May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
December 4, 2009
When I was growing up, movies weren’t really part of my life. They’d never really been part of my parents’ lives, as far as I can tell, and so it wasn’t something they shared with us, either. Occasionally my grandmother might take me to see the new Disney cartoon (although that ended with The Lion King, which I’ve still inexplicably never seen), but for the most part, a “movie” was a straight-to-video half-hour program purchased from the local Christian bookstore or borrowed from the church library: McGee and Me, Gerbert, Psalty the Singing Songbook, and, eventually, Veggie Tales.
But we celebrated Christmas, and at Christmas, it was different. Whether it was some kind of nostalgic thing or the fact that there were a lot of family-friendly movies on television, most of my movie-watching was done at Christmas. I would watch the (animated Boris Karlov-voiced) Grinch with my grandfather, who would sing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” over and over and talk about the roast beast we’d have for dinner. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer always popped up somewhere in there, as did the Charlie Brown Christmas special and any number of other animated movies I’m probably forgetting.
For whatever reason, The Ten Commandments always seemed to be playing around Christmas, and I’d watch Charlton Heston part the Red Sea while I made Christmas cards for relatives. More biblically appropriately, we always watched the beginning of Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (the Christmas section of the Jesus movie was about three minutes long, while Zeffirelli’s version went on substantially longer and included a bonus historically inaccurate appearance of the Magi – plus, his actors actually looked Jewish).
We inevitably watched It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas at least once, and of course, no Christmas would be completed without the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story on Christmas Day. You’ll shoot your eye out!
Now I’m a grown-up. I’ve seen some classics enter the canon: The Santa Clause, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol, Home Alone, and Elf come to mind. I also always want to watch Serendipity at Christmas, though I’m not entirely sure why, since it starts with Christmas but doesn’t linger there too long. My husband’s “Christmas movie” is The Family Man. And I’ve got some holes: I’ve still never seen The Nightmare Before Christmas, and it’s been so long since I’ve seen Miracle on 34th Street that I can’t even remember which version I saw or what happened (and since moving to New York, I always want to call it Miracle on 42nd Street because that’s the stop after 34th on express trains).
When did film become so integral to our Christmas traditions, I wonder? Was it immediate, or did it take years to catch on? And for that matter, why do we watch the same films, year after year, when we rarely do that with movies other than, say, The Breakfast Club or Star Wars – films with which we are truly obsessed? Is it because they warm our hearts, or is it because they reflect a reality in our own crazy Christmases? Is it because we love the movies as movies, or because we love that they remind us of the cycle of our lives – that unlike our families and situations, they don’t change from year to year?
And what films will you be watching – or avoiding – this Christmas?
Alissa Wilkinson teaches at the King’s College in New York City and edits Comment. She and her husband Tom like the brunch at Dizzy’s in Brooklyn best.