By the time the clock strikes Christmas Eve, most of us have watched more than our fair share of holiday movies. Thanksgiving weekend alone, the annual kickoff for all things merry, aired enough saccharine Christmas movies to replace the pecan pie. The year I binge-watched Hallmark Countdown to Christmas, I vowed to set limits on the sugary sweet flicks that populate the season like chocolate sprinkles on a sundae. There’s just so much of that stuff you can inhale before your sugar high propels you to la-la-land.
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” A Christmas Carol
When my kids were small, we nailed all the prerequisite family holiday movies from Frosty the Snowman to A Charlie Brown Christmas, colorful animation to traditional Yuletide schmaltz. We cheered the Grinch’s change of heart and Rudolph’s blinking red badge of individuality. But, like anything else, an overdose of sugar can put your teeth on edge. Maybe Christmas movies come only once a year so you have time to regroup before getting your next fix of contrived holiday cheer.
But that’s just me.
When the kids flew the coop, movies like Santa is Coming to Town went with them. Grown-up shows rang in the season but didn’t always ring my bells. My house didn’t quite measure up to the mind-numbing holiday décor that draped over every Hallmark movie set. (and to be honest, eeew) My Christmas lights would never compare to Clark Griswold’s and my slowly morphing monochrome color schemed house (think coastal, remember?) would disappoint any self respecting North Pole resident. Truthfully, isn’t decorating perfection exhausting?
In my very empty nest, I let my not-so-inner graphic designer out, choosing ‘white space’ and a Pantone color palette to Santa’s workshop. Still, I’d watch those Hallmark movies with a certain amount of guilt — and curiosity. How DID that snow, that fell artfully on coats and hats, never melt? If MY hair was pelted with the white stuff while I was gleefully building a flawless snowman, I guarantee it would have that wilted, wet dog look not one ‘fresh from the salon’. And those dollhouse movie towns, bedecked in snow globe perfection? Has anyone ever seen one? They are all a little too blindingly bright, a little too magical for my taste. Any resemblance to the world I live in is purely coincidental.
“Welcome, Christmas, while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.” How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Living in a less than picture perfect world is not a bad thing; it’s a real thing. Unlike a Hallmark holiday-wrapped movie, life isn’t perfect but it’s mostly good, even blessed at tomes. It’s not covered in fairy dust but cookie crumbs, crayon marks, dog hairs and milk (or wine) spills. People don’t always end up happily ever after but lose one another through misunderstandings, hurt and yes, death. Unlike the wistful happy endings in celluloid, they are often just the stuff of dreams.
Still, those Christmas movies, heartfelt or cheesy, come with something for everyone, including a good shot of holiday spirit. Forget the recycled plots and inexorably happy endings we know are the stuff of screenplays. It’s the life lessons, the timeless moral fables that sucker us back in each Christmas season.
If I have to pick a few favorites, one has to be the offbeat (more than a little) Christmas Carol remake, where Bill Murray plays the snarky, jaded Frank Cross. As unhappy and ruthless as his fabled predecessor, Scrooge, Frank Frank learns to “Keep Christmas in my heart” by living in the past, present AND future. He’s transformed into someone whose heart opens to suffering, and struggle. I can’t help but think this tale is even more timely, given these fraught last few years when we, like Frank, are all called to be aware and awake to the injustice and need around us. And, bonus, this Christmas Carol is also as hilarious as heck, populated by characters like a passive aggressive sugarplum fairy who smacks Frank in the head with a toaster. Ah, ya gotta like a woman with spunk!
“Seeing is believing but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see”. The Polar Express
Who doesn’t love ELF? With all the reasons to be cynical, depressed about the state of the world and politics (don’t get me started), there are a lot of reasons it might be harder to jingle your bells this year. If you’ve lost someone, it’s even more difficult to experience the season of light without variations of darkness, too. Buddy the Elf, takes us out of ourselves as he makes the best of every situation. Despite his challenges, he’s determined to spread cheer and positivity everywhere. When he says ‘Smiling is my favorite’, he invites us to do the same. And it’s good to remember that even just a smile can be a light in someone’s darkness.