Christmastime is a special time. Songs about snow and presents and Santa and Jesus play on the radio. Lights adorn the bushes and gutters of homes and offices. Decorations fill our shelves and ornaments hang from evergreens. But even among these holiday staples, one tradition outshines them all..
The Watching of Christmas Movies.
Over these past twenty-four years, I have developed a special affection for a few particular holiday films. The following five are most precious to me.
#5- The Homecoming aka The Walton’s Christmas (1971)
This began as sort of a joke in my family. My mom bought it because she liked it, but my brother and sister would make fun of it. Nevertheless, we watched it every year. Over time, I began to develop a liking for the film. After all, the main character is a young man who wants to be a writer during the Great Depression. The people are simple, and it paints a picture of a time in America long passed. On Christmas Eve, John Boy (the aspiring writer) goes on a secret mission to find his father who has not returned home from his job. The father works far away, and only comes home on the weekends. When news is heard of a bus overturning along the route the father takes home, John Boy’s mother becomes fearful of the worst-case scenario. We learn that John Boy is struggling to become a man in the eyes of his father, so this journey becomes a symbol for his passage into manhood. The film is filled with a number of touching scenes. My favorite involves a talk between John Boy and his mother about how he doesn’t think he could ever become a writer. This makes it into the top five due to its warmth, purity, and likeable characters. And it led to the long-running series, The Waltons.
#4- The Nativity Story (2006)
Before seeing this, I was skeptical. My thought was that it would be a watered-down version of the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth. I am pleased to say that I was very wrong. Sure, it’s not word for word the story told in the Bible, but it presents the story without shying away from Jesus’ divinity through the virgin birth and Mary’s humanity. In fact, what I like most about this film is the way Mary and Joseph are portrayed. They are poor and simple people who love God, and trust Him even through difficulties. One of my favorite lines comes from Joseph. He is traveling with his pregnant wife to Bethlehem, and while they are resting by a small fire he says to Mary, “I wonder if I will be able to teach him anything.” This is such a wonderful line, since we know that Jesus will become a carpenter like Joseph. Another great line also comes from Joseph when he passes the temple in Jerusalem. It has become a place of trade and corruption. Joseph says to Mary, “This was meant to be a holy place.” Jesus would return years later to declare, “You have made my Father’s house a marketplace!” The end of this film, the birth of Christ, gives God glory as He is the greatest gift of love the world has ever known.
#3 –Scrooge (1970)
This is the musical Scrooge starring Albert Finney. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, has been made into at least a dozen different movies. My family has them all, and we watch them every year. There’s the Alistair Sim, and the George C. Scott, and the Muppet, and the Mickey, and the Patrick Stewart, and the Reginald Owen etc etc… I think they’re all great, but they aren’t quite as special as Scrooge. The movie itself is entertaining and full of catchy songs. But the real reason it’s so high on my list is the special place this film has with my parents. On Christmas night, 1970, my parents saw this in the theater. They were only dating at the time. A few years ago I had planned to watch it a few weeks before Christmas, but my father stopped it. He said that it was too early to watch this one. To him, this film has a special meaning. He never said it plainly, but I know that this is the one Christmas movie that really means something to him because it is the one he saw with my mother while they were young and just starting out.
#2- A Christmas Story (1983)
I haven’t known a Christmas without A Christmas Story. This funny and heartwarming film has such a place in my family’s Christmas tradition, it feels like a piece of home. Every time we went to cut our tree someone would always say, “Hell, this ain’t no tree” or “Darn thing looks like it was made of green pipe cleaners.” Our holiday dialogue is rich with Jean Shepherd’s wonderful lines. If you haven’t seen this, or if you don’t like it, I can’t understand how that is possible. It’s hilarious and brilliant. It’s indescribably beautiful. It reminds me of the fourth of July!
#1- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
“No man is a failure who has friends.”
This film is a masterpiece. It is the story of a man who had great dreams, but had to sacrifice them for the good of others. Everything he ever wanted was denied him. Yet along the way he touched the lives of many. On Christmas Eve, at the end of his rope, he stands on a bridge ready to take his own life. Only by God’s intervention is he saved and redeemed. He is shown that with great love, no life is meaningless.
Wonderfully acted, beautifully scripted, and masterfully directed, It’s a Wonderful Life is a gift to humanity. It reminds us to have faith, perseverance, and hope. It reminds us that even the mundane aspects of life are invaluable.
Christmas celebrates the existence of love and hope. It’s a Wonderful Life points us to both.