"It's a Wonderful Life"
This Christmas classic, whether you love it or can't stand it, does have a very important message: "We all matter." "The world is a much better place with you in it." "See the value of each person." Except Mr. Potter — he's not a nice person. — Nicole Villalpando
"Meet Me in St. Louis"
“Someday soon we all will be together / if the fates allow." I grew up in a big family, like the one in the movie musical. Later in life, without thinking, I tried to duplicate that kind of domestic menagerie with lots of housemates. For the past almost 30 years, however, I have lived with just one person, plus a few pets, and I confine the group activities to parties and, of course, the holidays, if the fates allow. — Michael Barnes
"The Preacher's Wife"
"Hold On, Help Is on the Way" — Whitney Houston and the Georgia Mass Choir open the movie with that uplifting song. It's a reminder to try to accept help when you need it, such as when you're a burned-out preacher like Courtney B. Vance's character. Sometimes the biggest barrier is your own resistance when an angel like Denzel Washington drops down from the sky. — Sharon Chapman
"A Christmas Carol" (1951)
Look, you can have your "Scrooged," your George C. Scott version, your Muppet version. Brian Desmond-Hurst’s absolutely bulletproof “Scrooge” (also released under the name “A Christmas Carol” in the States), starring Alastair Sim, is one of the great movies of its age. You already know the lessons: Keep Christmas all the days of the year, be a decent human being without having to be visited by ghosts.
But Desmond-Hurst also does a great job of showing us why Scrooge is the way he is: Capitalism is savage and inhumane by design ("The world, that can be so brutally cruel to the poor, professes to condemn the pursuit of wealth in the same breath," a younger Scrooge says to his beloved Alice as she is breaking up with him — hey, fair enough) is another key take-away.
Then there's the meta-lesson: When the elements come together — dark, noirish cinematography; cold, windy sound design; a brilliantly paced script; and an impeccable performance from Sim — a movie from a story everyone knows by heart can become something timeless. —Joe Gross
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas"
Whether you choose the Jim Carrey version, the new version or the classic 1966 animation (always the best choice), "The Grinch" reminds us that one person can make a difference. The Grinch stealing all the presents would make a huge difference to Whoville, but so does sweet, innocent little Cindy Lou Who. She points out: "But the Book of Who says this, too: 'No matter how different a Who may appear, he will always be welcome with holiday cheer.'"
It also reminds us that all the decorations, festivities and gifts are fun, but ultimately the most important part of the holidays is spending time with people you care about. The Grinch broke into every house in Whoville to steal all things Christmas, and the Whos woke up and sang the next morning like nothing happened. So don't stress too much about gifts (but also don't steal). — Maribel Molina and N.V.
"A Christmas Story"
Don't shoot your eye out. Yes, this is just common sense, but as every parent knows, sometimes kids need to be reminded to not shoot their eyes out or other things that might appear to be common sense. "Don't run with scissors." "Don't aim that knife at your brother." "Don't climb on those shelves." "Get off the car hood" and "close the car door," both when the car was already moving. These are all things that have come out of my mouth. Common sense and kids sometimes don't go together. — N.V.
When in doubt, choose love. Of course, there are also cautionary tales: Don't be a stalker, Andrew Lincoln. Sometimes you need to set boundaries and put yourself first over a needy family member, Laura Linney. And why are you putting up with this cheating jerk, Emma Thompson? — N.V.
When going out of town for a holiday trip, make sure you have all the kids with you. Any preschool teacher, Girl Scout leader or parent of many children knows you count your kids before you go anywhere. And then you double-count. You also assign each kid a buddy. Of course, it's amazing that this family did it once, but then they did it again. "Kevin!" — Ken Herman and N.V.
"Home Alone 2"
Kevin McCallister encounters a woman feeding pigeons in the park whom he befriends after they talk about feeling left out and unseen in their day-to-day lives. "Everyone fights for position. Everybody wants to be seen and heard," she tells him as they sit in the attic of a fancy performance space, where she would sneak in to see concerts. After a man she loved broke her heart, she started running away from people who might care about her and then hurt her again. Kevin returned the wisdom after telling a story about a pair of inline skates that he didn't want to mess up because he liked them so much. By the time he wanted to wear them, he'd grown out of them, he explained to her. "If you aren't gonna use your heart, what's the difference if it gets broken? If you just keep it to yourself, maybe it'll be like my Rollerblades. When you do decide to try it, it won't be any good. You should take a chance. Got nothing to lose." — Addie Broyles
"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"
It is easily one of my top holiday movies because it's so over-the-top, but it's also a cautionary tale about what happens when you don't have good boundaries with your family. Clark Griswold wants to give his family the best Christmas ever, and the lengths he goes to create these magical memories and extraordinary experiences mean he almost burns his house down, nearly breaks his neck (at least twice), starts fights with his neighbors and even compromises the financial future of his family in an attempt to give them everything they want. The lesson: You can love people unconditionally while also telling them no. — A.B.
"The Santa Clause"
This might be Tim Allen's best performance, ever. He plays Scott Calvin, a divorced dad who has struggled to bond with his young son after the split from his ex. On Christmas Eve, Calvin and his son hear a clatter on the roof, and he accidentally spooks Santa, who falls off the roof and dies. In turn, Calvin must assume the role of Santa, and no matter how hard he tries to avoid it, he can't keep a shaven face and his belly jiggles like a bowl full of jelly, no matter how much he works out. Calvin eventually accepts his fate and embraces the suspension of disbelief that his son has always held, thus saving Christmas the following year. Eventually, Calvin convinces his ex and her new husband that even when facing the world's realities, it doesn't hurt to hang onto a childlike sense of magic and wonder. — A.B.
John McClane not only hears sage advice from unlikely places but also dispenses it. Here are five of our favorite lessons:
The secret to getting over a stressful plane trip during the holidays is to take your shoes and socks off and walk around on a rug making fists with your toes.
“Next time you have the chance to kill someone, don't hesitate,” a terrorist tells McClane. A dubious source, yes, but a sentiment is worthy of a New Year’s resolution: Seize your chance when it comes!
Twinkies are the perfect food for the holidays or anytime. As Sgt. Al Powell of the LAPD says, “sugar-enriched flour, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, polysorbate 60, and Yellow Dye No. 5. Just everything a growing boy needs.”
When the terrorists start to panic because the FBI has cut the power to the building they’re robbing, their leader, Hans Gruber, reminds them that the blackout will allow them to break the last lock on the building’s vault. The lesson: Turn every challenge into an opportunity!
Never forget to tell a loved one that they’re the best thing that’s ever happened to a bum like you. They’ve heard you say "I love you" a thousand times, but they’ve never heard you say "I'm sorry." — Roberto Villalpando
"Jingle All the Way"
Oh, this is a terrible movie with Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it gives parents an important lesson: No toy is worth it. The hot toy of today is at the garage sale tomorrow. I'm looking at you, Furby, Tickle Me Elmo and Hatchimals. — N.V.
"Christmas With the Kranks"
The Kranks are trying to avoid having to do their traditional Christmas — big party, over-the-top decorations, too much money on gifts. When their daughter announces that she's coming home and with the fiance, their plans for a beach vacation are scrapped. They have to pull together Christmas basically overnight. And that's just crazy-making. The big lesson here is what's really important: It's being with people, not how much you spent on your party and gifts, and definitely not the one-upmanship of decorations. — N.V.
The holidays can be fun, but for some people it can crystallize traumatic events and lead to PTSD. We wonder what that whole village will think about Christmas years later after the Gremlins are no longer terrorizing the town. — Jay Davis and N.V.
"We all have different talents": Buddy the Elf's toy-making boss says this when Buddy struggles to keep up with his Etch-a Sketch quota. He didn't really mean it! But it is true, which Buddy finds out when he helps save Christmas and (spoiler) becomes a best-selling author. And in a pinch, you could always borrow from "The Code of Elves":
1. Treat every day like Christmas.
2. There's room for everyone on the Nice List.
3. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.