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Christmas movies - what makes them classic and just how many of them do we need?

Updated on December 30, 2011

Okay, so after my month-long exhausting movie Scarathon in October, you'd think I might have learned my lesson.

But nooOOOooo!

Not only am I gearing up for a series of Christmas movie reviews, but I've selected even more movies this time around. So many so that I'm actually having to begin before December even starts. There are even a few days where I'll be covering up to four movies on the same day.

Anyway, to start off my planned Merry-thon, as I look over the pile of Christmas movies to fill out my list, it gets me thinking: What exactly makes a classic Christmas movie?

First off, they basically have to be set around the Christmas holiday season. That seems to be a given. But does that automatically make it a Christmas movie?

I can has a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho.
I can has a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho.

That can't be quite right, because you'd then have to include the first two "Die Hard" movies as Christmas movies. And while there may be those out there who include them in their holiday watch list, it'd be hard to actually define them as Christmas movies.

If a Christmas movie is a movie that includes Santa, what about Santa's Slay with Bill Goldberg?

Is it the Christmasy message?

Let's look at the prototypical "Christmas Movie": It's a Wonderful Life.

What makes this a Christmas movie? In 1984, The director, Frank Capra, told the Wall Street Journal that he didn't even consider it a Christmas movie when he first came across it. He just liked the idea. Yes, the final act of the movie happens all on one Christmas Eve but, other than the opening shot of people praying, how much Christmas is there for the rest of the movie? (I'll give you a hint. It's 'none'.)

And that goes for you too!
And that goes for you too!

And what about the message? Is it a Christmas message? Not particularly. It's not a bad message, but there's no talk of Santa or the nativity or anything like that. In the end, the way Frank Capra puts it, it's a message about "the individual's belief in himself."

It's not much of a Christmas message. It's a fine one in its own right, but it's not particularly brimming with yule.

But then, maybe it's less about the specific message itself and simply the fact that, on this one fateful Christmas for one man who's spent his life thinking of anybody but himself, everyone he knows gets together just to show him that they love him and that his sacrifices had not gone un-noticed or un-appreciated. Maybe it's the very clear depiction that, regardless of social status or race or whatever else you can come up with, a community gets together to save one of its own and reflect on the difference that one man can make.

And it all happens on Christmas Eve.

No, that's not a Christmas-specific idea. It could have been just as easily set on St. Valentine's Day. But the concept of Christmas is definitely no stranger to the idea of the brotherhood of man. Or the idea that one single person can affect the entire world.

Ho Ho No!
Ho Ho No!

Own the season

And let's not have any of this nonsense of avoiding the word "Christmas".

Whether you celebrate it or not is irrelevant. Do you disagree with the message of Christmas? And I'm talking about the real one, not the commercialism that cynics get so excited to point out every year. (I'd love to see how much money is made every year by film makers and TV execs who put out movies and TV specials that point out how commercial Christmas has become.)

I'm not even talking about the Nativity story. That's a cute story, but it's not a "message" in itself. I'm talking about the brotherhood of man and the idea that we can overlook each others' faults and show real love for our fellow man. Yes, that's a broad interpretation of "the Christmas message", but it's there. And isn't that something that everyone should aspire to?

No, Christmas doesn't have a corner on that kind of message. That's why I wouldn't mind if someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah or any other holiday you may personally celebrate. No, I don't observe Hanukkah or the Feast of St. Stephen, but I recognize that they are important to some of you out there and I hope to be around for them.

And I wouldn't mind having a happy one.

Being politically correct for the holidays doesn't mean disavowing what you believe. It means accepting that others believe differently and celebrating that.


Now, it's true that I've chosen Christmas movies for my reviews. Let's face it, they're everywhere and each year they just make more. But also, it's where my mind and heart go for the season. If you're really not a fan of Christmas, you don't have to pay any attention to what I have to say. But if you're even luke-warm to the idea of the holiday, maybe some of the movies I've picked will speak to you.

Who knows.

And Ho Ho Ho!


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    • Garlonuss profile imageAUTHOR

      Ryan D Peterson 

      7 years ago from Saratoga Springs, Utah

      And as a bonus over my Halloween Scareathon, at least this batch of movies should be appropriate for pretty much everybody. That isn't to say you'll necessary like them all, but Christmas movies do tend to be more family friendly than Halloween/scary movies.


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