Let's start with a video that made me smile, even though on my first viewing this Christmas flick seemed to this curmudgeon to have no reference to Christ except as needed to spell "Christmas".
Someone snuck into the script bits of "Silent Night" and of "Gloria, hosanna in excelsis." Apart from these blips, Arthur Christmas is an action adventure Santa Claus movie. Beneath the surface excitement it explores motives for doing good. Other Santa Claus movies are about giving, or having faith in Santa, or having faith in faith, or rescuing Christmas. Arthur Christmas is about humility, compassion, excellence, and bravery. The four Santas (!) in Arthur Christmas are not supernatural gift-givers, displacing God. Rather, these Santas are flawed humans who learn and grow significantly.
I am not a fan of the Coca Cola Santa. I cannot in conscience tell kids to be good and Santa will bring you toys. I resent how Santa distracts from Jesus.
Way better than Santa Claus, a construct, I admire Saint Nicholas, a real person born around the year 270 in what is now the south coast of Turkey. Nicholas aimed to be like Jesus in humility and kindness. One could do worse than to be like Nicholas! My increasingly white and bushy beard makes small ones exclaim, "Mama, Santa!" As allowed, I explain that, "I am glad to meet you. I am Saint Nicholas' younger brother—his younger, handsomer brother." Thus I need not already know their name and lusts for loot. As Saint Nicholas' younger brother I can talk freely with the knee huggers of their wishes and of kindness.
If a youngster or anyone wants to know more of Saint Nicholas, I recommend VeggieTales: Saint Nicholas - A Story of Joyful Giving (2009). It is full of inventive fun that works for several age-levels.
The Big Idea of this video is, I don't give to feel happy. I give because I am happy. And I am happy because of what God gave. From scant data VeggieTales: Saint Nicholas shows how the boy Nick might have become the kindly and brave man Nicholas. As a bonus, toward the end there is a gravity-transcending "Let's do this" bit that brought a big smile to the nerd boy in me.
Finally, for the most straightforward and engaging presentation of the first Christmas, I nominate The Nativity Story (2006).
The Nativity Story makes minor expansions and compressions of the gospels and other records of the time—but no more than a typical Christmas pageant does, and with high production values. It finds a novel reason why Herod would turn taxing into a census. We see young Mary transition from fun with her friends into the responsibilities of a mother. Whereas the Bible simply summarizes that Joseph was "a just man", this portrayal shows us Joseph quietly demonstrating integrity, kindness, and bravery. The three wise men banter. I liked the respect given to Elizabeth and Zechariah as encouragers.
What for me marks a good Christmas movie—or any good movie—is present in these three quite different movies.
- Does the presentation help me grow in appreciation of God, even by indirect means?
- Do I better appreciate influential people who have gone before me, such as Mary, Joseph, and Nicholas?
- Does it encourage me to honesty, excellence, kindness, patience, bravery, justice, mercy, wisdom, and other virtues?
- Does it make me think?
- Does it make me cry?
- Does it make me smile?