Christmas is a season that is fueled by nostalgia. It’s the time of year where we count on our favorite traditions, and we rightfully label anyone a Grinch who dares to push for something different. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of media and entertainment: for roughly 25 days (or longer, depending on where you stand in the “When is it OK to Listen to Christmas Music” debate), we play the same set of songs and movies for a renewed sense of joy and holiday spirit.
Every year I look forward to a new slew of articles ranking, reviewing and breaking down the same set of Holiday classics. I revel in the fact that I may see at most one or two attempts at a new Christmas movie or album. There’s something comforting in knowing that no matter what’s going on in the world, these stories and tunes will always be there for me to return to, like going home for the holidays.
That being said, it’s always fun to see authors try to find slightly different angles in their assessments and rankings of these classics. Part of what makes something timeless is the ability to talk and write about it endlessly without growing tired of it (it helps that we get roughly 11 months where we stop talking about them).
For our purposes, we thought it would be fun and even helpful to list what we think are the best holiday movies to watch as a family that could potentially lead to great conversations by drawing parallels to Biblical lessons. So grab some coffee and pumpkin pie, cue up Netflix and get your family prepared for some Christmas cheer with our official Holiday Movie Recommendations: Family Edition.
#1: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Let’s get this one out of the way. It’s the ultimate Christmas movie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Best Christmas Movie list that didn’t have this one at the top, and for good reason. This one has it all: the pursuit of purpose and meaning, valuing relationships over worldly possessions, the dangers of unbridled corruption and greed, self-sacrifice for the benefit of the ones we love…I could go on. But I won’t, because you should stop reading this now and watch it if for some reason you haven’t before.
- Spiritual theme: love is sacrifice
- Scripture tie-in: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13 (NLT)
- Memorable quote: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence
#2: Home Alone (1990)
Many kids can relate to dreaming of what life would be like without their parents around, free to run the show. Likewise, exasperated parents can find themselves wistfully remembering a less complicated, kid-free time in their lives. Young Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) gets to indulge this fantasy because he is mistakenly left behind when his family leaves for a trip to Paris without him. Hilarity ensues, of course. But the movie really delivers at the end with a heartwarming reunion where all is forgiven, both Kevin and his parents grateful for a second chance at their relationship with a newfound gratitude for each other. Just pretend that the sequels never happened.
- Spiritual theme: pride, being humbled, forgiveness
- Scripture tie-in: Luke 15:11-32 (Parable of the Lost Son)
- Memorable quote: “You can be too old for a lot of things, but you’re never too old to be afraid.” – Marley
#3: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
In addition to a slammin’ titular song, Grinch boasts loads of old-school colorful animation sequences and that is a retro treat to experience today. And, at a runtime of 26 minutes, it’s an easy one to watch with the kids before they get too tired of its antiquatedness.
The message in this one is simple, yet powerful: a hard heart gets soft when it is exposed to love and gratitude, and even the worst of us has a shot a redemption. Later versions of the Dr. Seuss classic attempt to add backstory and character development, but I find them unnecessary as those attempts don’t seem to make the end any more resonant.
- Spiritual theme: softening a hard heart, redemption
- Scripture tie-in: “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” – Psalm 73:21-22 NIV
- Memorable quote: “And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.” – Narrator
#4: Elf (2003)
It’s hard not to be charmed by Elf, and all its kindhearted silliness. Watching Buddy, who grew up mistakenly believing he was an elf, make his way through the mean (albeit toned down) streets of New York on a quest to meet his birth father is comfort food for the soul. In addition to the countless laughs we get out of Will Farrell’s performance, we’re also treated to a great, modern take on the tried and true thematic formula of “don’t let work become more important than family” when James Caan’s character has his breakthrough redemption moment. It’s fun, and it’s effective.
- Spiritual theme: Fighting worldliness
- Scripture tie-in: “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.” – 1 John 2:15 NLT
- Memorable quote: “Does somebody need a hug?” – Buddy
#5: A Christmas Story (1983)
A Christmas Story is a Christmas movie onion, in that there are several layers to peel back after you get past the simple premise of “boy wants a specific toy for Christmas and will do anything to get it.” Each time I watch it, I pick up on something else: younger brother Ralphie’s adoration of his older brother, the parents successfully navigating marriage and family through various storms, the longing in the narrator’s voice for a simpler time…maybe I’m overthinking it, but to me, A Christmas Story is a quintessentially American story about love and family.
- Spiritual theme: patience, family, gratitude
- Scripture tie-in: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:7 (ESV)
- Memorable quote: “Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.” – Ralphie as an Adult
#6: The Santa Clause (1994)
Christmas movies are great at confronting cynicism with unabashed optimism and assuredness. There are plenty of movies depicting Santa deniers becoming believers after miraculous events, but few movies do it with as much humor and effectiveness as The Santa Clause. Tim Allen is perfect for the role, as he wisecracks his way through the whole movie before he finally relents when he accepts the reality of his situation (he’s the new Santa!) and the truth about the world we live in. It’s a great illustration for being a Christian in a world where it’s becoming more and more popular to associate yourself with no religion at all. As Dee Dee Ramone said, “I believe in Miracles!”
- Spiritual theme: seeing the spiritual world, faith and belief
- Scripture tie-in: “Our fight is not against people on earth. We are fighting against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness. We are fighting against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 6:12 (ERV)
- Memorable quote: “What if don’t buy any of this Santa Clause thing? What if I choose not to believe it?” – Scott Calvin