I am, of course, a completely delightful person to be around during the holidays. I’ve never snapped at anyone, gotten impatient, cranky, or wanted to flee halfway around the world and just leave all you people alone so I can finally have some peace and quiet. I have never said, “I hate Christmas and everything that goes with it!” Not once.
Okay, well… maybe I’ve been—and said—all of those things and more.
The low point in my holiday career was 2004. I had been unemployed for some time, we were way behind on our mortgage and getting foreclosure notices, and I was feeling angry and bleak. It was the Saturday before Christmas and I was watching The Guns of Navarone when my neighbor from the across the street showed up. Miss Perky. Yeah, you know the one.
“Oh, hi, David,” she said, in that perky way that always bugged me. “We’re having a Christmas party this evening for a bunch of friends and their children, and I was wondering if you could be Santa.”
“Uh…” I said. “I don’t really think I’d make a very good jolly old St. Nick.”
“I have the costume and everything,” she said. “Please....”
So I did it. Got dressed up in this claustrophobia-inducing Santa outfit made entirely of polyester, put on the scratchy white beard, chugged down a nearly undrinkable glass of cheap Trader Joe’s Merlot, was roundly mocked by my eight children on my way out, and then went across the street to play Santa. We were living in Los Angeles at the time, and it was about 97 degrees out (or at least felt that way) as I rang the doorbell. I was the sweatiest, crankiest, most mean-spirited Santa ever. Miss Perky wouldn’t really talk to me after that.
So I guess the story did have something of a happy ending, in that regard.
I was The Crank, a fairly specific type of person you run into or have in your house during the holidays. But there are many others, each unique in their own way. So what are the best movies to watch with the various types of holiday personality types? Here’s our picks.
In the fall of 1843, things were not going so great for Charles Dickens. His wife was pregnant with their fifth child, and his latest book was a sales dud. His publisher was threatening to cut back his income dramatically, so Dickens needed a quick hit. He started to write A Christmas Carol with the idea of cranking it out fast and making a fast buck to get through the holidays. His tale of a mean-spirited, anti-holiday crank being won over by the season became an immediate and enduring hit. The book has never gone out of print, and its story has been told and retold in dozens of forms ever since.
My favorite version of this story is Bill Murray’s 1988 dark comedy, Scrooged. Murray is a crass, mean-spirited television executive . Let me just say that I never met that type in my 12 years as a TV writer—the TV execs I met were all delightful, warm-hearted people with the finest taste! What’s that you say? I’m never going to work in television ever again, so don’t bother? Oh, well, then this a completely accurate—and very funny—portrayal of the miserable nature of TV execs, and I recommend it highly.
Dr. Seuss retold this story in a different form in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The 1966 animated TV version is the best. It was done by Saturday morning cartoons genius Chuck Jones, and is narrated by Boris Karloff. It’s perfect. In fact, I can hear Karloff intoning the opening lines even now: “Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot…”
It’s pretty easy to get cynical and disappointed with the festival of consumerist crassitude that modern-day Christmas has become. The “War on Christmas” seems to have turned into an actual war during opening hours at Walmart on Black Friday. But then there’s the kid who still believes in Christmas and what it really means. If you’re feeling glum around the holidays and you have one of those kids in your life, maybe it’s time you sat down with that kid and watched either Elf (2003) or A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).
The Sensible, Calming Mom.
Now, this is the mom we all wanted around the house at Christmas: calm, sensible, able to handle the misdeeds and over-the-top foofaraw of the rest of the family—particularly from Dad—during the holidays. You know who I want for mom at Christmas? Ellen Griswold (Beverly d’Angelo) in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989).
The Get-Me-Outta-Here Single Woman.
Fight or flight. It’s one of the most elemental human dilemmas. Should you sit around at home during the holidays and try to make a lonely, bleak couple of days a happy and joyful event? Or do you just get the heck outta here and have some fun far away from everyone and anyone? Time for you to watch The Holiday, the 2008 Nancy Meyers film about two women—Kate Winslet in England and Cameron Diaz in Los Angeles—who switch homes for Christmas and discover love and happiness far from home. It’s a fantasy, pure and simple. But it’s a good one. Especially the Jude Law parts. And, how can you not love the scenes with the old guys.
The Lonely Kid.
It’s Christmas and there’s a kid alone, maybe actually alone, like Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) in Home Alone (1990) or just lonely like Susan Walker (Natalie Wood) in the absolutely wonderful original Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Suffering from a cold, empty, and lonely heart? Time for you to make some hot cocoa, sit down on the couch, pull up a blanket, and let these kids and their Christmases win you over.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is.