People celebrate the holiday season in many different ways, for many different reasons. If you, like me, choose the remembrance of the birth of Christ as the primary reason to observe Dec. 25th, or if you are simply interested in hearing from that perspective, you might find this interesting. Of course, you might not. By the time you're done reading, you may want to beat me upside the head, because frankly, I'm not sure there's a lot of coherence to my thought process here. Nonetheless, let's give it a go. Today, on the day many of us choose to recall the birth of our Savior, the 12 Days of Cinematicalmas Presents: Christmas Movies To Remember Jesus By.

You know, readers, this is one bugger of an article to write, for two reasons. First, because I don't typically discuss my faith in this forum -- it just doesn't come up much when you spend most of your time writing about comic books -- and second, because upon examination I realize that most of the Christmas specials I watch when I really want to feel the "spirit of the season" are not directly about Jesus. Typically, when I want that story, I go straight to the Book. Movies aren't ever as good as the books anyway, right?

So initially, I sat in front of a blank notepad (the computer notepad, of course, not that paper stuff that I hear some people still use) and thought "I'm not going to be able to write this article, because the movies I want to write about really hold no unique appeal to Christians. They're loved by really just about everyone." I was all set to jet off an apologetic email to the editorial team here at Cine, ex planing why I couldn't write what seems like it should be a very easy article on a subject I'm intimately involved with. But before the email was composed, a weird thought hit me. I examined it, and sure enough, it was accurate. Keep in mind, I'm just your average layperson, and am in no way specially qualified to make observations about scripture or people's relationship with their God, so this is just a simple observation from a humble follower. ...
Let's start by clarifying that I love nearly all Christmas movies, because I'm a sucker for the whole season. Christmas holds a lot of joy for me, in both a religious and a secular way. The birth of Christ is certainly one of the most important moments in history as far I'm concerned, and I like singing the old standard Christmas hymns in church, putting up the nativity, and reading the Christmas story with my family. Christmas is packed full of fantastic reminders of the how much I really do love being a follower of Christ. I also love Santa Claus and his workshop of toys, the reindeer and the elves, decorating the Christmas tree, and all the other Christmas trappings which really have little or nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Christmas is just a great time all around, and I like movies which reflect any combination of the religious and secular elements of Christmas. I'm just a big old Christmas junkie, really.

But different Christmas movies mean different things to me. And when I ponder those which stir spiritual emotions -- those which make me remember the real reason of Christmas for someone of my faith -- two interesting points stand out. First, as previously mentioned, they are mostly not actually stories about Jesus in the manger. The second point, which I feel is the more significant point, is they have nothing to do with Santa Claus or any of his paraphernalia.

Again, I love Santa, and all that comes with him. I love Christmas specials like the classic stop motion flicks (Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), Will Ferrell's Elf, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (cartoon version, thanks), among many others. But mostly, they're just fluff and fun. The movies which really tug on my heart strings, and which remind me of what it means to observe Christmas, have nothing to do with a big guy in a red suit leaving toys for kids, or a green guy trying to take them away. So what ARE they about, and why do they speak to the same part of me that my faith speaks to?

Let's try this one more time, now that we've got that long winded explanation out of the way. The 12 Days of Cinematicalmas Presents: Christmas Movies To Remember Jesus By.

It's a Wonderful Life. As far as I'm concerned, this movie is the absolute gold standard of Christmas films. Featuring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore, the film is packed full of acting talent. It holds a fair amount of religious content, insofar as it involves God sending an angel to earth to help out George Bailey, but there's no Jesus in the manger Christmas story.
The message is one of values: compassion, sacrifice, and love. The story reminds us to do the right thing, even when it seems like the right thing gets you nowhere, and it makes you feel like the world would be a significantly better place if we all spent a little more time looking out for each other. Few movies ache with more honest emotion than this fantastic classic.

A Christmas Carol. There are several great versions of this one which vie for my favorite. The Alastair Sim version (Scrooge) is incredible, Patrick Stewart is hard to beat, and of course, the Muppets and their special brand of family appeal. Scrooge certainly learns some big lessons which Christians would relate to Christ-taught concepts, and God is referenced one or twice throughout (most memorably in Tiny Tim's famous last line), but again we're talking about a movie which is not primarily based on a biblical story. Again, we're told to look out for our fellow man instead of ourselves, and the "you can't take it with you," idea is at the forefront. True riches are not found in earthly possessions, right?

A Charlie Brown Christmas. This short special gets straight to the heart of the issue. In only half an hour, it pounds home the idea that Christmas is not about commercialism or shiny trappings, but is, in fact, about loving each other and remembering the birth of Christ. Unlike most of the others I discuss, this film is blatant in its Christian appeal. Linus quotes scripture about Christ's birth, and the kids stage a Nativity play. This movie not only preaches values Christians agree with, it just preaches in general. The "true meaning of Christmas" is fully understood by the Peanuts gang.

So really, I guess what I'm saying is I dig movies with values and worldviews which Christ preached, but which aren't necessarily Christ specific. I mean, you don't need to believe in Jesus to apply most of the lessons learned from these flicks, right? But for those of us who do follow Him, we can hear His teachings in these films. Linus and the Peanuts gang remind us of Christ's birth, and the other movies remind us of His life -- a life filled with unlimited love and care for all of humanity, and a life which ultimately offers redemption for even the hardest of hearts. Jesus Christ, Son of Almighty God, spent his life doing good for other people. Christmas reminds us that we should all be doing the same.

There are, of course, a number of directly religious films which are worth watching in the Christmas season. They don't make my list of "must-watch movies," but if you're looking for something all about the Son of God, you can certainly check into Jesus of Nazareth and King of Kings -- both are fantastic movies. I suppose there is also the new Nativity movie out this year (you know, the one screened at the Vatican), but I haven't seen it yet so I can't really recommend it to you.