One of my favorite things about this time of year is reminiscing on my family’s holiday memories growing up — from our annual tradition of watching Die Hard on Thanksgiving with our dessert to reciting lines from A Muppets Christmas Carol at random times throughout the rest of the year. There is something about this season that makes you recall memories and childhood traditions with a sacred fondness.
If we can truly find and experience God in all things, then yes, we can even find spiritual truths and principles in some of our favorite, most beloved Christmas movies. Here are just a few for you to add to your Christmas viewing traditions this year. (Warning! There are spoilers.)
Christmas in Connecticut
Lesson: Let God Surprise You
This classic black-and-white film starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet is a fun and light-hearted story about Elizabeth Lane, a well-known food writer who has built her platform on the premise of being a wife and mother living on a farm in Connecticut. She lies about being married, an amazing cook, living on a farm in Connecticut, and having a baby. In actuality, she is a single woman who can’t cook to save her life, living in a one-bedroom apartment in NYC. Her lies fall apart when her boss and a returning WWII hero invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas in the country.
This film reminds me how sometimes God is most found in the surprises of life—both the exciting and difficult ones. Elizabeth rejects the proposal of a man who “seems” perfect for her, yet she is not in love with him. And then, as the plot thickens and the story develops, she finds herself drawn to someone else.
Sometimes in life, God’s surprises are much better than we could have imagined. Maybe that is a small reminder to trust in the divine plan, not ourselves.
It’s A Wonderful Life
Lesson: You are Never Alone
One of the greatest crises in our world today is that of loneliness. People are more depressed, anxious and lonely than in generations past. One of the beautiful lessons of this particular movie is the reminder that, truly, we are never alone in this life. This classic, directed by Frank Capra, was not originally intended as a Christmas movie, but over the years, it has been associated with this time of year.
The complex and beautiful story of the main character, George Bailey, shows the viewer his life from his childhood to adulthood as a married man with his own family. In a moment of desperation and fear, he thinks it is better to end his life than bring dishonor to his family and town.
As the movie unfolds, George takes a backward walk through his life and sees the difference his life made in the world, especially to those closest to him. By the end, it changes his heart, leaving him begging God “to live again.”
It’s the final scene in this movie that best illustrates how truly we are never alone. — There are so many people who love, value and care for us more than we could imagine. All the townspeople come through, donating money to support George and again, he is overwhelmed with appreciation for how people have supported him.
This movie reminds the viewer of the power of a life-giving community. And as George’s spicy guardian angel reminds him, “No man is truly alone who has friends.”
A Muppets Christmas Carol
Lesson: You are Not the Sum of your Weaknesses or Sins
This delightful movie is probably one of the top three favorite Christmas movies for my family. You can’t watch this movie and not smile — not to mention that Michael Caine makes an amazing Ebenezer Scrooge.
All of us are somewhat familiar with the classic Christmas story of A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens. And while there have been many interpretations over the years, this is the perfect one to share with your family. The story is retold with all of our favorite Muppet characters and complete with lots of funny one-liners and singalongs that just fill your heart with the joy of the season.
Whenever I watch this movie, it reminds me of the story of St. Augustine — hang tight with me friends! By the end, Scrooge is no longer defined by his past of cheating people, disregarding the poor, and self-absorption. Similar to Augustine, who’s past sinful indiscretions have been redeemed.
Nobody is the sum of their greatest failing, weaknesses or sins. Rather, we are the sum of the radical and reckless love of God, who would (and did do) anything to save us from ourselves.
Lesson: It is Better to Give than Receive
It’s not the Christmas season until I watch this movie by the light of my Christmas tree. There are so many fond memories of this movie from childhood — especially dressing up with my sister and singing and dancing to the Haynes sisters’ routine of the “Sisters” song.
Starring big-name stars like Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, this is perhaps one of the most beloved Christmas movies. The song that Bing Crosby made famous, White Christmas, stands as one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time.
Aside from the beautiful singing and dance routines that make this Christmas classic what it is, we see the beauty that comes through the gift of oneself throughout the film. Concerned for their retired beloved general, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis (Crosby and Kaye) make an unprecedented effort to gather the men who served in their army division to show and remind General Waverly how loved and appreciated he is — that he is not forgotten.
Wallace and Davis work to put on a show celebrating General Waverly while helping bring significant business to his failing ski lodge, the Pinetree Inn, in Vermont.
I am sure each of us loves to receive a thoughtful gift — but sometimes — the true gift is in giving to another. Making another human being feel seen, heard and loved. To will their good over our own. As Christians, we see this most fully embodied in Jesus, who gave his life for our sins.
Whenever you sit down with friends or family to watch some of these or other classic movies this holiday season, maybe ask the Holy Spirit — what is the spiritual lesson here for me? How can I find God here?
You just might be surprised.