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I hope you’ve all had a blessed holiday thus far, dear friends, and that this week will be one of great fun and joy for all of you! I myself am looking forward to lots of baking and other Christmas preparations over the next few days.
For my penultimate post of 2021, I thought I’d share my favorite Christmas stories! These are all movies and a few books that I’ve loved for years and heartily recommend (with only a few caveats). And yes, I did rate them on a scale of 10 to 1, with 1 being the best…but just because one movie ranks lower than another doesn’t mean I dislike it in the slightest! I purposefully picked stories that bring me genuine happiness and laughter during this season.
10. The Small One
This short animated film is so sweet and whimsical–and it revolves around the true meaning of Christmas! Sadly, Modern Disney would probably never. I grew up on this story about a Jewish boy and his quest to find a new home for his beloved donkey–and every time our family sees a painting, movie, or figurine of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem, we always address the represented donkey as “Small One.”
As a child, I watched a VHS of The Small One–but these days, you can find it on Disney+ or on a DVD containing three different Disney Christmas specials*. It’s also available as a book* with lovely illustrations and a foreword by Kathy Lee Gifford.
9. The Cajun Night Before Christmas
This illustrated book is downright hilarious*–but if you’ve never been exposed to a true Cajun accent, it might be a bit of a challenge! My sister Emily can imitate the aforementioned accent to perfection, so she always reads this book to us on Christmas Eve. It’s the old, familiar story of The Night Before Christmas, but alligators pull Santa’s sleigh this time and the house is in a swamp. It’s so much fun.
Twas the night before Christmas an’ all t’ru de house,
Dey don’t a ting pass, not even a mouse.
De chirren been nezzle good snug on de flo’,
An’ Mama pass de pepper t’ru de crack on de do’...
I admit, Elf is my slightly-guilty pleasure* when it comes to Christmas films. I put it up there with The Lego Movie on the “Ridiculous Films That Make Maribeth Laugh Her Head Off” List. Buddy the Elf’s obnoxious cheer can be a bit overwhelming at times, but his unbridled joy and kindness change the lives of everyone around him.
7. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
This story first appeared in illustrated book form*, then as a movie starring Tom Berenger and Jody Richardson*. Jonathan Toomey, solitary and cantankerous, is hired by a widow and her young son to carve a Nativity scene for their new home. But little Thomas is very particular: he would very much like Mr. Toomey to capture the pride of the cows, the happiness of the sheep, the importance of the angels, and the love and tenderness between Mary and the Baby Jesus.
6. Joyeux Noël
The Christmas Truce of 1914–a series of unofficial ceasefires during the first Christmas of World War I–is one of the most poignant tales of the early 20th century. Even Doctor Who tells its own version of the story in the Twelfth Doctor’s final Christmas special, “Twice Upon a Time.” But Joyeux Noël, nominated in 2006 for the Academy Awards’ Best International Film*, is a far more historically-accurate dramatization of the event. Haunting yet beautiful, it features French and German characters speaking their own languages, so it’s best enjoyed by older viewers who can keep up with the subtitles. My favorite scene is when the German protagonist, an opera-singer-turned-soldier, sings “Silent Night,” while the Scots join in with their bagpipes.
(Please beware one inappropriate but easily-skipped scene.)
5. The Family Man
This is probably the most “grown up” movie on this list*, and I definitely recommend that you check the Parents’ Guide on IMDB before you watch it with a younger audience. That said, I love it as a modern-day twist on It’s A Wonderful Life. Jack Campbell (played by Nicolas Cage), a self-obsessed tycoon, gets a “glimpse” at what his life might’ve looked like if he’d married his college girlfriend, and it changes his perspective on Christmas, family, and love forever.
4. The Man Who Invented Christmas
This is a relatively new favorite for our family*, but it has a special place in my heart thanks to its accurate (at times frighteningly accurate!) glimpse into a writer’s brain. This is the dramatized, somewhat fanciful story of how Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame plays Dickens, while the late great Christopher Plummer plays the Ebenezer Scrooge who haunts Dickens’ imagination.
3. It’s A Wonderful Life
I love The Family Man, but you can’t beat It’s A Wonderful Life*. Jack Campbell discovers what his life might’ve been like if he had married his beloved Kate, but George Bailey (played with deep, soulful intensity by James Stewart) finds out what the world would’ve been like if he’d never been born. In many ways, I find George to be far more relatable than Jack. The final scene always makes me teary-eyed, especially when the good people of Bedford Falls start singing “Auld Lang Syne.”
2. Home Alone
This movie is so thoroughly ingrained into our family’s Christmas traditions*, we can’t imagine Black Friday without it! Because that’s exactly what we do the day after Thanksgiving: after decorating the house for Christmas, we eat Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner, enjoy sugar cookies and eggnog for dessert, and watch Home Alone. Kevin McCallister’s hilarious defense of his home against burglars Marv and Harry never gets old. (The second one is pretty fun, too!)
3. A Christmas Carol
Someone asked me last week for my favorite Christmas movie…and I had to think about it for a moment and then rephrase the question in my own head: “If I could only watch one Christmas movie for the entire season, which one would it be?”
My answer: A Christmas Carol, starring Patrick Stewart as Scrooge*. Stewart is magnificent in this role, cold and formidable at the beginning and delightfully (if awkwardly!) joyful by the end. We quote this movie all the time, and Mrs. Cratchit may be my favorite character. But at the end of the day, this movie best captures (for me, anyway) the joy and goodwill we ought to cultivate in our hearts during the Advent and Christmas seasons.
What are your favorite holiday stories? I’d love to hear from you in the comments…and I wish you all a very merry Christmas!