“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
A couple weeks ago on a frigidly windy day, we popped Elf featuring Will Ferrell into the DVD player as we ladled soup and cut warm slices of bread. Dinner and a Christmas movie—a seasonal treat. Our youngest appeared within seconds of hearing the opening soundtrack and said, “Finally! We’re watching a family Christmas movie!”
We love our movies. We have a certain set that we make sure to schedule during December. I love stories and believe in the power of story. And as December can be as wearying and exhausting as it is beautiful, movies give my family a chance to rest and to be together—to snuggle under blankets, chat and laugh and share tasty winter treats.
And although movies can be just more noise in an already noisy season, we’ve found a stillness, a calm in being together in these stories. We know, as J.I Packer says, that “…nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.” But I believe the movies we love most—the ones we gravitate toward again and again—echo elements and themes from the Story we most want to savor this Christmas season.
Here are a few of our favorites, plus appropriate food pairings for each movie.
Why we love it: Creative and fun, Arthur Christmas is the story of Santa’s youngest son. Awkward, accident prone and overlooked, he doesn’t let anything dampen his love for his family and for the joy of Christmas. He believes wholeheartedly that every child matters and he believes the best of everyone around him.
Movie snacks: Hot cocoa (or just a glass of milk!) and chocolate chip cookies. We are speaking of Santa, after all. Our basic hot cocoa recipe: Simmer four cups milk (or almond milk) on medium heat, stirring constantly until warm. In a separate bowl, mix 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and three to four ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped; add mix to milk, reduce heat to simmer and stir until chocolate melts and cocoa is thick (two-ish minutes).
Why we love it: When we first watched this movie, my youngest girl (then 6-years-old) was captivated. This story creates wonder and laughter. Based on the books by William Joyce, the cast of mythical guardians defies stereotypes (e.g., the Easter Bunny is a sarcastic Australian jackrabbit). We love the humor, the magic but also the message that we are stronger together — isolation leaves us susceptible to despair and hopelessness.
Food of the Guardians: There is literally zero food eaten in this movie, but as my daughter is super into making cupcakes these days, we recommend simple “Jack Frost” cupcakes: white cake mix, vanilla buttercream frosting, topped with shredded coconut.
Why we love it: Number one, it’s hilarious. It’s so good to laugh together as a family. Number two, it’s the most quotable movie of the last half century. I can’t even pick one line. I’m smiling just thinking about this movie because “I like smiling. Smiling’s my favorite.” Sorry, had to do it. And number three, we like the themes of family, adoption and finding a place to belong. We cheer for Buddy the Elf and love how genuine and honest he is.
Buddy the Elf hot cocoa: basic hot cocoa recipe (see above), topped with copious amounts of whipped cream, marshmallows and chocolate sauce, sprinkled with crushed candy canes and chocolate sprinkles, complete with a candy cane stir stick.
Why we love it: Think a Christmas version of Mary Poppins. Based on Debbie Macomber’s book Mrs. Miracle, this movie combines light-hearted fun with a powerful message of forgiveness. (Also check out Call Me Mrs. Miracle, an equally beloved sequel.)
Mrs. Miracle’s dessert of choice: Angel food cake topped with strawberries and whipped cream and homemade Christmas sugar cookies.
Why we love it: What’s not to love? Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye star in this Christmas musical classic. These two are amazing — witty, sarcastic, endearing, loyal and kind-hearted.
My kids request it starting in November each year. My girls perform renditions of “Sisters,” choruses of “Snow, Snow, Snow!” are sung at each snowfall and “White Christmas” sing-a-longs abound. It also boasts one of the greatest ending scenes in history. Trust me. I won’t spoil it for you, but this movie is “far superior to my cocker spaniel.” And I loved my cocker spaniel.
White Christmas fare: It’s all about the sandwiches. Ham on rye, turkey or liverwurst (no thanks to liver anything—I’ll roast hot dogs over a fire pit instead). Try a glass of buttermilk if you are adventurous or lemonade (better option) or “a malted,” which is essentially a chocolate malt milkshake.
Why we love it: Julie Andrews. Singing nuns. What more could one ask for? This movie was broadcast on television every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas when I was growing up, so it became a Christmas movie. We love the music and the plot but we also have great discussions on the history behind the movie and the cost of standing for what is right.
The food is in the song:
Doe, a deer, a female deer
Ray, a drop of golden sun
Me, a name, I call myself
Far, a long, long way to run
Sew, a needle pulling thread
La, a note to follow So
Tea, a drink with jam and bread
That will lead us back to Do, oh, oh, oh…
Catchy tune. You’re welcome.
Or buy some apple strudel and Swiss chocolate (Lindt or Toblerone). Sometimes we chop a gourmet chocolate bar into steamed milk for our cocoa, this being a perfect opportunity to make real Swiss cocoa. None of this “Swiss Miss” nonsense.
Why we love it: Does anyone not love this movie? I’m hard-pressed to think of a movie that better settles our hearts on Jesus this season.
Lucy: “Merry Christmas, sir.”
Father Christmas: “It certainly is, Lucy. Since you have arrived.”
Susan: “I thought there was no Christmas in Narnia.”
Father Christmas: “No. For a long time. But the hope which you have brought, Your Majesties, is finally starting to weaken the Witch’s power.”
The White Witch’s cocoa: Use base hot cocoa recipe but replace cocoa powder with a ¾-ish (to taste) cup white chocolate chips. Top with whipped cream and coarsely chopped white chocolate or Torani’s White Chocolate Sauce. Also, Turkish Delight can often be found in stores (and on Amazon.com) this time of year.
These movies make me smile and laugh and cry for many reasons, but they all share one common theme. One person. One person comes into a family or a community and changes it for the better. We can all feel like Buddy the Elf as he writes: “I’m sorry I ruined your lives…and crammed 11 cookies into the VCR.” We feel our failure and inadequacies. We can’t see that we make a difference.
These movies portray characters who changed their space by being exactly who they were created to be—bumbling and flawed yet beautiful with invaluable gifts and strengths. We cheer for them because we want to believe that what we do matters. But most importantly, they reflect the miraculous, spectacular truth of what we celebrate this Christmas—one person, one baby, God in the flesh who changed the course of history. His first breath, his first cries in a dingy, dirty dwelling, changing my every day and your every day.
And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly. . . . God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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