Take in A Christmas Carol — the 1938 adaptation of the Dickens’ classic, above, or any other version — or any other classic Christmas films and integrate seasonal activities with the viewing.

Spruce up your Christmas movie watching

  • December 16, 2021

Since screening Christmas movies together with family and friends has become as ubiquitous as Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties, maybe it’s time to be more than just holly jolly couch potatoes. Perhaps we can find ways to integrate Christmas activities (emphasis on “active”) with the spectating.

If you already have some beloved holiday traditions, simply pair them with a favourite flick … or why not create some new traditions to accompany the films. And — need I say it? — give pride of place to a true (religious) Christmas movie and other honourings of the Nativity of Our Saviour! No time for movies pre-Christmas? There’s always the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Here are some film-specific ideas to expand the fun (and get you moving):

The Little Drummer Boy:

  1. Make hot coffee/cocoa and sandwiches for the homeless and distribute them as a group. (Gift cards to Timmies or other eating establishments are also greatly appreciated.)
  2. Have everyone bring several cans of food for a food bank with them to the screening.
  3. Fast instead of snacking during the show — in solidarity with the poor. If you add prayer and almsgiving to #3, it will be complete!

This movie could be preceded by the short The Little Match Girl (Hans Christian Andersen) — there are many versions on YouTube. I’m partial to the grainy Coronet 1978 stop motion version. Or why not read the story out loud? If all this is carried out (no pun intended) on Boxing Day, feeding the poor would be observing the true meaning of Dec. 26.

A Christmas Carol (Dickens): Since there are so many different versions, dating all the way back to the silent film era, you’ve got a lot of choices! (Why not sample a different one every year? Or if you’re true celluloid aficionados, you could have a multi-day festival dedicated to comparing several iterations.) Go Christmas caroling before or after watching. Optional: dress up in old-timey Victorian clothes. Either way, bring lanterns with real flames for a nostalgic touch. Leave each home a memento. Afterward, toast the Christ Child with homemade hot wassail punch (alcoholic or non-alcoholic).

Elf: This more recent addition to the Yuletide canon has many possibilities for audience participation. As they enter the viewing room, hand everyone a keepsake card with The Code of Elves: “1. Treat every day like Christmas. 2. There’s room for everyone on the nice list. 3. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” Take a shot of maple syrup every time the word “Christmas” or “Santa” is said, or every time maple syrup is on the screen. When the snowball fight ensues, go outside and have your own. No snow? Do battle indoors/outdoors with styrofoam balls. Be ready to sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Belch with Buddy! Enjoy the world’s best cup of coffee along with the blindfolded Zooey Deschannel. “Synch along” aloud with all the dialogue lines you know by heart.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: Do the groovy “Pig Pen and Friends” dance with the Peanuts gang or whenever the snazzy, jazzy music comes on. Recite the passage from Luke with Linus, or pause the movie and do your own proclamation of the Gospel together. Drive through the neighbourhood together at night looking for the best light displays on homes and in front yards. “Best” meaning humble and heartfelt, but shows lots of love (in the spirit of Charlie Brown’s little Christmas tree) — not necessarily the most flashy, expensive and professional-looking. Ring doorbells and give awards for the best displays (e.g., a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine, a Christmas snow globe).

The Star of Bethlehem (2007): Your nerdy friends will appreciate something more serious, studious and sober like this documentary on how the Scriptures jive with the astronomy of the Christmas Star. Geeks are not beyond cosplay, however, so everyone must come dressed as a Magi, bearing gifts of Christmas cookies.

Whichever straightforward telling of the true Christmas story movie you choose, couple it with a rosary hike, rosary walk or outdoor/indoor recitation of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary in front of a crèche. Sing a Christmas lullaby (e.g., “What Child is This,” “Huron Carol” or “Away in a Manger”) to the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

May I recommend:

Joseph of Nazareth (2000): Yes, Joseph has a movie of his own and it’s quite good, and, of course, it covers the birth.

* The Nativity Story: Sadly, the figure of Mary is a petulant teenager, but she “grows up” by the end of film, and Joseph — played by Oscar Isaac — steals the show.

* Christmas With the Chosen (2021): A “prequel” to The Chosen series on the life of Christ. The first 75 minutes of the extravaganza is Christmas hymns old and new, testimonies and Bible teaching, with the last 45 minutes being the Birth of Jesus. The focus is on “Mother Mary,” with a flash-forward to an older Mary relaying the Magnificat to Mary Magdalene to bring to Luke.

Puhleeze avoid the shoddy 2016 Joseph and Mary (watch the trailer and you’ll see what I mean).

Various films/series of the life of Christ will portray the first Christmas as well. The same goes for various films on the Mother of God. Choose your favourite!

* These two films show the Blessed Virgin Mary having pain in childbirth. Without going into a long theological dissertation, this is problematic, but outside of that, the films have a lot of worth.

(Suffice it to say that Jesus’ conception and birth were both miraculous. It’s a dogma of the Catholic faith that Mary, who was without Original Sin and its effects, remained a virgin before, during and after the birth. Perhaps the camera doesn’t belong everywhere, and we shouldn’t artistically imagine or dare to depict such a holy marvel.)

(Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. HellBurns.com  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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