A Different Kind of Advent Calendar
The holidays are just about upon us. This year, many of our usual activities are out of the question. There will be no Christmas concerts. No craft exhibitions at the schools. No caroling in groups. No parties or cookie or ornament exchanges. No live nativity scenes. It’s time to come up with some creative ways to mark the season while staying safely at home.
Patrick had the great idea that we’d watch one Christmas movie as a family for the first 25 days of December. I put together a list that included family favorites as well as some that are entirely new to us. While I dislike most secular carols, I don’t feel that way about Christmas movies. Even the cartoons usually have some kind of uplifting message. Besides, we’ll be getting our daily dose of spirituality from our scripture study, so bring on Santa, the reindeer, and the rest.
With one important exception, this list is generally family-friendly, though your mileage may vary. It’s got a variety of classic, silly, beloved, and artsy offerings. I’m publishing it now so that in case you want to try some of my suggestions, you have time to track them down. I’ve doubled up on the shorter shows that used to be on TV when I was a kid. The order is somewhat arbitrary, though most of our favorites will come later in the month.
1) The Nightmare Before Christmas
Is it a Halloween movie, or a Christmas movie? Either way, it’s a landmark work of stop-motion animation that should bridge the season nicely.
2) Edward Scissorhands
We’ll spend another night inside the wacky mind of Tim Burton, accompanied by the genius music of Danny Elfman.
3) Christmas Vacation
I don’t love Clark Griswold, but I do love my husband quoting Clark Griswold, and I’m betting my kids will be delighted by the physical comedy.
4) Home Alone
I strongly dislike this movie, but my kids insisted, and our list was a family effort. Redeeming features: Catherine O’Hara as Kevin’s mom and Joe Pesci as villain.
5) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
We had to include some of the Rankin/Bass stop-motion classics. These two always go together in my mind. Airing at least once a year since 1964, Rudolph is the longest running Christmas TV special.
6) The Shop Around the Corner
This classic romantic comedy consistently makes Top 100 film lists. It stars Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as shop workers who hate each other, but are actually falling in love through anonymous written correspondence. A good warmup for our offering on the 25th.
7) Joulutarina (Christmas Story)
I just found this Finnish film a few days ago on YouTube, and it looks great. It’s touted as a Santa origin story, and I love how European children’s films aren’t afraid to go a little bit dark, even for the holidays.
10) Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Speaking of no remakes, only the O.G. will do here. I had to space out the B&W films, because our younger kids haven’t yet gotten used to them. Elf owes quite a lot to this movie, set in Manhattan and celebrating the triumph of belief over cynicism.
11) Last Holiday
Here’s a remake I can endorse. I adore Queen Latifah, and this is one of her best films. When Georgia Byrd finds out she only has weeks to live, she decides to blow her savings on a luxury trip to the Grandhotel Pupp. Lessons are learned, justice is served, and all’s well that ends well.
13) The Family Man
I have a special fondness for “second chance” movies, especially those using the Scrooge trope. Nicolas Cage is at his most befuddled; Téa Leone is at her most ethereal. Plus, it’s set in New Jersey. This film always makes me want to be better.
15) Joyeux Noël
This 2005 film is based on the World War I Christmas truce and is told through the eyes of Scottish, French, and German soldiers. Have a box of tissues handy.
People often remark that Patrick resembles actor Will Ferrell. As they’ve both aged, the likeness has faded, but it was at its height when this movie first came out. Last year, Patrick rewarded co-workers who contributed to a food drive by taking photos with them in his full-body Elf costume. It was a very successful fundraiser.
17) Little Women (1994)
I’m in the tiny minority of people who didn’t like the Greta Gerwig remake (though I’m generally a fan of her work). For me, nothing will evoke Christmas in New England the way this lovely movie does.
18) A Christmas Story
Last year, I saw it with Christian in a vast old movie theater complete with Wurlitzer organ. We’ve all seen it a hundred times. It’s broadcast on a 24-hour loop on Christmas Day. No matter; it’s always brilliant. I’ll never forget the first time I saw it. I was 21 years old, and I laughed so hard, I nearly threw up.
19) The Santa Clause
As with Home Alone, I limited the kids to one from this franchise for our list. Tim Allen is adorable, though.
20) Arthur Christmas
I’m excited to see this movie, featuring an all-star voice cast and created by the geniuses behind Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep.
21) The Snowman/The Snowdog
The Snowman is one of the most beautiful animated films ever. I adore the haunting soundtrack. (Maybe I’ll learn to play it on the piano.) I haven’t seen the sequel yet, but if it’s half as delightful as the original, it’ll be a winner.
22) Christmas & Co. (Santa et Cie.)
I first saw the trailer for this film in 2017, but it’s only recently become available in the U.S. I’ve been dying to get my hands on it because I look forward a uniquely French take on Santa, his elves, and Mrs. Claus (played by Audrey Tautou).
23) White Christmas
This movie has everything: amazing singing and dancing, a satisfying rom-com based on classic miscommunication/misunderstanding blunders, and a heartwarming finale.
24) The Man Who Invented Christmas
As much as I love A Christmas Carol (and Dickens in general), I’ve never really liked any of the many film adaptations. (Keep your muppets and your Bill Murray, whom I normally love; I’m not interested.) The trailer for this one gives me hope.
25) It’s a Wonderful Life
Patrick and I have most of this movie memorized. You probably do, too, and for good reason. As I mentioned before, I’ll write soon about the “second chance” subgenre of films. Until then, know that this is the thematic apex of Christmas movies and the perfect way to cap our Film Advent Calendar.
There you have it. Maybe you’ll join us in our viewing adventure. Let me know if you watch any of these for the first (or thousandth) time. Happy Holidays, everyone!
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