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Favorite Holiday Movies

By Ann Oldenburg

The holiday season is always a busy time, a rush of shopping, entertaining, decorating, gift-giving and more. But it's also a time for gathering with family and friends. And for many of us, it's important to take time do the simple seasonal things, like curling up on the couch with the kids, a bowl of buttery popcorn and a mug of hot chocolate to watch a favorite holiday movie.

Some of these classics are so much a part of our holiday experience, we don’t quite feel right until we've seen them. Jimmy Stewart diving into the cold water to save Clarence the angel in It's a Wonderful Life is a classic moment in movie history. And since the 1960s, we've seen Rudolph's nose light up as Burl Ives songs run through our heads. These holiday favorites remind us of our childhood, they remind us of the season and, most of all, they can help remind of us what's really important at this time of year.


Here's a list of ten top family holiday movies along with a list of ten promising holiday offerings airing on television in the season ahead.

Elf1. Elf
Think of this as one of the new holiday classics. Released in theaters in 2003, Elf is a contemporary holiday gem, starring a silly, funny and heartfelt Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf. In this story, Buddy, who has been raised as an elf, finds out he isn't an elf after all and goes in search of his real father. His innocence and unshakeable belief in Santa and all things Christmas make for a charming modern day tale the whole family will love. Rated PG.

2. A Christmas Story
Set in the 1940s, this film has become a holiday classic, telling the story of nine-year-old Ralphie's Christmas dream of getting a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Ralphs' antics are a hoot and the movie has become so popular that it's usually shown repeatedly on television during the holiday season, although it's available on DVD. Parents will get a real kick out the movie, and it will do kids good to see what life was like before I-pods and Playstation. Rated PG.

3. The Santa Clause
Divorced dad Scott Calvin winds up, by virtue of an accident, having to take over the job of Santa in this funny story that will prove it's good to keep believing in the magic of Christmas. Scott doesn't, until he puts on Santa's red suit and see some real changes in his life. His son, Charlie, never stops believing in his dad, or in Santa. This 1994 movie that revived Tim Allen's career withstands repeating viewing. Rated PG.

It's a Wonderful Life4. It's a Wonderful Life
Jimmy Stewart is wonderful as kind, good hearted George Bailey who is so frantic after a banking error that really wasn't his fault that he decides to kill himself. But he can't even do that, as he winds up saving his guardian angel, who then must convince George life is worth living. He does that by giving him a glimpse of what life in his hometown would be like if he'd never been born. It's a thought we all can take to heart at times when we think we don't matter. In the end, the story is so full of hope and kindness that you'll be weeping tears of joy as George celebrates his good fortune.

5. Samantha: An American Girl Holiday

A Christmas tree and snowy days are just the holiday backdrop for what is really a story of friendship and kindness set in 1904 New York, a time of change in America. Samantha, based on the popular doll, is a nine-year-old orphan being raised by her wealthy grandmother (Mia Farrow). A little lonely, she brightens when a young girl named Nellie comes to work at the house next door. They become friends despite their different social statures. And in the end, Samantha and Nellie both find happy homes for themselves. Although this made-for TV movie was targeted at young girls, the movie can easily be enjoyed by everyone in the family.  

Prancer6. Prancer
Jessica, the daughter of an poor apple farmer, is a firm believer in Santa Claus. So when she comes across a reindeer with an injured leg, she believes it is  Prancer, who had fallen from a Christmas display in town. She hides the reindeer in her barn and feeds it cookies, knowing full well she must return it to Santa. Her father (Sam Elliott) finds the reindeer an decides to sell it to the butcher. Who will win out in the end? This 1989 movie was rated G.

7. Jack Frost
Michael Keaton stars as Jack Frost, the lead singer of a band that keeps hoping to break out and make it big. His wife Gabby (Kelly Preston) and his son Charlie (Joseph Cross) complain because he's on the road so much. Jack, after missing an important moment in his son's life, gives the boy a "magic harmonica," telling him that whenever the harmonica is played, Jack will hear it. After Jack is killed on Christmas Day in an effort to be with his family, Charlie plays the harmonica, and Jack suddenly is alive again - but he's come back  as the snowman in Charlie's yard. It's fun for awhile, having a snowman for a dad. The only problem is that spring is right around the corner.

8. Simon Birch
Not exactly a Christmas movie, but with a Christmas pageant at its core, Simon Birch is about a young person with a very big heart. Simon has physical problems. He is often teased and bullied and is the laughing stock of many of his friends, especially when he talks about being chosen by God for a divine mission. "Things will be different once God makes me a hero," he promises his best friend, Joe. Both boys must struggle with the annual church Christmas pageant, which includes a reluctant Simon as the Baby Jesus. This 1998 movie was rated PG.

9. A Christmas Carol
Although George C. Scott made many memorable movies, his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge is outstanding in this 1984 TV production of the Christmas classic. It's the usual story - that of a miser, miserable and alone. He shuns Christmas and helping others, only doing things that will increase his personal wealth. But then one fateful Christmas Eve, he's visited by four spirits who try to show him another way. Will it be enough to redeem him? Because he was so horrible as Scrooge, Scott's redemption is all the more joyous.

There's No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein10.There's No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein
Despite her mother's explanation that people are Jewish in different ways, which is why Sandy Goldstein can have a Christmas tree and they cannot, Robin still desires one of her own. An Emmy-winning (for Outstanding Achievement for Children's Programs, 1994) 23-minute film, young Robin wants a tree so badly that she dreams of decorated trees beckoning to her. A night out at a Christmas party with her grandfather changes her wishes, though, when she learns that it's OK to enjoy other people's trees as you help them celebrate their holidays, just as they can help you celebrate yours.


About the Author
Ann Oldenburg is the mother of three boys, writes about entertainment for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion." (Avalon Travel)


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