Who doesn’t love Christmas movies? I love Christmas movies. I’ve even written a couple. But there’s a problem. And it’s right in the image at the top of this post.
What do you see? Santa hat, holly, tree, presents … all the Christmassy goodies. Just about every Christmas movie on TV these days is stuffed to the gills with these things, along with ugly sweaters, eggnog, cookie-baking, gift-wrapping, shopping, reindeer, hot cocoa, drifting snowflakes, etc.
This is all good. I have people drinking cocoa and decorating a tree in one of my movies, and there’s a reindeer in the other one (OK, it’s a caribou, but if the script gets made, it’d probably be played by a reindeer).
But what don’t you see?
Where Is Christ in Christmas Movies?
Christmas is the birthday celebration of Jesus Christ. To quote a phrase that lots of people don’t want to hear, because they consider it a buzzkill: Jesus is the reason for the season. All the Christmas emphasis on love, peace, joy, togetherness, family and so on, began with a little family in a stable in Bethlehem. Everything else is born of that, as people found creative ways to celebrate the wonder of what happened on the first Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting down the annual flood of cheerful, twinkly Christmas movies. In a world full of depressing, dystopian dreck, they’re a welcome light in the darkness (as Christ is), and an antidote to the world’s tendency to wallow in cruelty and misery (as Christ is). Even if they don’t get into the particulars of the religious origins of the holiday, they do express many of its themes, which are always welcome.
So, Should All Christmas Movies Be Based on the Bible, Then?
No. I’m not calling for the major cable and streaming networks to start producing movies about the Nativity. In fact, please don’t.
They’re hard to do right, even by sincere believers. Now, it can be done. Witness the charming 2017 animated movie The Star, or the pilot episode for the hit crowdfunded series The Chosen, shot to be part of a megachurch’s Christmas service.
But, there are a thousand ways it can go very wrong, so if the Hallmarks and Lifetimes and OWNs and Netflixes of the world don’t want to do the Biblical story of Christmas, I’m fine with that. More than fine.
No, I have another suggestion, and it’s about respect. All these networks make serious bank off of Christmas, but for the most part, they’re only willing to showcase the most secular traditions.
Sometimes, when you get a heavyweight Christian involved, such as Dolly Parton or Kristin Chenoweth, you might get some religious carols and mentions of the Baby Jesus. Or, as in the trailer for the upcoming Netflix movie Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square, premiering Nov. 22 (head here for a review), there’s even a church, an angel and a Bible cameo.
One aspect of modern “woke” complaints of cultural appropriation is that people only want to take the fun aspects of a culture — such as dress or food — but have no respect for, or interest in, the culture’s actual history or people. By that measure, lots of modern Christmas movies could be considered outright cultural appropriation.
So, Do I Want to Cancel TV Christmas?
No, of course not. Over two millennia, artists have expressed the message of Christmas — and, indeed, of Christianity itself — in many different ways. And they should continue to do so. But I do have few thoughts on how these movies can be a little more … inclusive.
- You don’t need Dolly or Kristin to feature sacred Christmas music. It doesn’t have to happen in every movie — and it doesn’t have to be the Hallelujah Chorus — but it might be nice to hear more often (with lyrics) Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a Manger, Joy to the World or Go Tell It on the Mountain, along with secular songs like Jingle Bells or Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
- It’s great to see people baking and shopping and decorating the house, but they can also be shown decorating their church, visiting a Nativity scene, or going to Mass or a service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This may come as a shock to some in Hollywood, but people do that. Really. Even people in Los Angeles do it. I’ve seen ’em.
- If a child asks the meaning of Christmas, the answer might not just be vague references to love and family, or a tale about the North Pole origins of Santa Claus — or if the question is about Santa, it could be how he was inspired by a long-ago Catholic bishop, St. Nicholas of Myra.
- Toss in a few traditions of Advent, like lighting the Advent wreath or putting out shoes to get goodies on the eve of St. Nicholas’ Dec. 6 feast day. There’s also the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas, on Dec. 12, and its amazing origin story in 16th-Century Mexico.
If you’re going to make millions of dollars each year off of a Christian holy day, then it’s only fair to acknowledge every now and then that it is indeed a Christian holy day. Who are you going to offend? You think people don’t know? They know. If they were that sensitive, they wouldn’t be watching Christmas movies in the first place.
So, be not afraid — to put a little Christ back into Christmas. You won’t lose any audience, and you might gain even more.
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