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As December is fast approaching, I am in a bit of a Christmas mood. Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year, but not because of the gifts and the food. Most people seem to be genuinely happier during the month of December. Even in spite of the overflowing parking lots, the long lines at the stores and the pressures to overspend and out-give one another, there is a general air about this time of year that gives a small glimpse of people on their best behavior. And while it is true that Jesus Christ, the real reason for the celebrations, is completely marginalized and forgotten about during the materialistic X-mas, we shouldn’t let this stop us from enjoying the holiday (holy day).
Nowhere is X-mas more evident than the plethora of movies that use the Christmas season as a backdrop for their stories. Many of these movies are not worth taking the time to unwrap, but there are some real gems that we can use in our homes to bring the family together for a nice time and a little follow-up discussion. I would like to submit my family’s “Top 5” as recommendations, but, of course, you’re free to make your own traditions. Having a fire crackling and a huge bowl of popcorn for all to share is not required, but it sure helps set the mood.
A surprising movie that I saw for the first time last Christmas, Elf turns the tables on the usual Santa Claus bit. Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a human, raised as an elf in the North Pole, who heads to New York City in search of his real family. A few profanities short of being a perfect family movie, Elf does deliver a captivating and well-told story. Ferrell was a perfect pick for the role and never tries to take over the screen. Ultimately, Buddy teaches his Dad a thing or two about putting family before work and Buddy learns about life in the big city.
4. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Still one of the all-time greats for simple slap-stick mindless humor. Lost in New York is a more interesting story and far more clever than the original. Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci reprise their roles as hapless villains who consistently get out-thought and over-powered by a ten-year old hero. Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) gets separated from his parents again and has to fend for himself, but once again realizes that he needs and misses his family, even his bullying older brother, Buzz. An interesting point of discussion here could be the end where Kevin’s mom knows just where her son will be on Christmas Eve in New York City. Family members know each other, and those of us in God’s family should be no different.
3. Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
A Christmas Carol is an enduring favorite of mine and I try to watch at least one new version every year (there are literally dozens). The Muppet version is very well done and works well for watching with younger children. Michael Caine is Scrooge and pulls it off quite well, even while talking mostly to stuffed animals and puppets. Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat provide comic relief throughout as the narrators and the songs compliment the movie nicely. I’m not a big fan of musicals, but the Muppets make it work quite nicely. Another Christmas Carol type movie is How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the animated version). The Grinch and Scrooge have much in common (this could be a discussion in itself) as do the stories themselves. The concept of repenting while there is still time is a major theme here, as is the idea of being content with whatever you have and in all circumstances (Phillipians 4).
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
What more can I say? If you haven’t seen this movie yet, buy the DVD and watch it this year. Make sure you don’t get the color version though, black and white is the only way to see this film. The history of the film itself is also a great story. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is the epitome of a man pushed to his limit. We can empathize with him completely, all the while being horrified at his downward spiral. Real relationships are portrayed, no mushy-gushy romantic love here. Mary (Donna Reed) is going to stand by her man and her family. The strength of the Bailey family is displayed in the end. It’s a Wonderful Life proves that a great story will endure, even without color and special effects.
Speaking of great stories, why not watch the Greatest Story, especially because we are celebrating the Incarnation of the Savior? This is what it’s all about. The other movies wouldn’t even matter if it weren’t for this one. Since Matthew’s gospel speaks the most about the Incarnation, this is a great choice for the Christmas season. Filmed using the biblical text (NIV) as the script, this is as accurate as possible, with no words being spoken other than the text of the Bible. Reading another version out loud first, like the KJV or the 1599 Geneva, enhances the experience. The whole family can agree on this one.
My only objective in this short “Top 5” list was to spark your own imagination this Christmas season, and any season, for that matter. Families need to discuss and interact with their viewing choices and this list is simply a starting point. Santa Claus, Christmas trees and reindeer don’t define Christmas in our house. I have made it a point to tell all of my children that X-mas is a story, but Jesus is a reality. Playing reindeer games can be fun, but if the stories ever start to eclipse the reality, it’s time to put the games away.