not-so-inner graphic designer out, the kid with a ‘more white space’ and Pantone color palette in mind. Still, I’d watch those Hallmark movies with a certain amount of wistfulness — and curiosity. Did you ever notice how that snow, that fell artfully on coats and hats never melted? Somehow, hairdos that were pelted with the white stuff never ended up with the wilted, wet dog look I got after snow showered me. And those dollhouse movie towns, bedecked in snow globe perfection. Doesn’t everything seem just a little too blindingly bright, a little too magical? Any resemblance to the world I live in is purely coincidental.
“Welcome, Christmas, while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.” How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Living in a less than picture perfect world is not a bad thing; it’s a real thing. Unlike a Hallmark holiday-wrapped movie, life isn’t perfect but it’s mostly good, even blessed, not with fairy dust but cookie crumbs, crayon marks, dog hairs and milk (or wine) spills. Still, those Christmas movies, heartfelt or cheesy, come with something for everyone, including a good shot of holiday spirit. Forget the recycled plots and inexorably happy endings. It’s the life lessons, the timeless moral fables that sucker me back in each Christmas season.
One of my favorites has to be the little offbeat (more than a little) Christmas Carol remake, where Bill Murray plays the snarky, jaded Frank Cross. As unhappy and ruthless as his fabled predecessor, Scrooge, Frank is transformed into someone whose heart opens to suffering, and struggle. I can’t help but think this is a pretty timely story, calling us to be aware and not blind to the injustice and need around us. Frank learns to “Keep Christmas in my heart” by living in the past, present AND future. And, bonus, this Christmas Carol is also as hilarious as heck, populated by characters like a passive aggressive sugarplum fairy who smacks Frank in the head with a toaster. Ah, there’s something to be said for a holiday movie with a little kick!
“Seeing is believing but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see”. The Polar Express
Who doesn’t love ELF? With all the reasons to be cynical, depressed about the state of the world and politics (don’t get me started), there are a lot of reasons it might be harder to jingle your bells this year. If you’ve lost someone, it’s even more difficult to experience the season of light without variations of darkness, too. Buddy the Elf, takes us out of ourselves as he makes the best of every situation. Despite his challenges, his obvious differences, he is determined to spread cheer and positivity everywhere. When he says ‘Smiling is my favorite’, he invites us to do the same. And it’s good to remember that even just a smile can be a light in someone’s darkness.
“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch”. Yup, Dr. Seuss’s grumpy guy in Whoville’s mountain is one bitter, angry, cynical sucker. The Grinch puts a reality check on the entire town by stealing all the presents on Christmas Eve. Nice dude. But, thanks to the warmth of sweet Cindy Lou Who, Mr. Grinch learns the lesson that Christmas is more than shiny gifts and commercialism. The innocent Cindy, as all children can, teaches the true meaning of the holiday and that everyone is capable of love and kindness. Embracing the Christmas spirit, the Grinch’s heart becomes no longer ‘an empty’ hole. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a pretty good example of how even the most cynical of us can redefine ourselves. In this age of Amazon and Black Friday, we all need a little reminding that “maybe Christmas, perhaps doesn’t come from a store.”
Home Alone became a holiday classic, fulfilling a lot of kid’s daydreams of what they would do if left to their own devices. Kevin found out quickly. While he was very resourceful and foiled crooks that were dumber than dumb, he also realized that what you think you want – and what you really need are two different things. Duh. Sometimes you only need the smallest gesture, the smallest symbol of spirit. In a Charlie Brown Christmas, that legendary little tree proved that love could make anything beautiful. “I never thought it was a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. It just needs a little love”. Don’t we all, Charlie, don’t we all.
Always the renegade, my personal fave is Prancer but no list of Christmas movies would be complete without It’s a Wonderful Life. Having been a staple on nearly everyone’s holiday movie list, it’s hard to forget the timeless story of George Bailey and his angel Clarence. We all have ability to make a difference. We all can impact the lives of people, even if we don’t realize it. To appreciate what we have, to never give up – those are post-it reminders for all of us. Feeling always grateful for my own blessings of friendship, I especially love Clarence’s reminder: “Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends.”
“No one’s walking out of this old fashioned family Christmas. No, we’re all in this together” Christmas Vacation
Sometimes the very best Christmas movies are the ones that have never seen the big screen. They are the grainy home movies shot on old video cameras or savvy, sharp videos taken on today’s state of the art cell phones. These are the most important movies of all because they capture our lives, and those of families and friends. They frame us in our most precious of states – the times when we were small – or they were. The times we were together, laughing, sparring, toasting, loving. The times when we connected, told stories and wove them into memory. Maybe, buried in those treasures, in those holly and tinsel kissed moving histories of our lives, are the greatest life lessons of all.
In a season packed with sleighs full of life lessons, may we all be blessed with inspiration, kindness, compassion and love.
Merry Christmas to all!