Katy’s Christmas Fireplace Favourites – Top ‘Ten’

Having read numerous Top Ten Best/Worst Lists for Christmas movies and television specials, I have come to one conclusion – everybody is different. (A very recurring theme!)

What is one person’s absolute worst nightmare is another’s absolute childhood favourite. What one person would “never” show their children is another’s required annual family holiday viewing. What is a disturbing or saccharine mess for one is a thrilling or sentimental delight for the other.

I have thus decided to share my own Katy Konservativ’s Christmas Fireplace Favourites, which are entirely my own Top Ten list. These are a matter of personal preference. Those that did not make the list are still enjoyable and wonderful stories.

Without further ado…

Honourable Mentions How the Grinch Stole Christmas (both animated and live-action), The Little Drummer Boy, Home Alone & Home Alone 2, Frosty the Snowman

I really like and/or have fond memories of these films, but I certainly don’t have to watch them every year. Some of them are somewhat disturbing, whether it is the fact that a little girl goes off to save Frosty with nary a call home or the fact that in a world of otherwise correctly-depicted Middle Easterners, Mary and Jesus are blond-haired and blue-eyed. These little things really do make it hard to enjoy the stories.

  1. It’s a Wonderful LifeIt's A Wonderful LifeFor many, the quintessential Christmas Eve film. I was introduced to it in grade six. Since then, it has gradually acquired more meaning. It is a beautiful story about a man who has a nervous breakdown on Christmas Eve and contemplates suicide, only to be shown a world in which he had never been born. Unfortunately, the theology that this film relies upon to depict angels and deliver its message is dubious. (No, angels do not earn wings every time a bell rings! They don’t have to earn wings. They are separately-created beings, not humans who have died.) Aside from that hiccup, the story is meaningful and an excellent alternative to a movie about Christmas itself. The characters are fun, the setting is sweet, and the morals are clear but secondary to the plot.
  1. Tie: Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town & Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Santa Claus is Coming to TownBoth stop-motion animated classics, they are rooted in the 1960s in terms of social and gender roles. The former also butchers the origin story of Santa Claus – while still shoehorning the birth of Christ into the mix – and suffers from too much clutter in the plot. It is saved by Fred Astaire’s singing, a hilarious villain in the Burghermeister Meisterberger, and an adorable sidekick in Topper the Penguin.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerRudolph does not try to build mythology, but rather builds on an already existing world. We take it for granted that there is a fictional North Pole workshop much as we can take Narnia, Middle Earth, or Hogwarts for granted. Santa Claus and his wife also come across as appropriately Eastern European – so perhaps Putin isn’t far off in claiming the North Pole for Russia. Rudolph is a charming coming-of-age story that happens to feature a reindeer instead of a person. The songs are catchy and the characters are relatable. This year, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer turns 50 – and while it shows its age in how it depicts the females, it otherwise still feels as fresh and relevant as ever.

  1. Tie: It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown & I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown

It's Christmastime Again Charlie BrownNeither being as strong as the original Charlie Brown special, for sequels made decades afterward, they are very good and enjoyable in their own right. Christmastime Again features Marcie and Peppermint Patty, both non-existent at the time of the original special, as well as more sketches with the older characters. Sally has a classic moment that I quote often! However, it lacks the unity of the original special and really is a series of sketches tied together by the common thread of Christmas.

I Want a Dog for ChristmasI Want a Dog for Christmas has a unified plot (Lucy and Linus’s little brother Rerun wants a dog), but does not have much to do about Christmas otherwise. It is cute and poignant. I identify with Rerun’s frustrations, as well as those of Snoopy and the others. Rerun really wants a companion. This story does not resolve on a happy note – notably atypical of Christmas specials.

  1.   A Very Merry Pooh Year

Winnie_the_Pooh-_A_Very_Merry_Pooh_YearFeaturing both a Christmas episode taken from the 1990s-era television series woven seamlessly into a new story centred around the celebration of New Year’s, this special is excellent for young children. The stories are primarily about friendship. For New Year’s, Rabbit decides that he has had enough of his annoying friends and wants to move. His friends decide to change to try to entice Rabbit to stay, but they only end up scaring him further. They try to change their personalities, only to end up acting like caricatures of each other rather than themselves – losing what made them endearing to Rabbit in the first place. For a short and sweet (though secular) Christmas special for a young family, this is a good choice.

  1. A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story (1983)I only discovered this film last year – I had heard lots about it, but had not actually seen it. This is a simple story about a nine-year-old boy who desperately wants a BB gun for Christmas. Thanks to helpful narration, we get to watch the story from the perspective an older man fondly reminiscing about being a child – and we also get to remember what it was really like to be a child. It is easy to sentimentalise childhood (especially Christmas) as a time when everything was wonderful. Films like A Christmas Story remind us that it was a frustrating time. Adults did things that did not make sense. Bullies ruled the streets. Younger siblings were annoying. You had very little control over what you did.

At the same time, the parents in the film are presented realistically. They have failures and weaknesses. Even our protagonist, young Ralphie (and his adult narrator counterpart), notices that his parents have their flaws. I laughed despite wondering what was the background behind Ralphie’s parents: what dreams did they give up for their marriage? Why did they act in such a non-unified manner? What made them fall in love in the first place?

One of the best family Christmas films of the latter part of the twentieth century, I would recommend this film to anyone who wants a good laugh and a good excuse to yell at the TV.

  1. A Claymation Christmas Celebration

21-A-Claymation-Christmas-CA mixture of art, carols, and slapstick humour, this Christmas television special features superb animation and great musical numbers. It is suitable for all ages. Hosted by a comedic duo of clay dinosaurs and featuring a running joke about a certain old carol, the variety show includes doo-wop camels, skating walruses, and the California Raisins. If you love traditional Christmas carols (as I do), this makes for wonderful holiday viewing.

  1. A Muppet Family Christmas

Muppet Family Christmas (1987)Featuring not only the Muppets, but also the Sesame Street gang and the Fraggles, this family-friendly Christmas special turned into Jim Henson’s swan song. Fozzie Bear brings Kermit and the rest of the Muppets to visit his mother at her farmhouse for Christmas. There is lots of humour and singing of carols. The themes are family and acceptance. The show provides a welcome relief from marketing at Christmas (including the rampant commercialism in some other Muppet specials). One feels as though this was written as a way to give Henson a warm send-off. This is by far my favourite Muppet Christmas special.

  1. Love Actually

Love Actually (2003)A British romantic dramedy suitable for adult audiences, this film explores the various types of love and the many different choices that we make surrounding love. Released only two years after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, it offered a stark contrast to the fear-mongering rampant in contemporary media: its message was that if you look hard enough, love is actually all around.

There are a dozen main characters, most of whom are played by accomplished British and American actors (or those who have since gone on to make names for themselves), and each of them are intertwined in at least one plot about love, be it romantic love, family love, unrequited love, lust, or lost love. Weaving it all together is Christmas. This is a film that I find makes one appreciate the holiday without being overly sentimental about it.

It is also simply very funny!

  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas

A Charlie Brown ChristmasThe traditional 1965 special is unparalleled in 49 years thus far. It has a perfect blend of cynicism and optimism, tradition and modernity, commercialism and simplicity, and of Linus quoting Holy Scripture. Such a special would not likely pass the censor today. It hardly did in 1965.

What is heartwarming about the special is that is reflects how lonely and bustling the Christmas season can become, but that it can also bring people together to help out those in need. For one moment, everyone is peaceful and harmonious. The credits roll and we hope it will last, but we know it won’t. It reminds us to keep that spirit of generosity, kindness, and giving to others is what is important about Christmas – not how flashy our decorations are or how many presents we receive.

Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.

  1. A Christmas Carol

This is my favourite Christmas story, barring that of the Bible. Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is a good book to read aloud and its message is enduring: Love your fellow men (and women).

There have been many film version of this story and I cannot choose only one as my favourite, so I have made a Top Five for my number one spot:

  1. 1984 – George C. Scott version

A Christmas Carol (1984)This is a decent portrayal, albeit my least favourite. I cannot determine why I find it off-putting, but I just don’t have a sentimental connection to it. However, I know a lot of people who love this version the best. For anyone growing up in the 1980s or 1990s, this was the version that was in colour and perhaps it was more relatable than earlier versions. However, it has not aged well and we have newer, better A Christmas Carol adaptations.

  1. 1951 – Alastair Sims version

A Christmas Carol (1951)Until 2009, this was my favourite traditional version of A Christmas Carol. Despite its age and the liberties taken with Dickens’s story and characters, this version remains true to the spirit of the novel and Alastair Sims’s portrayal of Scrooge is hilarious as much as it is melancholy and terrifying. This version also includes a death scene for Scrooge’s sister – notably missing in the book and in other versions. However, it still lacks what I think is a crucial scene – that of Scrooge’s ex-fiancée grown up and happily married. No film that I have seen has included this scene as of yet.

  1. 2009 – Jim Carrey version

A-Christmas-Carol-2009This film actually included the ex-fiancée scene as an incomplete deleted scene. It is too bad that this sequence had to be cut. I think it really contributes to Scrooge’s character and his angry dismissal of the Ghost of Christmas Past.

This is definitely the most colourful and whimsical version that I have scene. The music is excellent and the religious imagery is as present as it can be in a Disney film. The animation is beautiful and Jim Carrey not only plays a wonderful Scrooge, but also all of the Spirits. Like Sims, Carrey uses comedy to convey the misery that is Scrooge’s character. We feel so sorry for him that we have to laugh – just like his nephew.

  1. The Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)My favourite adaptation that plays around with the basic novel, The Muppet Christmas Carol simplifies the plot while at the same time including elements of the narration lost in other adaptations. Thanks to Gonzo as the narrator, we are treated to some of Dickens’s best jokes and puns – which are further expanded upon by Rizzo’s commentary. The antics of these two contrasts nicely with the seriousness of the other Muppets in their roles. Meanwhile, Michael Caine as Scrooge (along with the other human actors) play their parts extremely seriously and earnestly. Even as Gonzo and Rizzo regularly break the fourth wall, we are transported into Dickensian London and feel a part of the story. Furthermore, the songs are catchy and meaningful. This is a fun family film that fails to lose its magic as the years pass.

  1. 1999 – Patrick Stewart version

A Christmas Carol 1999Shortly after seeing the 2009 version of A Christmas Carol, I stumbled upon this version at the public library. I was intrigued to watch Patrick Stewart take on the role of Scrooge – and I was not disappointed. He plays the role in such a way as to be at once repulsive and also relatable. He is not a caricature – he seems very much like a middle-aged businessman. A miserly, crotchety middle-aged businessman, yes, but a normal one. He is very rational. He is sensible. He suffers. He has a sense of humour even before his change of heart. It is scary how normal he is, because we can all easily become Scrooge. We do not have to be Victorian businessmen to do so.

This version feels to me to be the most genuine. It captures the spirit of the original story and adds new decorative elements such as contemporary Victorian songs sung by characters. Religion also plays a significant role and this is the only version to date that a reformed Scrooge attends church on Christmas Day – even though, given his experience, this would be a very likely course of action for him. The montage of Christmas scenes that the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge on in the book is also included.

The other characters are also portrayed in a realistic manner. We can see how Bob Cratchit and his wife have become the way that they are. The Cratchit children are appropriately childlike and Martha – often portrayed as an older teenager or young adult – is barely fourteen or fifteen years old, as would be expected in the era. Scrooge’s nephew and his wife and friends are also relatable and portrayed as a fun group of people that Scrooge would indeed have missed out on visiting with.

This version of A Christmas Carol is not the funniest or the most flashy, but it is the most relatable and truest to the heart of the story.

1999-xmas-happy-scroogeGod bless us, everyone.

Happy Christmas and New Year!

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