Like pretty much everyone of my generation, I grew up anxiously awaiting the Christmas specials each year. (OLD PERSON RANT COMING) DVDs did not exist, and you had better make sure that you were in front of the TV and ready to go when the special started because there was no pausing the TV or rewinding (not to mention skipping commercials or just finding the whole thing on the internet later). If we really wanted, we could set the VCR to record our show, but rare was the occasion that we actually remembered to do that. So we pretty much had ONE CHANCE to watch said specials, and we were damned if we were going to miss out.
My excitement was not limited to Christmas specials on TV. There was a whole canon of Christmas movies that needed watching – and, like my stance on Christmas music, I was/am a firm believer in not watching them until the actual month of December.
And now that it IS December, Christmas television/movie season is upon us! Allow me to present my ten favorite Christmas movies and TV specials for your viewing pleasure!
A Muppet Christmas Carol
Every Christmas, my siblings and I used to borrow this movie (on VHS, of course) from our neighbors. We watched it again and again, even though my sister was terrified of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. A Muppet Christmas Carol is just about everything one would want – Muppets as Dickens characters in tiny adorable Dickensian costumes, Michael Caine as Scrooge, catchy music, and a fair amount of adult humor that you don’t catch onto until years later. And I have to tell you, this is a movie that will warm the iciest of hearts. We all know the story of A Christmas Carol, but not until you see it acted by Muppets will it really give you all the feels.
Home Alone. HOME ALONE. As a 90s kid, I think I am legally obligated to love Home Alone. And I DO. Years ago, possibly when it first came out (in 1990… HOW is this movie 26 years old?!), Dad brought it home after he’d been gone to a truck sale. It was right around Christmas, and we watched that movie constantly. We watched it so much that the paper VHS box it came in eventually disintegrated. We even wore off the white writing on the VHS tape itself, so Mom had to put a little label reading “Home Alone” on it. Home Alone is so deeply ingrained into my psyche that I don’t even know how to adequately express my love for it. My family has incorporated Home Alone-isms into everyday speech (“PACK my SUITCASE?!” “Buzz, your girlfriend… WOOF!” “Keep the change, you filthy animal,” etc), and even though we’ve seen it a million and a half times, we’ll watch it every Christmas and laugh our heads off. This is the movie I get the most excited to watch each Christmas season.
Home Alone 2
I’m giving Home Alone 2 its own entry, as it is in a completely different league than Home Alone. Home Alone 2 could never supersede its predecessor, but it has redeeming qualities that still earn it a spot on this list (and in my heart). Namely? Tim Curry. I LOVE Tim Curry. Also, we Bjorklunds love the part where Kevin records his voice on his Talkboy and alters it so he sounds like an adult – he says “the faaaaather,” and every voicemail my dad has ever left me begins with “this is the faaaaather.” Home Alone 2 has its fair share of great one-liners, like when Kevin is getting ice cream from room service. The server asks Kevin if he wants two scoops, and Kevin says, “Two? Make it three. I’m not driving.” Pithy banter aside, Home Alone 2 loses some serious points this year because of the Donald Trump cameo. Maybe I’ll be able to handle that again one day, but this year, the wound is still too fresh. Maybe next year, Home Alone 2.
A Christmas Story
I was completely unaware of A Christmas Story until approximately age nine when it was given to us as a Christmas gift by our babysitter. A Christmas Story and I have been together ever since. It struck so many chords with me: Ralphie was about my age when I first saw the movie, and I was oh so aware of that feeling every kid gets around Christmas when they want a certain gift so badly they think they might DIE if they don't get it. In my case, it was never a Red Ryder BB Gun, but a Kitty Kitty kitten: a fuzzy stuffed kitten with a ball that rolled around in its hollow head so that it sounded like purring. (Not weird at all.) Like Ralphie and his BB gun, the thought of the Kitty Kitty kitten completely consumed my every waking moment. And like Ralphie, I received my so desired gift, and all was right with the world. (The Kitty Kitty kitten Christmas was the one immediately preceding the year we got A Christmas Story, so this was so very fresh in my mind. Ralphie's pain was my pain.) I have also had the misfortune of receiving gifts such as the pink bunny suit: clothing that you hate so much but are compelled to wear when the giving party is nearby. A Christmas Story hits so close to home at all times, and it never fails to absolutely delight me. I even have a leg lamp of my very own.
It’s a Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Life is probably the least Christmasy of all the Christmas movies. Unlike everything else on my list, It’s a Wonderful Life is not really about Christmas… it’s just that George Bailey loses his shit at Christmas, and therefore the inevitable happy ending takes place just a little later on Christmas. That makes it a Christmas movie. Questionable Christmas-movie-categorization aside, I do love this movie. I LOVE James Stewart, because who doesn’t? And even though I am a bit of a non-believer when it comes to saccharine happy endings, It’s a Wonderful Life never fails to give me the warm fuzzies. Wouldn’t we all like to imagine that our lives matter so much that the world as we know it would crumble in our absence?
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is actually the third movie in the Vacation series – which is amazing, because the third movie is almost NEVER good. I didn’t see Christmas Vacation until well into my twenties, and it became an immediate favorite. We’ve all had holidays that don’t go quite right, and we’ve ALL got a Cousin Eddie. And we all want our Christmas to be perfect, despite the mounting odds against us. To quote Clark Griswold: “When Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.”
Pluto’s Christmas Tree
I’ve been watching this cartoon at Christmastime for as long as I can remember, and it never loses its shine. It’s a Disney short from 1952 in which Mickey and Pluto cut down a Christmas tree. When they get it home, it turns out that Chip and Dale (the chipmunks) are in the tree. Chaos ensues, and poor Pluto gets the blame. Don’t worry, though: everyone makes friends by the end.
The Night Before Christmas
You know when you have this ghost of a memory from childhood, and you’re not quite sure if it’s real or imaginary, but it’s real enough that you feel a little bit crazy and no one knows what you’re talking about when you try to explain it? (Or maybe that feeling is just me…) This cartoon WAS that feeling. I knew that we watched it at my grandma Lorraine’s house, and I recalled just enough of it – the little girl getting sick and the fact that it was about the famous poem "The Night Before Christmas" – that when I finally Googled it, it was RIGHT THERE. Not crazy. The whole thing was even available for me to watch on YouTube, and let me tell you, the whole thing was SO MUCH MORE INSANE than I remembered. The cartoon is about Clement Moore’s daughter getting sick while he’s on a business trip, and she had asked him to bring back a storybook about Santa Claus. Unable to find one, he writes his own: “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas.” The insanity comes with all the bizarre songs in this cartoon: at one point, the designs on the quilts come alive during a song about going to sleep. They also put “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” to song, and even though it’s not that good, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head for days. Somehow, stuff like this is ok when Disney does it, but SO WEIRD when someone else does. Double standards, but I maintain that this cartoon is WEIRD.
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
Oh, Rankin/Bass, how I love thee. Rankin/Bass has so many great Christmas specials under its belt (Rudolph, The Year Without a Santa Claus), but Santa Claus Is Coming to Town is my favorite. It’s got great songs (“One Foot in Front of the Other” is so delightful), and great voices: Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney. If you’ve never had the pleasure, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town is about how Santa Claus came to be. He starts off as Kris Kringle, a relentlessly cheerful redhead (hey, I know one of those!) who brings toys to the children of Sombertown when the evil Burgermeister Meisterburger (what a GREAT villain name) bans them. As means of evading the Meisterburger, Kris Kringle changes his name to Santa Claus and grows a beard. One thing leads to another, and now Santa delivers toys all over the world on Christmas Eve.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol
I started with a version of A Christmas Carol, and I’m ending with another version of A Christmas Carol. Mickey’s Christmas Carol has always been my favorite of the television specials: this is the one I absolutely COULD NOT MISS or my Christmas season was ruined. Ruined, I tell you. It’s a pretty classic retelling of the Dickens tale, with (who else?) Scrooge McDuck portraying his namesake and Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit. The rest of the casting is just as delightful: favorites being Goofy as Jacob Marley and Donald Duck as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. The Disney version follows the regular Christmas Carol trajectory with its special Disney touches, including a slightly terrifying scene towards the end when Scrooge falls into his own open grave, and it appears that he’s going to be swallowed by the fires of hell. Children’s television of the early 1980s, I tell ya.
That brings us to the end of my ten favorite Christmas movies and television specials. I hope you find time to watch one or more of these cultural treasure, because it just isn’t Christmas without them.
Merry Christmas, you filthy animals.