Certain movies signify the holiday season for me. They help me get into the Christmas spirit. As I look at my fifteen month-old daughter, I wonder how to pass that tradition on to her. Growing up my family watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation every Christmas Eve. Now we don’t even need to watch the film, we can quote it line-by-line with each other. Since meeting my wife I’ve added two movies to the annual holiday watch list: Elf and Love Actually. None of these films are outwardly rich in theology, nor are they modern tellings of a biblical story–that’s not why I watch them. This is why I watch them and why I want Margot to watch them, too:
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Family is messy. Too often we witness the media’s version of the best of family life. But in all my searching, I’ve never found the perfect family. That’s why I love the Griswolds, because they are the perfect example of what a family is. Crazy fathers who annoy their children; in-laws who dislike each other; bosses who don’t seem to care about annual, year-end traditions; an inedible jello salad shared at Christmas dinner (maybe that is only a midwestern thing!); holiday seasons filled with worries about finances; and who doesn’t have an Uncle Eddie in their family? This movie, through its humor and storyline, captures the heart of family–particularly during the holiday season.
Buddy the Elf emulates what belief is. He believes in Santa; everyone thinks he’s delusional. Undeterred he lives his belief in wildly human and, often, comedic episodes. He makes us laugh, sigh, cry, and root for him even though we know–spoiler alert–his belief isn’t true. Good movies do that. They transport us into a fictitious world that allows us to dream impossible dreams. In a world that traps us by its insistence upon particular beliefs and actions, an escape is welcomed. The holiday season is marked by commercialism and consumerism. Watching Elf reminds me there is more. There are far-fetched beliefs worth exploring, invitations to act like a child, and moments to spread holiday cheer for all who can hear–if we only take the time to remember.
This film shows love in its rawest forms. The stories unveil the duality of love–the tantalizingly alluring connection that pulls us together – set against its seductively destructive power that tears us apart. At its heart, this film desires to showcase that these stories are our stories. We root for or against particular characters because they remind us of someone–maybe ourselves. In the rawest manner the stories act out how love can unite or divide us; how love can make all things right or cause the walls to crumble; and best of all, how love can be expressed in all types of relationships. No relationship is perfect and at some point love will punch us in the face. Sometimes watching others take the punch makes it a little easier. Seeing love expressed onscreen provides a glimmer of hope for our lives!
These films remind me of what makes this season special. Beyond that they remind me of the reality of life for most folks during the holidays. Much pervades this season and these movies showcase some of what unfolds. I pray that I will always remind my daughter that families are both wildly crazy and endlessly entertaining, that our childhood beliefs are worth living in adulthood, and that love comes in all shapes and sizes and sometimes hurts. These are lessons we’d all do well paying attention to.
What movies would you add to this list and why?