In our quest to give Advent and Christmas distinctly different characters, we have a strict family policy of not watching Christmas movies during Advent. Then, once Christmas comes, we watch a different family Christmas movie together for each of the “twelve days of Christmas.” We certainly won’t get to all of these movies in any one year, but these are the ones from which we’ll choose. This year the Christmas Season is actually sixteen days long, from Christmas Day through the Baptism of the Lord, but we might peter out before then. We’ll see.
I’ve written about family movie nights before, see that post here. I think it’s been a really important part of establishing our family culture to watch movies together as a family. It gives us shared experiences and common points of reference and inside jokes. As a general rule—at any time of the year—I avoid letting my kids watch kid movies that are so insipid that I couldn’t sit through them, and the grown ups in our family avoid movies that are so racy or violent that we wouldn’t want our teens to see them. We will sometimes watch a shorter kids’ movie as a whole family, then put little kids to bed, then watch something a bit edgier with just the older kids. But in our family, the main goal of movie-watching is family togetherness. And that’s especially true for us at Christmas time.
I spent the month of November (that’s BEFORE Advent, so it’s okay 😆) previewing Christmas movies on various streaming platforms in the hopes of adding some new movies to our rotation. This post is a roundup of what I thought about the best of those, plus our family favorites . . .
ANIMATED SHORTS & MOVIES
The Small One (1978, Disney+, 0:25, TV-PG)
The Small One is a classic Jungle Book-era Disney animated short film. It’s sweet and fun and has catchy, if not-always-relevant-to-the-plot musical numbers. And, spoiler alert, it’s got the Baby Jesus at the end.
Illumination Presents: Dr. Seuss’ the Grinch (2018, Amazon, 1:26, PG)
We all love the 1966 classic version and most of us hate the 2000 live action version. IMHO this version is the best. Religious carols. Hilarious a capella group part. Not the usual bad guy backstory. I love this take on the Grinch. He isn’t the terror of the town. The whos shrug off his antisocial behavior. He’s isolated by his own hurt and his own choices. So accurate. All he has to do is get out of his own way to learn to love his fellow man, er, who.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983, Disney+, 0:26, G)
This is a surprisingly good version of A Christmas Carol. I’ve watched quite a few and they have always been too badly animated, or too badly musical, or too frantic for my taste. So, even though this one is very short, and takes quite a few liberties with the plot, I’ve always really liked it. As have my kids. We love how familiar characters are cast in the story and how it manages to get Dickens’s message of redemption across with humor. There are some slightly scary parts, but it’s Goofy as the ghost of Marley, and Pete as the undertaker, so I really think all but the most sensitive kiddos would be okay with it. It’s a good starter version.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992, Disney+, 1:26, G)
The Mickey one is a good version. But this one is my favorite. By a landslide. It’s the Muppets, so, like Mickey’s version, we’ve got familiar faces in the roles, but in this version we also get great songs, top notch live actors, and a VERY faithful adaptation of the book, complete with actual quotes. I actually think this version is also a little less scary than the Mickey one, but its more sophisticated plot may be more difficult for little kids to understand. But they won’t mind, because they’ll be watching Kermit. (P.S. it’s not animated, it’s puppets and live action, but I made the executive decision to list it here. 🙂 )
Klaus (2019, Netflix, 1:38, PG)
An amusing (if mistaken) origin story of Santa. Great visuals, great voice acting, sweet message, gentle reference to an afterlife.
Alien X-mas (2020, Netflix, 0:42, TV-Y)
Amazing claymation, a sweet (if secular) message of love and giving, and a Santa who wields candy cane nunchucks in “The Battle for Christmastown.” It’s awesome. (Violence is limited to snowballs and automatic ribbon machines.)
Prep & Landing (2009, Disney+, 0:22, TV-G) & (2010, Disney+, 0:07, TV-G)
These Pixar shorts feature the elves who get houses ready for Santa’s visit. 2009 & 2010 are cute and unobjectionable. (We skip the 2011 one since the plot of that one centers around hating the new baby, then deciding that you like the new baby. That’s not a concept I support.)
Rankin Bass Stop Motion Christmas Movies
We have many of these on DVD and really like them, but they’re unfortunately not easily available now, either for purchase or streaming.
Angela’s Christmas (2018, Netflix, 0:30, TV-Y)
I much prefer to shine a light on good entertainment rather than point out bad, but . . . I think this deserves to be the exception. Angela and the Baby Jesus is my favorite book in our Advent/Christmas book collection. Our Christmases have been improved by the phrase, “His mother will be roarin’ an’ bawlin.’” The book is sweet and funny and poignant. The Netflix show . . . not so much.
I wanted to like it. Really I did. But its heart is all wrong. In the book, Angela’s brother Pat tells their mother of Angela’s transgression for just the reasons we tell our kids they should tattle: because something is dangerous or destructive. In the show, he’s a taunting little bully who terrorizes his sister constantly and tries to push her into traffic and can’t wait to tell on her.
In the book, the policeman makes a good natured joke to the priest about the Limerick jail, to which the priest doesn’t even reply. In the show, the noble policeman must talk the priest out of his apparent intention to throw a small child into prison . . . just like her poor father had been, traumatizing everyone. It’s just preposterous.
There’s other stuff, but I won’t bore you with more. Just, please get the book. It’s darling.
OLD-TIMEY CLASSICS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
White Christmas (1954, Netflix, 2:00, TV-G)
It’s got war and slapstick for the boys and dancing and romance for the girls, how could you go wrong? It’s mostly just an excuse for a bunch of musical numbers, but there is a sweet story of helping out an old buddy woven in there. Plus Phil tells Bob that what he really needs to do is get married and have nine kids.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Prime, 2:10, PG)
We often watch the Veggie Tales version of this story AND the classic black and white version. I HOPE my kids prefer this one, but it’s hard to tell. There are a lot of sweet, funny moments, and the message is timeless. Its theology about angels is, um, how to put this . . . totally wrong. But we just explain to our kids that people don’t become angels when they die anymore than cockroaches become horses when they die, and then we enjoy the movie. Hee-haw and Merry Christmas!
The Bishop’s Wife (1947, Prime, 1:50, TV-G)
Though centered on a Protestant Bishop and his wife and daughter, it’s a more theologically Catholic take on a movie featuring an angel who intervenes in human affairs. He’s not a person who became an angel, which is nice since that isn’t possible. I like how everyone around him is simultaneously drawn to and confounded by him. That seems accurate! It’s not as funny as It’s a Wonderful Life, though.
The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945, DVD, 2:06, NR)
The second Bing Crosby movie on the list (White Christmas), we also love this classic sequel to Going My Way. It’s very funny and very Catholic, and features an adorable Christmas pageant, which makes it appropriate for the season. It would be worth watching just to hear Bing Crosby singing as Fr. O’Malley, but you also get Ingrid Bergman as Mother Superior teaching a little boy to box. And there’s a grumpy rich old coot and the sisters’ blind faith in miracles, and it’s all just lovely. It’s slower than today’s movies, of course, but my kids really think it’s funny.
Come to the Stable (1949, Amazon, 1:34, NR)
Like It’s a Wonderful Life and The Bishop’s Wife, Come to the Stable seems VERY like The Bells of St. Mary’s. Come to the Stable has the advantage of being based on a very sweet true story of two French religious sisters who came to a small New England town and involve the townsfolk in helping them to build a children’s hospital. But it has the disadvantage of not having Bing Crosby for its random song insertions or quite as much humor.
EIGHTIES TO OUGHTS LIVE ACTION MOVIES
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1983, YouTube 0:48)
Not Catholic, but a sweet and very religious faithful TV adaptation of a favorite Christmas book.
The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (2005, Disney+, 2:27, PG)
I love these books. They are such a lovely mix of adventure, fantasy, and allegory. I think the movie adaptations from the oughts are well-cast and enjoyable. The Father Christmas cameo makes this one a Christmas movie in my book!
A Christmas Story (1983, Amazon, 1:33, PG)
Our whole family loves this movie, but perhaps we shouldn’t. The dad uses gibberish words instead of actual swear words, but there are a handful of lesser but still significant bad words in there. It’s got the infamous leg lamp, which Ralphie caresses. The department store Santa is mean, and Ralphie is pretty convinced that the meaning of Christmas is Getting Stuff. Still, somehow, it seems fun and funny and lighthearted, and the family is loving. We’re going to watch it again this year, but it’s okay with me if you don’t.
Home Alone (1990, Disney+, 1:43, PG)
This one is another Tierney family favorite, but maybe not for everyone. It has some language, an unpleasant family fight right at the beginning, and a very brief scene of Kevin finding and tossing aside an adult magazine. (Nothing that a quick trigger finger on the remote can’t handle.) It also has an extraordinary amount of comic slapstick violence that results in very nasty looking injuries. BUT. The soundtrack is perfect, the kid is brave and resourceful, and there is a message of forgiveness and redemption and the importance of family. There are beautiful scenes involving a Catholic church, in which a character listens to his granddaughter’s choir sing Christmas carols, and Kevin hides from the bad guys in a life-size nativity scene.
I screened the new Home Sweet Home Alone and it’s trying really hard to check all the boxes of the original, so it’s got sickening slapstick violence and even a scene in church, but it’s just not as charming and the “accidental bad guys” angle just didn’t do it for me.
Elf (2003, Amazon, 1:36, PG)
It’s really funny, for sure, and the overall messages of making time for family and learning to find your place in the world are great. But in my house this is a teens and up movie. Out of wedlock secret pregnancy, paternity tests, and lingerie are not things I want to discuss with my littles.
Joyeux Noel (2006, Amazon, 1:56, PG-13)
A bleak look at war, but a heartwarming take on the stories of enemy combatants in WWI coming together to celebrate a trench-style Christmas. Dialog is in French, English, and German, with subtitles. There’s a nudity-free sex scene between a married couple that we don’t need to see, so we jump past that part. For older teens and up.
Die Hard (1988, Amazon, 2:12, R)
It’s a well done action film. It’s not very Christmassy. But it’s okay with me if you want to call it a Christmas movie. Utterly pointless brief topless scenes (because the eighties) that can be jumped through, very bloody violence. Pro-marriage. For older teens and up.
This is a whole genre now, as I’m sure you’re aware. Christmas rom-coms have a deserved reputation for being poorly acted and poorly written, but, ya know what, some of them are fun to watch anyway. I think it’s good to celebrate romance and happy endings. We avoid rom-coms that feature divorce or living together as a plot point.
While You Were Sleeping (1995, Disney+, 1:43, PG)
A movie from my youth that I can actually show my kids! Very sweet and old-timey romantic and definitely at Christmas time, though it’s not really about that. It’s rated PG, but because of mild references to adult situations, I think it’s more appropriate for teens and up. I love the message of appreciating family as they are. Bonus: They are Catholic and go to Mass and there’s a priest to perform the wedding.
A Christmas Prince (2017, Netflix, 1:32, PG)
Probably the most sophisticated of the Netflix Christmas rom-coms (not a super sophisticated bunch). Fun, sweet, family-appropriate, and features more interesting characters than I expected. And all the chaste romance and Christmas decorations you’d want. The sequels get progressively dumber and have subtle nods to less appropriate content.
The Princess Switch (2018, Netflix, 1:42, TV-G)
A Christmas/fairy tale version of the Prince & the Pauper. There are some plot holes, but overall it’s cute and sweet. There’s a “hubba hubba” shirtless guy scene. Hey, how about we all agree it was inappropriate to objectify women’s bodies in the movies of my childhood and it’s inappropriate to objectify men’s bodies in movies now? Could we just NOT? Anyway, the two sequels introduce a third doppelgänger with a troubling worldview and really bothersome accent and mannerisms. They’re not making it into our rotation, even though the third one features a bishop (who isn’t the bad guy 😮, shocking, I know) and some sort of relic of St. Nicholas, but it’s just all dumber than it needs to be.
The Knight Before Christmas (2019, Netflix, 1:32, TV-14)
This one isn’t even trying to make sense, plot-wise. And it really confuses things in the Netflix Christmas Cinematic Universe (NCCU) by introducing a fourth character who looks exactly like Vanessa Hudgens. But it’s sweet and romantic and there’s a focus on honor and virtue, which is nice. (If only also faith!)
Christmas Catch (2018, Netflix, 1:26, TV-G)
My girls get a kick out of the hilariously awkward heroine. It breaks my rule against divorcee rom-coms, but we are pretty sure he could qualify for an annulment.
A Very Country Christmas 2017 Netflix, 1:24 (TV-G)
A sweet, chaste romance featuring a widowed mother, a fun gramma, a cute kid, getting back to one’s roots, and a lot of country music. Also a shirtless guy scene. Argh.
12 Dates of Christmas 2011, Disney+, 1:26 (PG)
Groundhog Day . . . but make it Christmas and Andie MacDowell is the guy from Saved by the Bell. Predictable, but aren’t they all? And she learns some good lessons and even goes to midnight Mass a couple times, so that’s good!
- These movies are mostly secular. Ideally, a list of Christmas movies would feature a lot of religious movies, right? Right. However, while I don’t mind correcting secular movie misconceptions about St. Nicholas/Santa Claus, I find the misrepresentations in religious Christmas movies to be more problematic and just, generally, bothersome to me. I know there are religious Christmas movies out there. I have previewed most of them. In my experience, they all get Mary wrong. They all show the Three Wisemen arriving on Christmas day. It. Bugs. Me. So, we read the story of Jesus’ birth from the gospel, we go to Mass, we do a family Nativity Play. There’s no question in our house as to the “reason for the season.” But the majority of Christmas movies we watch are secular.
- In keeping with the whole “if you don’t have anything nice to say . . .” thing, if I didn’t like a movie, I just didn’t include it here. (There is one exception, but I just really wanted to warn you about that one.)
- I’ve tried to note instances of language, violence, or racy-ness that I remembered, but I’m sure I missed a few. IMBD.com has a very helpful and detailed “parents guide” section at the bottom of their information about movies. I highly recommend checking that out before watching these or any family movies, since your screening priorities might be different than mine.
This is such a great post! I loved Christmas Catch – such a good movie!
I think of the 1994 Little Women film as a very Christmassy one. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the books, and it has multiple Christmasses, and to me this one is very faithful to the warm-hearted, growing-painsy tone of the book. It doesn’t really have any notable religion in its Christmasses, but it’s all about family and giving and gratitude and old timey costumes. Which makes it very Christmassy in my book!
Oh yes, and I love commonsensemedia.org for film info. Lots of detail on anything that might be problematic which allows me to make the right choices for our family. As you say, different stuff is problematic for different people – some stuff you say your little kids are fine with is scary for ME! And I think I’m more OK with portrayals of rebellious kids and clueless adults than you are. So I love having all the info and reasons right there so I can decide.
The Star does indeed fail the “when the wise men arrive” test, but I still love it. Like It’s a Wonderful Life, even though “dead people become angels” is my number one pet religious peeve.
Reminds me of the time my husband attended a funeral and the family of the deceased had chosen John Lennon’s “Imagine” to be played. Like “I Will Always Love You” at weddings, listen to the lyrics first, people!
My favorite Christmas movie is one that no one seems to have heard of – “Bachelor Mother” with Ginger Rogers and David Niven. If you’ve never seen it, I think you’ll enjoy it!
I also remember very much enjoying “Desk Set,” which is a Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey film – however, I want to watch it again before actually recommending it, as I seem to recall that a huge part of the movie is spent with everyone slightly tipsy.
Another that I consider to be a Christmas movie is “Pocketful of Miracles,” which is a true classic – love that film, and so funny.
Thank you for this list!