What makes a Christmas movie, you know, a Christmas movie?
It seems to be a time-honored tradition to revisit this question every year. And those who believe Die Hard is a Christmas movie seem to be willing to go down like Hans Gruber over their conviction.
But let’s talk about it for a moment.
Is a Christmas movie simply a film that takes place around Christmas time? Because if so, then Die Hard, Rocky IV, Batman Returns, Gremlins and Iron Man 3 all make the cut.
And if that’s the only qualifier, then it opens the door for any movie that simply includes a Christmas-time scene. Which means Steel Magnolias, Little Women, Meet Me in St. Louis, Edward Scissorhands and several of the Harry Potter movies are all contenders as well.
I know many a Christian who would argue that The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is a Christmas movie. Because after the Pevensie children start to break the curse (that it’s always winter but never Christmas in Narnia), Santa shows up to give them gifts to help them in their battle against the White Witch.
And then of course, there are movies that aren’t Christmas movies at all, but you’ve categorized them as such in your mind because you always watch them around Christmas. My own family had a strong text message debate about whether Father of the Bride was a Christmas movie. We, of course, realized it isn’t but confused it as one since our only memories of seeing it were when we were all together—which was usually for Christmas.
Ultimately, we’ll let you decide what is or isn’t a Christmas movie. But here are five decidedly Christmas movies (and TV specials), chosen because they highlight the reason for the season: the birth of Christ.
The Nativity Story (2006)
Paul Asay already mentioned this film in the “10 Best Family Christmas Movies Ever,” but I’ll bring it up again because, according to him, it’s about as close as we can get to “a definitive cinematic treatment of Christ’s birth.” Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac and Ciarán Hinds, it sticks close to the Scriptural script. Asay wrote, “If your family wants to watch a movie that shows, unambiguously, what the season is really about, give this a look.”
The Star (2017)
Nominated for Best Christian Movie in 2018’s Plugged In Movie Awards, The Star “imaginatively retells the nativity story” from the point of view of the donkey who carried Mary to Bethlehem. Boaz the donkey (along with some other animated fauna) plays (according to our blog back then) a “crucial (if obviously fictional) role in dealing with a hunter sent by Herod.” And unlike some other mainstream biblical epics, this one “stays remarkably true to the core biblical narrative.”
VeggieTales’ The Little Drummer Boy (2011)
VeggieTales has made many a Christmas story before. (And in 2019, we got a chance to talk to the creator, Phil Vischer, about his beloved franchise.) But The Little Drummer Boy (which you can purchase in the Focus on the Family bookstore) tells us the story of the poor, lonely little boy who wants to see the newborn king (played by Junior Asparagus). But he has nothing to give that would be worthy of royalty. Could his gift be his song? And will it be good enough?
The Three Wise Men (2020)
I keep bringing up films that tell of the birth of Christ from different perspectives because I think it’s fun to see what all the different people who witnessed His birth might’ve thought. Featuring the voice of the legendary Andy Griffith as the narrator, “the story focuses on the traditional three wise men.” But it also shows us Mary and Joseph’s points of view, too. Our review of the film reminds us that “while Rudolph and Frosty and the Grinch are just fine,” The Three Wise Men reminds us that “Christmas is really about Jesus.”
This episode from the popular TV series tells two stories in one. First, it unpacks the birth of Jesus. “Much of the episode involves quiet conversation between Mary and Joseph as they make the trek to Bethlehem,” writes Adam Holz. This conversation gives us a deeper look at the two people chosen to raise Christ from infancy, demonstrating their faith and obedience. Second, the episode shows Mary Magdalene visiting Jesus’ mother after His death. The elder Mary invites Magdalene to record her poem of joy—what we now call the Magnifcat—and take the words to Luke, who is compiling his Gospel. Writes Holz, “this glimpse of Mary in her later years offers a satisfying narrative bookend to the episode, as we see her on the one hand having just given birth, and on the other looking back fondly on that moment decades later.”
And as an extra bonus, I’ll also list this 25-minute Peanuts television special because it beautifully reminds us that Christmas isn’t about commercialism but about Christ:
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
In an effort to get in the Christmas spirit, Charlie Brown agrees to direct the school’s Christmas program. But of course, one thing goes wrong after another, until finally, Charlie shouts, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” And Linus responds, “And there were in the same country, shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’”
Well said, Linus. Have a merry Christmas, all.