Last year, I offered a list of five great Christmas movies to watch–a list I still stand by. But great films that are not specifically about Christmas can also become a cherished part of a Christmas family tradition. Cinematic artistry, the way a film resonates with our human experience, and its thematic connection to the mystery of the Incarnation can make a great film especially meaningful to watch together.
Watching a great movie together at Christmas can become an annual family tradition. It can be a way for you and your family:
- to take a break from the noise and bustle of Christmas
- to slow down
- to allow some space for silence or reflection
- to share something meaningful
This is especially true if you take time to talk about the film together afterwards.
However, if your family is like mine, picking a movie that the whole family can enjoy watching together can be a challenge! It needs to be artistic, entertaining, engaging, and appropriate for all ages. Here are a few of my favorite picks to see together at Christmas, which I shared with Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann on this week’s Christmas show on Salt + Light Radio.
Christmas is a season where we celebrate the Holy Family—a family that goes through crisis after crisis: from unexpected pregnancy, to traveling with an expectant mother, to not being able to find shelter for the birth of the Baby, to the persecution of Herod and exile. Yet they overcome these obstacles through their faith in God and their love for each other. These three entertaining family movies offer us the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the gift and vocation of belonging to our family.
The Sound of Music (1965) is one of my favorite films of all time for so many reasons—its story, music, performances, etc.…. In addition to its artistry, The Sound of Music beautifully and subtly explores many Christian themes. It’s at the top of my list here because of its portrayal of what it means to be family that is wounded and healing, close and joyful. The film also proposes a Catholic worldview of our purpose in life and vocation—both individually and as a family.
Disney’s The Lion King (1994), abounds in symbolism about family, fathers and sons, and finding redemption. Its superficial parallels to the life of Christ (especially the great rejoicing over Simba’s birth, quickly followed by his exile) make this a natural fit for the Christmas season, but Simba’s journey to becoming the king he is meant to be, also resounds with themes of friendship, love, and self-sacrifice.
For a fun take on what it means to be family, The Incredibles (2004) is a wonderful choice, as each family member discovers the importance of his or her part within the family and in their family’s mission to help make the world a better place.
The Unexpected Visitor
Christmas is also a season which encourages us to be mindful of the unexpected visitor. The Son of God “pitching His tent among us,” as Isaiah said, is the most unexpected visitor. How do we welcome the unexpected visitor, and do we find the face of God there?
It was difficult to choose only two films with this theme, but here they are:
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) is a great choice that provides both fun and touching moments. Spielberg’s imaginative story of how an alien from another planet transforms the life of a troubled young boy offers interesting insights and parallels into the Incarnation and salvation history.
In 2007’s low-key independent film, The Visitor, Richard Jenkins brilliantly plays a lonely college professor who finds an unexpected immigrant couple living in his apartment. His initial reaction, his surprising reception of the couple, and the way the visitors change his life make this a real treasure to watch. The backdrop of the film is the struggle of the immigrant here in the U.S. Rated PG-13 for language, this gem of a movie could be watched by a family with older children. Don’t let the slow beginning stop you from this rewarding film.
Light in the Darkness
Christmas is the season of light because Christ brings the light–and is Himself our Light. Films that explore what it means to live in the light of truth, living with integrity in times of darkness, can be particularly rewarding to watch.
For me, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) can be watched any time, any where, for any occasion. But it can become a wonderful family Christmas tradition, especially for its portrayal of light overcoming darkness, the humility of the hobbits, and the way that the fellowship work together and share their mission of living the light. With the genius of J.R.R. Tolkien providing multiple layers of meaning and a dazzling visual cinematic narrative, each film is greatly rewarding. (The war scenes and the complex themes make this a movie for families with older children.)
Simon Birch (1998) is a small but moving film about a young boy who, despite his struggles with dwarfism and the ridicule of others, is convinced he has a particular mission from God. This poignant film may bring tears, but the way young Simon lives the truth of who he is in very trying circumstances is inspiring. And the story of a child who brings light to the little town he lives in resonates also with the season.
Man for All Seasons (1966) is truly a movie for all seasons, as St. Thomas More struggles to be faithful to the light of Christ through growing pressure, threats, imprisonment, and death. In many ways, St. Thomas More’s martyrdom is a defense of the sacredness of marriage. While it might seen strange to watch a film about a martyr during Christmas, it fits the Christmas season, as the feast of St. Stephen the first martyr falls on Dec. 26th, the day after Christmas. A deeply powerful film about a radiant saint and martyr, Man for All Seasons won six Oscars. It is also my very favorite “saint movie.” If you haven’t seen this film, do yourself a favor and watch it this Christmas with your family!
I’d love to hear your what you watch with your family at Christmas! Please share below.