Two years ago, I came out with my list of my Top 10 Christmas Films, and though there are a few films missing from that list, I’m not here to rectify those omissions. I’d like instead to look at the messages of some of the major Christmas films and see which ones have the best message.
I recently read an article which compared Frank Capra‘s Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life with A Christmas Story, and I was a little disheartened when it came to some really odd conclusions, missing the main point of one of the two films.
In “Ralphie vs. George,” the author comes to the conclusion that, because A Christmas Story doesn’t explicitly express a Christian worldview, setting forth a gospel message or even singing Christmas Carols, it’s not necessarily a worthy addition to a Holiday viewing list.
I respectfully beg to differ.
The entire point of A Christmas Story is to satirically expose the materialistic nature of the Christmas season in America. Ralphie’s entire motivation is his utter lust for the ultimate boon: the perfect Christmas present. However, this faith in all things temporal and acquisitive is clearly and quickly demonstrated to be misplaced. He’s kicked down the slide by Santa Claus, the idol of this season; his expression of longing for his desire, in the form of his “What I Want For Christmas” theme, is summarily rejected by his teacher; the object of his desire immediately threatens to shoot his eye out upon its arrival. All the signs point to the fact that one cannot find solace in the pursuit of things. Yes, the film does not provide a gospel message, but the point should not be dismissed. And by the way, in the first minute of the film a medley of Christmas Carols, including “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” is sung.
It’s A Wonderful Life is a misleading film from the first. The entire thing is about the sole importance of one man, and nothing else matters. Heaven goes out of its way to tell one man that he’s the most important figure ever. Just because there’s an angel as a prominent character doesn’t mean that there’s a gospel message begin pushed.
If you’re looking for that quintessential Christmas film which puts forth the right message, unabashedly confronting the Christmas question with the correct answer, it’s absolutely A Charlie Brown Christmas. Both versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas also do a good job with this message.
Beyond that, though, if we’re seeking something that depicts some most subtle good messages, there are a few contenders. While the Home Alone films are not everyone’s favorites, I absolutely love them, and I do my best to watch them at least one time during the holidays. Calvin Fuller is a troubled young man, moreso than the scheming Ralphie. Really, let’s face it, he’s a sociopath and a compulsive liar. Yet, more than It’s a Wonderful Life do Home Alone 1 & 2 go out of their way to depict a somewhat religious atmosphere. They go to church, Calvin sings in his Christmas pageant, Calvin prays before he eats and defends his home from the Wet Bandits.
The classic White Christmas revolves around the love that the protagonists have for their former general. Again, there isn’t a strictly religious overtone to the film, but it talks about how people will go out of their way to honor those they respect.
Despite the fact that A Christmas Story revolves around gift-getting, it’s redeeming quality comes from its satirical nature. Other films, though I may really enjoy them, do fall into the gift-centric trap. The Santa Claus is really enjoyable, with humor and effects that hold up well despite being nearly 20 years old. This film is, at its core, gift-centric, yet this is tempered nicely with a broken family trying to mend, and a dad doing his best to step up to the plate–something that is sorely lacking in most mainstream film today. The National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation tries to do this, but it falls far short of the mark (I was a bit dismayed when it became clear to me that I held this in my former college mind as a quality Christmas film, despite the fact that there’s very little to redeem it).
Choose wisely when you’re watching Christmas films this year, particularly with your kids. There are some good choices and some fun choices, but not all are equal in the quality of their messages.