Art and life and the holidays  

This post is an oldie from 2014, but the holidays abide – enjoy!

The holidays bring out the best and worst of all human characteristics. Art plays a big part of the memories we hold in our minds as we make our way through the season, and movies, in particular, have played a big part in our collective memory. Although the movie industry is one of the most lucrative creative careers today, I am sure that as the directors, producers, and actors planned out these movies they were not just thinking about profit. These movies are now an important part of our popular culture. After thinking about which movies I return to year after year, I noticed they have something in common: a story based on hope and a happy ending. Here are five of my personal must-see movies for the holiday season:

Trading Places: One of my favorites – a story of entitlement vs reality in a Christmas holiday setting. Lots of very dark humor, such as when street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) meets up with the Duke brothers who own a commodities trading company. When Valentine attempts to panhandle from the Duke brothers, they beat him around the head with a rolled up Wall Street Journal. Dan Ackroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis add to the team that turns the tables against the Duke Brothers, representing a quintessential battle against the moneyed elite, people of color and societies outsiders. One of my favorite scenes is Dan Ackroyd dressed as Santa and stealing from the holiday buffet of his former employer – flash to the next scene and see him pull out smoked salmon from inside his jacket and gnaw on it (and his beard) while riding home on the bus. A happy ending on an island vacation paradise rolling in money and eating sumptuous foods.

White Christmas: Set in the early 1950’s, this is a period piece that continues to be a classic over 60 years later. The setting is Vermont after WWII, and the nostalgia for the camaraderie of the war is spiced up with Irving Berlin’s music, choreography, and spectacular dance sets. And then there is the final scene where the snow is falling and Bing Crosby sings I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas and gives viewers the happy ending everyone was hoping for.

A Christmas Story:  This take on Christmas nostalgia relates well to the baby boomer generation. The memory of the Christmas parade centered around the town’s local department stores with their fantastic Santa dioramas, and fantasizing for a BB gun might be incomprehensible to today’s children. Even so, there are moments where it is timeless; children’s anticipation for gifts, the fuzziness between reality and childhood experience and holiday foods, are all something that kids today can relate. The movie has a happy ending with Ralphie sleeping next to his BB gun on Christmas night.

Die Hard: Perhaps a strange choice for a holiday movie, but somehow setting the story of a terrorist attack in a high-rise building on Christmas Eve brings everything about the holidays together. A group of terrorists show up as McClane, a NY detective comes to LA to reunite with his wife at her corporate Christmas party at the office high rise. Lots of scenes with good vs evil and the two main character cops are portrayed as the good guys. The happy ending is that the good guys win, McClane and wife are reunited and go home to celebrate Christmas day together with their children.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: The quintessential American Christmas story about Clark Griswold’s hopes of creating a fairy tale old-fashioned Christmas for his entire family. Since this is a comedy, it’s no spoiler alert to say this movie goes from scene to scene with funny moments that make you laugh out loud as you are cringing. From the procurement of the tree out in the wilderness to decorating the outside of the house with lights, all the tiny details add up to a string of disasters. Clark’s valiant attempts to create a spectacular Christmas with the holiday lights, and his intention to make the house the best on the block, takes on the symbol of Clark’s manhood and his achievement as a provider. All of the family members are parodies that we can all relate to and we smile with anticipation as each new holiday situation arrives at the Griswold home: one of the best one-liners was from Clark’s wife, Ellen Griswold: “ I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.” As the Christmas holiday proceeds with Christmas tree fires, squirrel attacks, and the destruction of the dining room by the cousin’s dog, Ellen wonders if it could get any worse. Clark responds “How could things get any worse? We’re at the threshold of hell!” Despite all the challenges, the Griswold family does manage to have the best old-fashioned Christmas ever, including a happy ending with entire cast singing Deck the Halls.

Screen shots of images from the movies are used through Fair Use – I receive no compensation for this article.


  1. When I read that you were going to list 5 Christmas movies, I scrolled down to look for A Christmas Story. Love the tongue-stuck-on-the-pole scene and the “you’ll shoot your eye out” refrain. Love White Christmas, too. Need to catch up on the others!


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