As we approach the end of another jarring year, we come to two traditional holidays spaced just one week apart—Christmas and New Year’s. One is sacred and one is secular, but they have in common one very important theme: renewal, a fresh start, the hope that life will look brighter going forward.
One staple of the Christmas season is the wide range of movies about Christmas that are televised every year. There are movies for every taste, ranging from cartoons about Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, the Peanuts gang, etc. for kids (including grown-up kids) to feel-good sentimental Christmas season movies churned out by the Hallmark Channel. My personal preference is for heart-warming stories that dramatize the phenomena of renewal and redemption. The possibility of renewal can appeal to people of all faiths and no faith; the gift of redemption is explicitly part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but it has universal potential.
Let me share with you my five favorite Christmas movies. If you haven’t seen them before, I encourage you to retreat from the hustle and bustle of your life to refresh yourself with some of these messages of hope and grace.
1. ‘The Bishop’s Wife’ (1947)
In this enchanting fantasy, Cary Grant plays a charming and very human angel who visits Earth to help a bishop (played by the superb David Niven) and his wife (played by the beautiful Loretta Young). The bishop has allowed the responsibilities of church office to overwhelm him, and this distressed his devoted wife. The supporting characters—an old professor, a friendly taxi driver, a prickly millionairess, and the bishop’s little girl, cook, and secretary—are delightful. The movie is a reminder to keep material concerns from eclipsing our spiritual priorities. This story is engaging, sweet, and profoundly wise. The scene in which the debonair Grant recites part of the 23rd Psalm is beautifully unselfconscious. It’s hard to imagine such a scene in a contemporary movie.
2. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946)
I have to confess that I didn’t particularly enjoy this movie the first time I saw it, but after viewing it a second time years later, I plead “temporary insanity.” This Frank Capra classic, starring Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart, invokes the spirit of Christmas to defeat two of the greatest enemies facing humanity—discouragement and the awful belief that an individual’s life is insignificant. As in “The Bishop’s Wife,” an angel plays a key role in the redemption of a human in need, but Clarence the klutzy angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the antithesis of the suave angel played by Cary Grant. (Interesting trivia: the child actress who played the bishop’s daughter plays one of Jimmy Stewart’s daughters in this movie.)
3. ‘Home Alone’ (1990)
This movie is primarily known as a comedy, and for good reason. Certainly, the slapstick battle between young Macaulay Culkin and the bumbling bad guys, hilariously played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, is the heart of this movie, but it also portrays poignantly the unwelcome frictions that sometimes disrupt the harmony of family life. The theme of renewal comes through loud and clear in the touching subplot in which young Kevin teaches his formerly mysterious elderly neighbor to press the “reset” button and reconnect with his estranged son and his family.
4. ‘A Christmas Carol’
There are multiple renditions of Charles Dickens’s classic story of the spiritual awakening of one of the most memorable characters in fiction—the grouchy old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. In my humble opinion, the older the version, the better the movie (at least, in the era of “talkies”). The best, then, is the 1938 version, starring Reginald Owen. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future in this rendition are the definitive portrayals. Second place goes to the 1951 film, starring Alastair Sim, which is somewhat longer and goes into greater but nonessential detail about Scrooge’s youth. What makes “A Christmas Carol” a timeless classic is Scrooge’s glorious rebirth. After decades living a desiccated life of self-absorption, a magical Christmas Eve night liberates Scrooge’s heart from its stony prison. Transformed, he begins to pour out love for others, and as he does, he finds joy and fulfillment in his life. He learned the vital lesson that one of the most effective ways for a person to find happiness is to focus on how to bring happiness to others.
5. ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ (1980)
There have been multiple cinematic adaptations of this old Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, but the one that really captures the spirit of the story is the 1980 version, starring Ricky Schroder and the incomparable Alec Guinness, known to my generation for his Oscar-winning role in “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” and to younger movie-goers for his portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi. The willingness of the title character—an American boy of about 9 or 10—to always see the good in others has a transformative, healing effect. Somewhat like Scrooge, the spirit of the boy’s English grandfather, a wealthy earl, had withered. The pure, innocent love of the boy touches grandpa’s heart and redeems his life, with the climax coming most fittingly on Christmas Day. This movie evokes the Biblical prophecy “and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). I bet I’ve seen this movie close to 20 times, and I never tire of it.
Any of these five movies can help to kindle the Christmas spirit within you, whether you’re Christian or not. Birth, rebirth, and renewal are what Christmas is all about; more generally, they are what life is all about.
Merry Christmas, everyone. May you feel as a palpable presence the holy benediction “on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). I hope you will have time to warm your heart with some of these classic Christmas movies.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.