Christmas Activities: The Best Christmas Movies For Holiday Gatherings

Here are some great Christmas movies, just perfect for watching while snuggling under an afghan with a hot cocoa and a loved one.

During the busy Christmas season, sometimes we need a bit of time to kick back, snuggle under a warm afghan with a hot beverage, and watch one of our favorite movies. That's not the only scenario that's ideal for watching your favorite flick, however. Some folks integrate this activity into the family togetherness arena, and still others offer holiday movies during parties or gatherings as part of their celebration. Most people have a favorite Christmas movie - maybe a classic or, perhaps, something a bit more contemporary. If this sounds like a tempting way to spend one of your evenings during the holiday, here are some wonderful movies that reflect the Christmas season - some of which are funny; others poignant; and still others just part of some folks' family yuletide tradition. For the sake of convenience, these are listed in chronological order.

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945)

Elizabeth (played by Barbara Stanwyck) is quite comfortable with her life as a renowned food columnist - even though she's living a lie. To her fans, she's a devoted wife and mother who combines a hard day's work on the farm with her genius for cooking, to create an image that would find June Cleaver lacking. The reality is that Elizabeth is single, childless and barely learned to boil water during her New York upbringing. Even the recipes for her column aren't hers - they're supplied by her friend, Felix. The problems arise when the owner of the magazine for which she writes informs her that a sailor will be spending Christmas with her on her farm in Connecticut. Elizabeth panics when she realizes that, if this visit takes place, everyone - including her boss - will know the truth. In an attempt to maintain her story, she has to get quite creative, or her life - and her career - will be ruined. This movie ends up being a wonderful, classic Christmas romance, done in true legendary style, and is perfect as the backdrop for snuggling on the couch with that special someone on a cold winter's night.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

Where would the town of Bedford Falls be without George Bailey? That's a question that only Clarence - George's guardian angel - can answer. When George realizes that he's misplaced an $8,000 loan at the bank where he's employed, he panics and decides that the only way to escape the consequences imposed by the villainous bank owner - Mr. Potter - is to commit suicide. To that end, George makes the decision to jump from a local bridge on Christmas Eve, but ends up saving the life of someone else - a man who turns out to be none other than his own guardian angel, Clarence. In a style that mirrors Scrooge's surreal experience with the ghosts of Christmas, the old angel takes George on a trip through time to see how life would have been in the town of Bedford Falls, had he never been born. As they go from scene to scene, exploring the many good deeds that George has performed during his lifetime, the rest of the citizens of Bedford Falls gather to pray for him. After being shown how much of an impact his life has made on others through the years, George finally sees that the problems that he's having are no reason to end his life, and that he has quite a bit to be grateful for. In the end, he changes his mind and returns to his loving family and friends - resulting in Clarence finally earning his wings. This is a truly poignant holiday movie, elevated to the status of "classic" by the legendary James Stewart.

WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954)

Perhaps one of the greatest holiday classics of all time, White Christmas weaves a delightful story of two ex-Army men - Bob Wallace and Phil Davis - who roam around the country performing for captivated audiences. This highly talented song and dance duo meets up with a pair of performing sisters - who are quite beautiful - with whom they quickly become smitten. When the Haynes sisters (Betty and Judy) board the train for Vermont in order to perform in a Christmas show at a mountain lodge, Bob and Phil decide to tag along. As the movie unfolds, the four arrive at the lodge, only to discover that the proprietor is Wallace and Davis' former commander, General Waverly. In an attempt to help the General recoup the losses of his failing business, the men agree to perform in the show, as well, in order to draw a large crowd and generate more revenue for the lodge. In the interim, the two men and their female counterparts become quite close and end up finding romance times two. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye team up with Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen to offer some of the most glorious performances that have ever graced the screen.

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)

If slapstick comedy is your proverbial cup of tea, then you're in for a treat when you spend the evening with Chevy Chase and the rest of the National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation cast. The story opens to find Clark Griswold and his family preparing for both the Christmas holiday and the several family members who will be joining them. As the guests trickle in, Clark feels his stress level increasing - only to be kept in check by the anticipation of a large bonus check, which is due to arrive at any time. As his anxiety builds, the world around him begins to test his limits when a visiting uncle inadvertently sets his Christmas tree on fire, the turkey dinner is ruined by a cousin whose forte is not cooking, a squirrel gets into the house and terrorizes everyone, the family cat gets electrocuted, the obnoxious neighbors wage war and - well into the evening of Christmas Eve - the bonus check still hasn't arrived. Just as he's lost hope of ever seeing his bonus, a special messenger arrives at the door with an envelope for him. When he opens the envelope and discovers that, instead of a big bonus check, he's been enrolled in the Jelly of the Month Club, Clark snaps. After listening to Clark's ravings, his cousin - Eddie - decides to surprise Clark by kidnapping his boss and bringing him to the house, so that Clark can vent his anger toward him. The entertainment continues when the police arrive to arrest Clark for kidnapping. Of course, it works out in the end, when his boss has a change of heart and decides to issue a hefty check, after all. All in all, this is a fun movie, designed to keep you laughing throughout.

YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS (1991)

Based on the true story of 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon's letter to the New York Sun in 1897, asking the editor if there really is a Santa Claus, this movie chronicles the events of a cosmopolitan city at the turn of the century, and its reaction to one little girl's innocent question. In the movie, Francis P. Church (played, surprisingly, by Charles Bronson) is having a hard time accepting the death of his wife and receives a special assignment - answering the question that parents have been fielding for centuries: Is there really a Santa Claus? As a result of his finely tuned answer, the column that ran the response to Virginia's question taught an inspiring lesson of the true meaning of Christmas and was loved by all. In reality, the letter that was sent to the New York Sun in 1897 was such a sensation, as a result of the feelings that it inspired, that it was reprinted on a yearly basis until the newspaper finally folded in 1949. The cast of characters includes Charles Bronson, Ed Asner, Richard Thomas and a plethora of others, combining their talents to make this a wonderful movie that's appropriate for the entire family and that delves into the philosophies of life with a very positive outlook.

THE SANTA CLAUSE (1994)

If you're a Tim Allen fan, you'll love this delightfully comedic interpretation of how Santa Claus came to be, and the trials and tribulations of one man who suddenly has to fill the shoes of the jolly old elf when he falls from a rooftop while attempting to deliver the gifts late one Christmas Eve. Scott Calvin - a divorced dad who accidentally kills Santa Claus as he's delivering his yearly gifts - finds himself in the middle of some holiday mayhem, when his young son (Charlie) convinces him to try on Santa's outfit. Unbeknownst to Scott, the act of putting on St. Nick's suit obligates him to become Santa's replacement. Soon afterward, Scott begins the transformation process and his life is thrown into chaos. Family, friends and co-workers are alarmed by what they perceive as a breakdown and, as a result, Scott loses his friends, his job and the visitation rights with his beloved son, Charlie. With the help of Bernard, the #1 elf at the North Pole, Scott navigates his way through turmoil and is eventually able to convince his ex-wife that he really is Santa Claus. That done, Scott regains visitation with his son and goes on to become the greatest Santa that the North Pole has ever seen.

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (2000)

Jim Carey does a marvelous job expounding upon the original movie in this lively contemporary adaptation. From his humble beginnings as a furry green infant - brought to earth in a balloon basket - the Grinch attempts to fit in with the other members of society; but the people of Whoville are not accepting of this strange little boy who's never able to melt into the crowd. While struggling with his feelings of affection for pretty Martha May Whovier, the malicious teasing of the other children in his class finally drives him from the town of Whoville to the top of Mount Crumpet, where he lives the life of a sour recluse, fueled by his hatred of the Whos - and, in particular, their celebration of Christmas. When confronted by the mischievous Grinch one day in the back room of the post office, Cindy Lou Who becomes intrigued by the outcast and makes it her personal mission to re-integrate him into Whoville society. After facing a number of obstacles - and lots of great comedy - she's finally able to bring him to the town's public ceremonies, at which he wreaks havoc. When he decides to "steal" Christmas from the Whos and Cindy Lou Who arrives on the scene, the old Grinch has a conversion of heart which results in his moving back to Whoville and taking a wife - the lovely Martha May Whovier.

THE SANTA CLAUSE 2 (2002)

This rousing sequel to the 1994 original is, to some, even more enjoyable than the first. Scott Calvin has been filling the role of Santa for eight years - with much help from Bernard, the Head Elf - when some disturbing news causes chaos in an, otherwise, idyllic life at the North Pole. Charlie, Scott's teenage son, has been getting himself into trouble at school and has found himself on Santa's Naughty List. On the heels of that news comes the announcement that Scott must get married by Christmas Eve, as a result of a forgotten "Mrs. Clause" (the second clause in Scott's original contract), or he'll no longer be Santa. In an attempt to be in two places at one time, Curtis (the #2 Elf) devises a way to clone Santa so that he can continue to oversee the operations at the North Pole, but also go home to untangle the mess involving Charlie. As the "desantification" process becomes apparent, Scott struggles to understand his son while he simultaneously attempts to find a wife - with only 28 days in which to do so. In the meantime, the clone at the North Pole has become an evil dictator and has turned Santa's home into a slave mill. Through luck, magic and more than a bit of charm, Scott eventually sets Charlie on the right track, overturns the clone's empire and - with one minute to spare before his time expires - marries the woman of his dreams: Charlie's high school principal.

There are many more truly wonderful Christmas movies that are available, and it seems as though more are being produced all the time. Whether one of these or some other holiday favorite intrigues you, make some time to settle in with a great Christmas movie this year - and leave the shopping for another day.

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