What is a Christmas movie?

Harrison Burns–Staff Writer

With Thanksgiving over and Christmas fast approaching, holiday movies are being viewed in the season’s spirit. While everyone seems to have a favorite Christmas movie to watch in the last month of the year, no one can seem to agree on what actually makes a movie a “Christmas movie.” 

There are the core and uncontroversial films that are universally accepted as Christmas movies, those that explicitly contain the Christmas staple characters of Santa, elves, reindeer, and snowmen. And with these accepted movies there are also those revolving around the actual biblical event the holiday is based on, containing mangers, shepherds, three kings, and drummer boys. Outside of this foundation, however, the question of what specifically defines a Christmas movie becomes murky. 

Because of Christmas’s cultural and economic power, it has woven its way into many cinematic outings more subtly. Some of the most commonly debated over whether they deserve the “Christmas” title include films such as “Gremlins,” “The Family Man,” “Batman Returns,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Iron Man 3,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “Edward Scissorhands.” Even “The Nightmare Before Christmas” splits people on whether it is more of a Halloween or a Christmas movie. And of course, the epitome of these questionable Christmas flicks, “Die Hard.” 

The reason for the wide variations boils down to how people define a “Christmas” movie.  For some, the definition is grounded in setting–is the movie set around the Christmas season? This is one of the most common arguments for films like “Die Hard,” an action film with little plot concerned with Christmas but filled with Christmas memorabilia, music, and references (i.e. “Now I have a machine gun. Ho, Ho, Ho”). 

Setting alone seems to be inaccurate in capturing what makes a Christmas movie, as one of the most famous and beloved Christmas movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” doesn’t take place around Christmas until over three-fourths into the film. 

For some, a Christmas movie is more about the feelings and themes that it creates. As junior Kaitlyn Baljeu put it, “A Christmas Movie has to be something that is holly, jolly, and festive–and it gets me excited to open presents.” 

This reasoning that holiday films produce a certain warm, “jolly” feeling is why many families have traditions of watching fantasy or adventure movies that don’t directly connect to Christmas, like the “Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” franchises. 

Sometimes movies become associated with Christmas simply because of the themes they express. Movies such as “Les Miserables” or “Ben-Hur” don’t directly refer to the birth of Christ, but they overtly tell stories of redemption and grace. Robin Suing, the theatre department assistant, described this idea, saying, “[It could be] anything that becomes a tradition for you or the family at Christmas time.” 

A movie like “Home Alone” is an example of both setting and tradition shaping the film into the Christmas category. This looser definition is another key point “Die Hard” Christmas defenders make, pointing out how similar “Home Alone” and “Die Hard” are. Both feature a protagonist trapped in a building during Christmas who is fighting off invaders trying to steal what’s inside, all the while realizing the importance of family. What’s more “Christmas” than that? 

There may never be a consensus on what truly defines a Christmas movie, but junior Dylan Vander Berg offered the simplest and most poignant answer: “It’s a movie you watch at Christmas.”  

Whatever movie brings together family and friends every December could be the “Christmas” movie for that time and situation, whether that’s “White Christmas” or “Lethal Weapon.”

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