I don’t know about you, but movies and TV comprise a significant amount of my Christmas experience; I wouldn’t know what to do with myself without horrible Lifetime movies or A Charlie Brown Christmas. An annual re-watch of some of the best is just as much of a tradition as belatedly sending out cards or baking cookies as much for yourself as somebody else.
Now, I break down my film-based Christmas traditions into four categories, as follows:
- The Christmas movie: a film which was actually released in real life, popcorn-poppin’ theatres, like Home Alone, National Lampoon’s A Christmas Vacation, Elf, or A Christmas Story
- The Christmas special: Usually a half-hour or hour long, these were usually produced for television and are self-contained. Examples include A Charlie Brown Christmas, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the animated version, not the creepy, mopey, depression-riddled Jim Carrey version), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Mickey’s Christmas Carol (*an exception here, since Mickey’s was originally created as a theatrical short, but is 26 minutes long [lengthy for a short film] and was arguably produced with a television afterlife in mind.)
- The terrible Hallmark Channel movie: While obviously not isolated to the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark tends to have the doofiest in concept and execution TV movies out there. Matchmaker Santa? It’s Christmas, Carol! starring Carrie Fisher and Carson Kressley? The Christmas Heart, which is about…a boy needing a heart transplant…for Christmas. My new favorites, though, are the Dean Cain holiday movies. Knowing that he’ll never have much of a career and still needing to pay the bills, Mssr. Cain has started in all of the following Christmas TV movies: Christmas Rush, A Christmas Wedding, The Dog Who Saved Christmas, The Three Gifts, A Nanny for Christmas, The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation (!!!!), The Case for Christmas, The Dog Who Saved the Holidays (not just Christmas this time! He’s inclusive!), A Dog for Christmas (Dean Cain and these dogs! These are about as bad and numerous as the Air Buddies movies).
- Very special episodes of…: Who doesn’t look forward to the Christmas episodes of their favorite TV shows? (Doctor Who fans, I’m looking at you.) While I don’t always get behind one-and-done specials like Prep & Landing (which, besides being a small, annual series of specials, walks the REALLY fine line between clever and “trying too hard”), I’m truly a sucker for Christmas episodes of regular TV shows. 30 Rock and Community have produced a fair number of great Christmas episodes, from “Ludachristmas” to “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” these really work because they take characters you’re already familiar with and put them into holiday situations, so you’re not spending all this time on exposition explaining who all these new characters are; the best shows can pull off a great holiday episode without it seeming too forced, like The West Wing‘s breathtaking “Noel.”
Obviously, there’s a lot to try and catch every year, all in the name of Christmas ritual. However, you also have to be in the right mood to sit down and enjoy these. While you can have A Dog Carried My Transplant Heart from the North Pole on in the background while you’re making Christmas cookies, you really have to give your full attention to, and have the right mindset for, the sweet melancholy of A Charlie Brown Christmas, or the beautiful Chuck Jones animation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Every year, I end up playing catch-up at the end, trying to cram in every Love Actually and The Muppets Christmas Carol, and I usually come up short.
My other challenge is that Lance can’t stand the Peanuts. Or claymation/stop-motion animation. The first time I proposed watching Rudolph with him, he said very matter-of-factly, “I will scoop my eyes out with a spoon.” The next year, his response was a similar, “That movie literally makes me want to peel my skin off.” (His distaste of the Peanuts has still yet to be understood.)
Given that he has such an apparent negative physical reaction to these, I have to watch them in secret, usually on weekend mornings while he’s still asleep. It’s kind of pitiful, putting National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation into the DVD player before the sun’s even come up.