The buildup to Christmas is very, very crucial in my house, y'all. I find it super important to soak up the weeks leading up to the Big Day. In my opinion, the build up is the best part: the excitement, the wonder, the joy, the love. It's what makes the holiday worth celebrating. And as much as we all scoff at how the Christmas advertisements are “already playing? It’s not even Thanksgiving!” it’s still all somehow over with before we know it, and we’re left with that post-holiday serotonin deficit, not enough pairs of sweatpants, and too many leftovers to handle. (JK — at least on the leftovers part; those I can always handle.) One thing I love quite possibly more than the build up and the joy, though? Re-watching all the Christmas movies I loved as a kid.
Because I like to make it feel like I’ve done all I can to really revel in the holidays, I do all the loving and the hugging and the baking and the singing and the squeezing, and then I even go a little further overboard. I go into Christmas overdrive: baking Christmas cookies, attending Christmas shows, singing Christmas carols, reading Christmas books to the kids, and drinking lots of mulled wine (I’m really good at that one). Even though we watch Christmas movies on repeat at the end of November and throughout the entirety of December, I make sure we marathon the classics on the regular. Which got me thinking: what if I marathoned my favorites, from start to finish as an adult? Kids today are at a disadvantage because they don't get the classics like we did growing up. All their movies (which are, admittedly, way cooler) are in HD and 3D, and nothing says Christmas like a 120-minute flick composited with computer graphics. But I'll never forsake my black and white favorites, especially during the holiday season.
In the past couple years, we’ve been watching whatever new Christmas movie is recently out or in theaters at the time. There are always new Christmas movies out, and we're always down to see them. But I was thinking, it had been a few years since we’ve watched an OG Christmas flick, and I was in the mood to watch the oldies. But as I went about deciding which one to watch, I couldn’t choose just one. So I decided to re-watch them all.
I was curious if they they all really as good as I remembered. To find out, I made a list of all my favorites, poured a big glass of wine, got comfortable, and to top it all off, I made my kids join me for some old-fashioned viewing.
Movie #1: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
One of my fondest memories from my childhood is sitting with my brothers and sister in the family room, Christmas tree twinkling in the corner, and watching the stop-motion masterpiece that is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer when it played on channel 6 one week before Christmas. We would never miss it.
I was so psyched to watch this with my daughter, who, having just turned 3, was at the perfect age for loving it. I tripped out a little bit about how far we’ve come since that stop-motion animation and also about how much the snowman looks like Kenny Rogers with a flavor-saver beard. I loudly sang along with Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist, during the misfit song.
Things got ugly, though, when that abominable snow monster scared the sh*t out of my daughter. She hid behind the tree peering at the TV through the branches for the entire remainder of the movie. I tried to play it off, telling her “Oh, he’s just a silly, googly-eyed furry snowman!” But honestly, I remember being scared out of my mind of that weird, scary monster, too.
Movie #2: Elf
It had been about four years since I’d re-watched this gem, and even though it’s not a “classic” in the sense we usually think of, it’s still one of my favorite films. Going through the holidays season without Buddy just didn’t feel right.
I came away with the same conclusions now that I did when I first watched it: Will Ferrell is a freaking genius, and people are most awesome when they see the world through innocent, kid-like, or in this case, elf-like, eyes. And also, Mary Steenburgen plays the same character in every movie she’s ever been in.
Both my 13-year-old son and my 3-year-old daughter cracked up at the same parts of the movie that my husband and I laughed at. I guess we all can appreciate a man in an elf costume throwing back candy.
Movie #3: Christmas Vacation
This was the movie I enjoyed re-watching most. I hadn’t seen it in at least 10 years, and it’s just so good. Clark “Sparky” Griswold is such a lovable and optimistic family man, even if he’s terribly unlucky.
I watched this one on my own late at night and laughed my ass off. That dinner scene where Aunt Bethany blesses the food with the pledge of allegiance and then the whole family gnaws on and crunches through Catherine’s “slightly” overcooked turkey is a classic. It made me better appreciate the beauty of those holiday family gatherings. All those weird dynamics and potential eruptions or mild altercations sitting at the table together, and not knowing exactly what may go down, but overlooking all of that because the importance of being together and appreciating the whole insanity of it all is what it’s all about.
And there are so many quotable lines in that movie it’s not even funny
Movie #4: Love Actually
Ah, Love Actually. Who doesn’t eat up the “love is all around you” Christmas message of this movie? One early evening this week, Peter, my partner, and Stella joined me on the couch to watch this rom-com magic.
The beginning scene, which shows people greeting and embracing their arriving loved ones at the airport, immediately gives you tender holiday heart. I settled deeper into the couch and got cozy. It had been a few years since I’d watched this feel-good Hugh Grant classic. And … hmm … in those few years, I managed to forget about that part of the movie that follows Martin Freeman as a porn actor. As the scene snuck up on us where he is thrusting his hips behind his adult co-star, Peter and I had to whoa, whoa, whoooaaa our way to the remote control and turned the TV off.
Movie #5: A Christmas Carol
I love this change-of-heart story that encapsulates the true meaning of Christmas. Ebenezer Scrooge is such a dick. And you can hardly believe what a dick he is. But then you feel so damn warm and fuzzy when he turns it all around in the end. It’s such a Christmas classic, and I was so excited to sit down with the whole fam and watch this one.
I was a scaredy-cat kid, terrified of anything having to do with ghosts so the tame Disney version starring Scrooge McDuck was all I could handle. But somehow, I thought my kids would be OK with the more recent Jim Carrey version of this Charles Dickens story.
Oh, how wrong I was.
The Jim Carrey version scared the hell out of my 3 year old and made the rest of us uneasy. My daughter was in terrified tears, the kind that might later be dealt with in therapy. Needless to say, we had to turn it off to watch after the kids have gone to bed another night.
What did I learn about the modern Dickens classic? Well, sometimes cutting edge animation makes for ghosts that look too real and believable. And I should have watched the Mickey Mouse version of this story with my kids.
Did I Regret My Holiday Movie Marathon?
No matter how old or outdated the movies were to me, they still had the same affect on me as when I watched them all the first time. Of course, Rudolph will always be a favorite because it reminds me of being an innocent, Santa-believing kid who was so excited about Christmas I could hardly stand it. Those feelings came back to me when I watched that blast from the past. When you’re watching a holiday movie, you’re ready to feel good. You expect it to make you feel good. It’s gives you this amazing, cheesy holiday movie high and you crave it every December. You’re more open to learning a lesson or receiving a message and to have your heart warmed.
It didn’t matter how the movie looked, how ‘80s the hair is, how grainy the picture, or how obvious the use of green screen, the uplifting message was still there, and the movies still spoke to me. And I believe they always will. It’s the combination of holiday spirit in the air and on the screen that makes us laugh at or smile or even cry at the silliest and simplest of movies. It has us suspending normal expectations of reality and excusing things like Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister dance. All of these movies I re-watched encouraged the audience to be more accepting, more giving, more loving than usual. And it makes you want to do better and be better, and you just feel good. Yes, re-watching those movies really helped me get deep into the Christmas spirit. Well, that and a little mulled wine. Mulled wine is pretty magical, too.
Images Courtesy of Andrea Wada Davies (7), YouTube