Tis the season to be jolly and no doubt like most people you’ll have your own rituals and family traditions. For many those traditions will involve some trip to the cinema, or at the very least, crowding around the TV to watch some kind of Christmas film. However, the idea of which Christmas film gets a viewing is one which could cause your festive family scene to descend into chaos. Not only are there likely to be clashes of taste between Grannie and the youthful sprogs amongst the family unit, but the definition of what makes a Christmas film and Christmas film is one which currently is as loose as people’s morals after the Office Christmas Party.
For many Christmas doesn’t arrive until the viewing of a holiday film. I would make a safe bet that for most people this is either “Home Alone” or “Elf”. These two are quintessential Festive films. There is snow and families gathered around trees. There is a story of redemption, some lovely moments and even parts which melt even the coldest of hearts. Both are comedies, involve a large dose of slapstick and really celebrate the spirit of Christmas. This is one way of looking at a festive film. Using these rough criteria, we can start to add in classic Christmas tales such as “Jingle All the Way”, “Santa Clause 1 and 2” and even “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Yet this narrow definition neglects a whole host of films which are just as Christmassy.
How about the definition of a Christmas film being that it must be drawn from a traditional tale or loving Festive tradition? Here we would welcome “A Muppet’s Christmas Carol” to the fray, “Miracle on 34th Street”; “The Grinch”, “The Polar Express” the recent “Nativity” and even Bing Crosby’s croon fest that is “White Christmas”. However, doing a festive selection this way is far too narrow. And what about “A Nightmare Before Christmas”? It’s a fairly traditional theme and story, yet it’s based primarily around Halloween. I swear it’s easier to buy presents for obscure relatives than this!
It’s at this point that in your head you are starting to consider your favourite Christmas films and perhaps one that floats into view is “Die Hard”. But is “Die Hard” really a Christmas movie? John McClane just wants to spend a quiet Christmas with his wife after being separated by work and thousands of American miles. Pesky German terrorists…sorry…bank robbers get in the way and it’s up to John, a magically colour changing vest and his bumbling sidekick Al Powell to save the day. The scaling of Nakatomi Plaza is hardly festive or traditional, there certainly isn’t any snow in LA, but there is a fair bit of tinsel and it is set at Christmas. So it’s a Christmas film right? Including this in your festive films then opens up “Die Hard 2”, “It’s a Wonderful Life” “The Holiday” and “Love Actually”. These films are all set at Christmas, they have Christmas at their very hearts yet…might not necessarily be first on your list as a traditional Christmas film.
Do then films that are traditionally shown at Christmas count? “The Great Escape” is a film that will be on TV at some point this festive season. For many it isn’t Christmas without Steve McQueen sailing over a barbed wire fence on a motorcycle…but this can’t be a Christmas film. Surely not?
Christmas, it would seem, means a lot of things to many people. Christmas for some is about tradition. For others it is about feeling warm and cosy. It’s sad to say it, but for some Christmas is about heartbreak and loneliness, no matter how much they’d want it to be different. For this reason I’d like to throw “The Family Stone” into the mix. This is a movie, showing a dysfunctional family, and captures the real grit and turmoil of having a number of generations of one family under a single roof at Christmas. It is quite sad in places yet it still manages to be warm and make you consider your family at this time of goodwill to all men. Perhaps then this is a modern Christmas tale.
Much like questioning the existence of Santa, when it comes to Holiday Films, no one can tell you what makes a Christmas film a Christmas film, because to you, if it makes you feel festive and gets you in the spirit – then it’s done its job. Trying to weight out snow by the ounce and counting the square yardage of tinsel takes the fun out of the season. And applying such qualifying categories reduces you to bean counting with Mr Scrooge in a Christmas Carol. People too often lament the loss of tradition at this time of the year, the meaning of Christmas being diluted in brands and commercialism and the hustle and bustle of buying presents for the sake of buying presents. Yet, if you are brought together around that glowing box in the corner of your living room, after excessively stuffing turkey into your mouth and the selection box is passed around from family member to family member – then in the words of Noddy Holder…. “It’s Christmas!”