I like the Christmas season. I like the music, the lights, the festive spirit, and, of course, the holiday itself. No other time of the year quite compares to the stretch between Thanksgiving (some would say Labor Day) and New Year’s Day.
A favorite activity for me growing up was watching an endless steam of specials, such as A Charlie Brown Christmas, which turned 50 today, and Rankin/Bass productions like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Later on, movies became part of my holiday regimen.
Some programs were one and done. I never warmed up to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, for example, or 1983’s A Christmas Story, despite its off-the-charts reviews. Home Alone, Elf, and The Santa Clause have lost their appeal over the years.
Other movies and programs, however, continue to grow on me, including several I consider holiday essentials. Here are ten I would strongly recommend to get into the Christmas spirit.
1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). There’s a reason NBC shows this twice in December. Flat out one of the best movies ever made.
2. A Christmas Carol (1951). Dickens’ novel has been adapted many times to film. This version, starring Alastair Sim, is the best.
3. The Polar Express (2004). The animated classic, based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, is cinematic eye candy.
4. Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966). This animated musical TV special has no peer. Boris Karloff beats Jim Carrey seven days a week.
5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947). A must-see for fans of the late Maureen O’Hara. Natalie Wood’s first major role.
6. The Holiday (2006). Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet exchange homes over the holidays. A movie that will stick with you.
7. Trading Places (1983). My favorite comedy is set against a Christmas backdrop. Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy at their best.
8. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). If there is a bad Muppets movie out there, this is not it. Michael Caine is perfect as Scrooge.
9. Holiday Inn (1942). This is worth seeing for Bing Crosby’s performance of “White Christmas” alone.
10. Holiday in Handcuffs (2007). Melissa Joan Hart stars in this made-for-TV comedy, the one guilty pleasure on my list.