Once again the world is filled with the merriment and joyful tidings of the holiday season. Gatherings are planned with family members and friends, children are queuing for Santa, and old carols ring out from the radio.
But even as they fill us with us with cheer, the holidays also demand a lot from our spirits. Prolonged anticipation and excitement take a toll, leading to more stress than some of us can handle. Feelings of grief, depression, anxiety, and insomnia are additional unwelcome guests at the party.
Luckily, there are a host of holiday films that help us remember what this season is all about – being thankful for what we have and what others do for us each and every day. For something to brighten your mood in the midst of all the celebrations, take a look at this list and find peace in Hollywood’s take on the holidays.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
A Christmas classic since its inception, this film tells of the life of George Bailey a character who has spent his life in service to his family and his fellow citizens of Bedford Falls, New York. He was known for always helping others at what he feels is the expense of his own life and dreams. When a financial crisis looms, George hits the bottom of his despair and considers suicide, reasoning that all who know him would be better off if he were dead or had never existed at all. The spiritual message comes in the form of a bumbling angel sent down to help George see how much he has enriched the lives of those around him, in turn enriching his own life.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
This film is one of the best of the Christmas Classics. The Bishop’s Wife tells a story of an angel (Cary Grant) who comes down to earth in answer to a busy Bishop’s (David Niven) prayer. The angel helps the Bishop learn to adjust his priorities and comes close to falling in love with Julia, the Bishop’s wife (Loretta Young). The movie includes a lovely Skating/ Dance. Cary Grant always made everything look easy, but just how much work went into that illusion is exemplified by this film. Before shooting began, Grant could not ice skate, play the harp, or speak any French. By the time “The Bishop’s Wife” was finished shooting, he could do all three. It was truly an accomplishment of heavenly proportions. The film itself was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture, and received another nomination for Best Director. Make this movie a tradition for your family this year.
Miracle on 34th Street ( 1947)
Six year old Susan has doubts childhood’s most enduring miracle Santa Clause. Her mother told her the “secret” about Santa a long time ago, so Susan doesn’t expect to receive the most important gifts on her Christmas list. But after meeting a special department stare Santa who’s convinced he’s the real thing, Susan is given the most precious gift of all – something to believe in. Delightful Christmas fantasy of a charming old man who believes he is Santa Claus, and the wonderful change he brings to the people around him. This perennial holiday classic is on many short-lists of the all time great Christmas movies. The film just oozes with warm-hearted humor. Very young Natalie Wood sparkles as Susan, who learns to stop being so grown up, and enjoy childhood, with all its wide-eyed wonder. Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, and lives the role. He totally connects with the kiddies who visit “Santa” at Macy’s department store.
A modern take on A Christmas Carol, Bill Murray takes the lead as television executive producer Frank Cross. A cynical modern-day version of Scrooge himself, Frank insists on having his staff work long hours on Christmas Eve to put on a live production of the Dickens classic as a ratings boost and fires an employee on the spot for questioning this decision. Alfre Woodard plays the overworked assistant/modern Bob Cratchit and Frank’s love interest is portrayed by Karen Allen. With Murray’s unique brand of comedic delivery, this modern twist nonetheless manages to portray the goodwill toward all men and Christmas spirit infusion of the original tale.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
The third in the series of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation stars the Griswold family headed by patriarch Clark, played by Chevy Chase, and wife Ellen, played by Beverly D’Angelo. Christmas Vacation tells of the misadventures of the Griswalds in their own home. Clark is determined to have an “old-fashioned family Christmas” but quickly realizes the challenge this presents within such a dysfunctional family group. While exaggerating almost everything about the holidays in his attempt to achieve his goal, Clark eventually comes to realize the true spiritual meaning of Christmas and embraces the family differences and flaws.
Home Alone (1990)
Another strong message of family ties and acceptance, Home Alone tells the story of eight-year-old Kevin who is accidentally left behind when his extended family goes away for their Christmas vacation. While Kevin initially sees his family as a burden and is overjoyed to be free of them, by the end of the film, he has come to realize what his family truly means to him. Ultimately, we see, through Kevin, that having family and friends around during the holidays is much more important and spiritually satisfying than any number of gifts under the tree.
Will Ferrell portrays Buddy, a human raised as an elf at the North Pole. While having the childlike mindset of an elf, Buddy is easily twice the size of all the other elves and thus always seems a bit out of place. Unfortunately, travelling to New York City to find his birth father, played by James Caan, doesn’t result in his fitting in either, as his elf enthusiasm and wonder at all around him wreaks havoc with his straight-laced father’s lifestyle. However, by the end of this classic and well- loved film priorities are reevaluated and the characters at both the North Pole and in New York City realize that our differences should be celebrated, not condemned.
While by no means all-inclusive of all the feel-good movies available during the holidays, these films are each a good place to start. Whatever your viewing pleasure, may the holidays bring you the spiritual peace and happiness you deserve.
Wishing you peace, love, happiness, and serenity this Christmas season.