Few holiday traditions are as time-honored as grabbing some hot cocoa, lighting a fire, and cuddling up in front of a Christmas movie. While films like White Christmas, Elf, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Story have rightfully earned their place as annually-watched classics, none of them focus specifically on Jesus Christ. The “reason for the season” is often absent from lists of the best holiday cinema. So, without disparaging those other films (which I very much enjoy), may I suggest a few movies that entertain while putting the Lord at the center of Christmas worship?
A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
This is an annual must-watch for many families, as the Peanuts gang unites to celebrate Christmas. It’s very funny, with terrific music and a timeless message: charity and Christ, not commercialism, are the holiday’s true meaning.
CHRISTMAS WITH A CAPITAL C
Using a small Alaskan town as the setting to explore the culture wars between secularism and Christianity, Christmas with a Capital C admittedly struggles with some ham-fisted storytelling and cheesy characterization for its first half. To its enormous credit, however, it gains traction as it transcends initial “us vs. them” arguments to examine the real-world value of the Savior’s command that we love our enemies instead of judging them, and that our commitment to Him should be manifest in our actions and attitudes, not just our bumper stickers. Once it fleshes out the characters, it actually becomes quite moving, and the Alaskan scenery is lovely.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE
Faithful, big-budget Disney adaptation of the classic C.S. Lewis novel, this tale is rich with Christian symbolism. Imaginative storytelling and great special effects are among the highlights as four British children from the WWII-era step through a wardrobe into a mystical land where the righteous lion Aslan does battle with the evil White Witch. It’s essentially the story of Jesus Christ told through a fantastical allegory which, combined with abundant snow and a meaningful cameo by Santa Claus, makes this a perfect fit for families around Christmas.
THE FOURTH WISE MAN
Terrifically moving TV movie stars Martin Sheen and Alan Arkin as the fourth wise man and his servant, respectively, who spend their days searching for the Messiah but are continually delayed when the magi cannot help but serve those in need. Though a made-for-TV budget leads to a few less-than-impressive displays of makeup, Sheen and Arkin, and indeed all of the key players, give fantastic performances in this extremely moving portrayal of the heart of Christianity: charity.
JOY TO THE WORLD
Wonderful short film, produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, portrays the Nativity story in both the Old World and the Americas, as well as the celebration of Christmas in modern times, with music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Perfect for getting you into the holiday spirit.
MR. KRUEGER’S CHRISTMAS
Legendary actor Jimmy Stewart's otherChristmas movie is a touching 30-minute film in which an old janitor fantasizes about happier Christmases, singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and ultimately kneeling before the newborn Savior. First-rate music and a very touching performance by Stewart make this a must-watch during the holidays. Directed by Kieth Merrill (Legacy, The Testaments, 12 Dogs of Christmas).
THE NATIVITY STORY
This overlooked gem has it all: gorgeous visuals, wonderful acting, powerful music, and stellar direction. What's more, it's faithful to the biblical account while fleshing out the story with rich historical detail and thoughtful explorations of the challenges faced by Joseph and Mary. Absolutely mesmerizing, with one of the most exemplary husbands and one of the most faithful women in the history of film. Engaging from start to finish, this is one to put on your “must-view” list this Christmas season.
The latest from acclaimed filmmaker Christian Vuissa (read my interview here), Silent Night is a story told with passion and subtle patriotism. This is the true story of Austrian priest Joseph Mohr, and how his ministry among the people of a small town drew him closer to Christ and inspired him to write the classic hymn Silent Night. This is a sublime and inspiring true story, skillfully made and sweetly acted. You’ll want to watch it every year.
STATES OF GRACE
States of Gracepowerfully demonstrates the modern-day relevance of the Gospel, the painful consequences of sin, our need for the Savior, and the long reach of the Atonement. Ittells of how a drive-by shooting sets into motion a series of events that will alter the lives of a lapsed-Christian actress, a Pentecostal preacher, a gang-banger, and two Latter-day Saint missionaries forever. Terrific acting and an uncompromising screenplay are the film's greatest strengths. This film is intense, so parents be warned. It will break your heart before filling you with hope and joy, demonstrating the need for Christ in the modern world better than any film I know. You'll know by the end why it's a terrific Christmas film. Rated PG-13 for gang violence and thematic material.
THE ULTIMATE GIFT
An involving, well-acted movie that is definitely worth your time. A vain young man is left an inheritance from a recently deceased rich relative (James Garner), who requires him to perform a series of character-building tasks before he can acquire it. Some of the most poignant final scenes occur around Christmastime. Funny and touching, with a great cast including Abigail Breslin (Signs), and Brian Dennehy (Return to Snowy River).
VEGGIETALES: THE ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS COLLECTION
Loads of fun, and a great value to boot, this collection is bursting with poignant storytelling, delightfully witty writing, and catchy songs. It includes all of the VeggieTalesChristmas specials (“The Toy that Saved Christmas,” “The Star of Christmas,” “Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving,” “It's a Meaningful Life” and “The Little Drummer Boy!”) as well as a sing-along special feature and a bonus CD of 25 Christmas carols by the VeggieTales gang. Going for about $15 on Amazon, this one will keep the kids entertained for hours while teaching them, time and again, that Jesus is the reason for the season. Adults will love it too (I can testify to that from first-hand experience).
Did I miss any Christ-centered Christmas movies? Let me know!
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.