Not going to lie. This past week was all about Christmas. Specifically, re-watching all of the Christmas movies that I’ve seen approximately a thousand times already. Home Alone. Muppet Christmas Carol. Pluto’s Christmas Tree. Miracle on 34th Street. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The animated version. Not the Jim Carrey monstrosity. Home Alone 2, which is decidedly more violent than I remember as a child. Seriously. Harry and Marv would have died several times over if that movie obeyed any sort of physical laws. And yet, despite the potential body count, watching these films is like being wrapped up in a warm blanket. They’re comforting and nostalgic, and they remind me of countless Christmases spent watching them over and over again. Which made me wonder. How did these movies become such staples of the holiday season?
Turns out, there actually is a whole history of Christmas movies. And a lot of it has to do with the way we consume entertainment. For example, during the Golden Age of Hollywood (the pre-TV era), Christmas movies could only be seen in movie theatres, meaning they were pre-dominantly aimed at adults. It wasn’t until the rise of broadcast television in the 60s and 70s that holiday specials began to be created specifically for children. This was the Golden Age of the animated holiday special, when Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman all made their debuts. These specials were cheap to produce and replay, and as such, they became holiday traditions over the decades.
The late 80s to the early 2000s saw the rise of home entertainment, and in particular, the DVD boom. This meant that holiday movies could be profitable outside of the box office. Between 1988 and 1994, seven films were released in quick succession that have all gone on to become classics of the genre. Scrooged, Die Hard, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, Muppet Christmas Carol, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Santa Clause. Wow. That was a good stretch of movies. It also happens to coincide with some of my most formative years as a child, so I’m sure that has a lot to do with my love of Christmas movies.
It should also be noted that this time period marked the rise of cable television and the need for content to fill all the hours when cable channels were not airing their signature programs. As a result, cable channels began running Christmas movies around the clock in December, as they were both profitable and popular. The past 20 years have also seen the rise of holiday movies on Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel. These movies are cheap to produce, but extremely popular, and between these two channels, they churn out dozens of holiday movies each year. In the most recent years, the streaming services have gotten in on the action, releasing numerous holiday movies in a bid to lure in more subscribers at the end of the year. I’ve already watched a couple of this year’s offerings, and they are just as lovely and cheesy as always.
And what about the movie that many consider to be the best Christmas movie of all time? It’s a Wonderful Life? Interestingly enough, the director, Frank Capra, didn’t think it was a Christmas movie at all. In fact, it was a box office failure when it was released in 1946. However, a clerical error in 1974 resulted in Republic Pictures losing their copyright claim on the film. As a result, broadcast television was able to run it for free. Which they did. Over and over again. Year after year. Until It’s a Wonderful Life was cemented into pop culture as a Christmas tradition. As it should be.
So there you have it. A quick peek into the history of Christmas movies. But I also continued my quest to experience more art of the holidays. I listened to “The Little Donkey from Bethlehem“, a classic Peruvian Christmas Carol. I read Here’s to Love by Anne Enright. Boy could I relate to some parts of that story. I listened to Kathleen Battle’s gorgeous rendition of “O Holy Night” and watched Noelle on Disney+. I also found this compilation of Christmas lights around Paris that gave me all the warm fuzzies. YouTube sent me the holiday remix of “Butter” by BTS, which made me smile to a truly ridiculous degree. And last but not least, today is the first day of Kwanzaa, so I watched the “Seven Days of Kwanzaa” episode of The Proud Family. I will most definitely be going back and watching the whole show at some point.
Technically, this should be my last December post. Next Sunday is January 2nd, and therefore I should be on to a new topic by then. However, I recently discovered that there is a whole other holiday coming up this month that I know nothing about. Have you ever heard of Ōmisoka? I haven’t. But I want to know more. Plus, there’s Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, all of which is to say that I’m going to keep this month’s topic going for one more week.
Until then, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas if you celebrate it. And a very Happy Kwanzaa to those whose celebration started today. See you next Sunday!
Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!