Last Christmas, I developed my list of top five Christmas movies that can add to your family’s joy and meditation every Christmas. Originally broadcast during the Christmas show of Salt + Light Radio last year, I never actually posted the list on my blog. Since I refer to it in this year’s Christmas show of Salt + Light Radio, I decided I better put it up. So here it is!
5. Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton’s moving fable about a gentle human-like creature whose inventor dies before he had time to complete him, so Edward has scissors for hands. He lives isolated and alone until a kind woman discovers him and brings him back to her suburb, where Edward is at first welcomed, but eventually becomes persecuted as an outsider. In addition to the Christmas references, the story of gentlehearted Edward entering into a suburban community and his ultimate rejection can help us to reflect on the Incarnation, and the ultimate rejection of Jesus by the powerful, such as Herod, who seek to destroy him. (Rated PG, I recommend this somewhat gothically-styled fairy tale for adults and adolescents.)
4. Millions is a wonderful, less-known film directed by Danny Boyle, who has directed some great films, probably most famous for Slumdog Millionaire. Millions is set at the end of the year when the UK was changing currency from pounds to Euros. It’s the story of Damien and Anthony, two little boys who terribly miss their mother who has recently passed away. Damien, the younger of the two, is playing out in a field and a huge bag of money—worth millions of pounds—flies through the air and lands on his cardboard playhouse. Damien believes it’s a miracle, and he wants to give the money to whoever needs it, while Anthony wants to keep the money for their family.
Damien’s generosity, poverty of spirit, and innocence make him the wisest when it comes to dealing with the burden of millions of dollars. Damien has frequent conversations with the saints, asking them if they’ve seen his mother, St. Maureen, in heaven—because he wants to know that she is okay. Even though the Christmas theme is more of a setting than developed, this wonderful story explores themes of faith, heaven, the trap of materialism, grief, holiness, and miracles. (Rated PG, not for really young children, but for young adolescents and up.)
3. The Nativity Story—which, for now, is the only film that centers entirely around the story leading up to Jesus’ Birth. There are so many beautiful moments in this film which gives easy access to meditating on the joyful mysteries of the Rosary. The Nativity Story ignores many traditions about the extraordinary graces that Mary received as the Mother of God, and focuses much more on Mary’s humanity. (For example, the film doesn’t assume that Mary took a vow of virginity before the Annunciation, something which is not explicitly mentioned in the Gospels. As Catholics, we believe that Mary remained a virgin, but from the Scriptures it isn’t exactly clear when she made that decision.) Yet, it offers us a context in which we can more fully understand the risk that Mary took in saying her generous “yes” at the Annunciation. For those of us who tend to put Mary on a pedestal, or can’t get beyond the statues of her in church, the grounded Marian focus of this film provides a rich alternative source for prayer and meditation.
My favorite part of the film, however, is the growing relationship between Mary and Joseph. Joseph is often neglected in the Christmas story, but here is a beautiful portrayal of what it might have meant for him to take Mary as his wife, and welcome Jesus as his foster son. This is a must-see Christmas film, if you’ve never seen it, and excellent to revisit every couple of years. (Not for young children, due to several scenes of violence—including the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.)
- whether it’s the animated version, the muppet version, or the dating version–Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
- or my personal favorite, the musical 1970 version entitled Scrooge and starring Albert Finney
- For a less familiar adaptation suited for adults, not children, try the entertaining, Family Man with Nicholas Cage (2000)
This classic story of conversion is rooted less in the mystery of the Incarnation and more on Christmas as a family celebration of love. Scrooge converts when he looks closely at the consequences of his past and present choices. Very often this conversion is triggered by an encounter with an innocent child, or people who reach out to the protagonist in compassion. What I’m still waiting for: A Christmas Carol adaptation where a woman plays Scrooge!
1. It’s a Wonderful Life has some similarities with A Christmas Carol, in that a supernatural visitor—in this case an angel—comes to visit a good man and takes him on a journey to the past and future to help him recognize that the life that he now feels trapped in is truly wonderful.
This 1947 black and white film starring Jimmy Stewart was not that well-received when it first came out. Over the years, its repeated TV showings have made it perhaps the Christmas movie in North America. George Baily, the generous man who blessed the lives of all his neighbors by sacrificing his own dreams, but who finally ends up in crisis himself, is a hero worth rooting for.
One of the reasons it’s my first choice is its bittersweetness: the sufferings of others–and especially of George Bailey–are very real, something that we can identify with, especially because George has come to the point that he has lost hope and can no longer see the meaning of his sacrifices, which makes the ending of the movie both bitter and sweet. (Full two hours, has serious themes, but is a great choice for a family Christmas film.)
I hope you share your own Christmas favorites in the comments!