Formulaic. Run-of-the-mill. Predictable. Cliché. Unoriginal. Packed with more cheese than Aunt Edna’s holiday cheddar log.
All these words have been used to describe holiday films. You know, the feel-good Christmas movies featuring cute kids and adorable dogs, obnoxious cousins and aunts in cheery Christmas sweaters, and good intentions destroyed by unforeseen calamities that somehow get resolved in 90 minutes, wrapped up as beautifully as an overpriced sweater from Macy’s. Sometimes, these gems feature the man Himself: The Big Man, the Man with a Bag, the Man in Red…Mr. Santa Claus!
If you’ve seen one holiday film, you’ve seen them all, right? I get it. I’m a horror/suspense/thriller-lover myself. I prefer films with an edge—something unsettling to keep me cold at night. Maybe you’re into action or drama or romance. Hell, some of you are even into westerns. I won’t pretend to know why, but you’re out there, walking the streets as though you’re just like the rest of us.
We all have our chosen genres we place upon a pedestal, well above the rest of Hollywood’s lesser films, and that’s okay. That’s what makes this ol’ blue ball go ‘round. Many, however, agree on one thing, and that’s holiday movies. Of course, there’s a large enough fan base to keep the holiday genre’s red nose lit, but we all know a hater or two—those who scoff at anything with a little fa-la-la-la-la in its step. But I’m here to tell you, you holiday-movie-hating scrooges, that you’re F-dash, dash, dash-ing wrong!
While I won’t be spending the next month gorging myself on Hallmark’s all you can eat Christmas lovefest (featuring all the cheese you can cram down your pie hole, served with a side of gouda and sprinkled with some parmesan), I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll be knee-deep in holiday films, starting with Ralphie, the Old Man, and the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.
On the surface, holiday films might appear superficial. Something to distract the kiddos while Ma and Pa guzzle down their spiked eggnog and contemplate whether taking out that second mortgage was really worth seeing little Suzy’s face when she opens her Hatchimals on Christmas morning. Everything’s a marketing tool, and it’s easy to believe Christmas is the biggest tool of all, but if you put pessimism aside, you’ll see that Christmas is a wee bit different.
Maybe you grew up with Clark and a house you could see from space, or maybe for you it was a tale of a broken man who realizes it really is a wonderful life, or possibly you’ve got a soft spot for that green fella with no clothes. Whatever your preference, these cherished films have accompanied us throughout the years. Like dear old friends, they’ve stayed a while each December and have warmed our hearts and our homes during the coldest days.
For some of us, there was no dining table packed with obnoxious cousins and aunts in cheery Christmas sweaters. Sometimes, the people in the movies were as close as we got to a traditional Christmas.
It’s easy to see why these films have earned a spot in our hearts, but it goes beyond that.
At the center of every ooey-gooey holiday film is an attempt to grasp onto something we as a society are rapidly losing, and that’s decency, kindness, and (get your violins ready) LOVE.
We’re a cynical people living in a hardened world with too little compassion and far too much hatred. Turn on the news and you see it, get online and it’s there: anger, rage, and contempt. Even those who still believe in humankind are watching their hopes steadily become buried under too many societal scars.
There’s a delicate balance to this universe. A yin and yang that tries its best to right all our many wrongs, and we need the sweetness to counteract all the bitterness, lest we stop believing in one another entirely. Believe it or not, holiday films—while seemingly transparent—strike a chord in our collective subconscious more so than many other films, and there’s one very important reason why.
In a world as callous as ours, Christmas is the one time of year when we tend to put our pettiness aside and allow kindness to plot the course. We’re a little softer during this time of year. We’re a little more forgiving. We’re even a little happier, and all those many holiday movies are a reminder that this short span of time we call “the holidays” is fleeting and incredibly precious. They also remind us that there’s still good in the world, and that we as a people sometimes still choose joy over hate.
After all, we didn’t all start out so cynical. Holiday films have a way of reminding us of that.