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The 5 Things You Apparently Don’t Need to Make a Christmas Classic

December 16, 2020
3 min read time

Can you create a Christmas classic without Santa Claus? Or even snow? Apparently, you can.

In fact, some of the most classic holiday films that show up in November and December (and are considered must-sees every year) don’t touch on some of the hallmarks of Christmas and lack the tropes that seem to appear in almost every single holiday film.

If you’ve ever wanted to write a Christmas classic but thought you had to include some of the staples of the genre, here are five things you don’t necessarily need to include:

  1. Santa Claus

Santa doesn’t pop up in many Hallmark movies and he’s not around in many of our favorite Christmas classics. From It’s a Wonderful Life to Love Actually to 2018’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms; Santa Claus is absent, showing that you don’t need the man from the North Pole to make your holiday film a classic.

Any movie based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol will be void of any Santa Claus. Favorites like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (with the exception of the opening credit scene) lack a Santa appearance and Home Alone has one short scene with someone Kevin knows is a man dressed up.

  1. Children

Okay, so it’s not that you don’t need children in your Christmas movie, you just don’t need them as main characters. Many movies have cute and innocent children running around whose beliefs are fragile or are pushing the adults in their lives to be more in the holiday spirit (e.g., Miracle on 34th Street, The Polar Express, The Santa Clause) but it’s not necessary.

It’s a Wonderful Life barely has the Bailey kids in the picture, although young George Bailey and his crew are prominent in the beginning. A Christmas Carol does have Tiny Tim but he’s certainly not a main character. And yes, even movies-of-the-week always have that perfect child whose single parent is one of the love interests but they don’t always have little ones running around. This year’s If I Only Had Christmas starring Hallmark’s perennial star Candace Cameron Bure or USS Christmas don’t have children as a major part of the story.

Also, there are many adult-themed Christmas movies that are favorites around this time of year; including The Holiday, The Night Before, and The Family Stone.

So, while it does seem like children and Christmas movies go hand-in-hand, they certainly are not a necessity. For those budget-minded writers, remember that kids add production costs such as on-set tutors and limited hours of availability  both of which mean more shooting days.

  1. Family themes

Every Hallmark movie is rated G. Most modern Christmas movies are designed for wholesome fun. But we all need a break from the sugar-coated Christmas must-sees. There are antihero classics to prove wholesome fare isn’t always a must.

One of the top contenders for the non-family-themed prize is Bad Santa. I’d love to quote some of the lines from this 2003 cult classic but I don’t think it would make it past the editor. While there is heart to the story, it’s not something you’ll want to watch with the kids.

You’ll also want to hold off showing the children Love Actually. Not only will the adult themes go over their head, you might have to explain what John and Judy do for a living (spoiler alert: these characters are stand-ins for sex scenes in movies).

And finally, Christmas/horror movies are around, which include Krampus and Black Christmas.

  1. Jesus Christ

It all started with the birth of Jesus Christ, yet almost every single holiday classic doesn’t mention the reason for the season. Rarely does any character visit a church or say a prayer. While there are carols sung that hint on the religious background, those feel more like a way of using public domain music to avoid copyright infringement.

Nonetheless, there are a few classics out there such as The Star, The Nativity Story and Black Nativity that are specifically the story of Christ or have religious meaning.

  1. Snow

Everyone seems to dream of that white Christmas but even White Christmas didn’t have much snow, at least not until the very end. Neither did Four Christmases, Die Hard (if you consider it a Christmas movie  that’s another argument though) and Bad Santa. The thing is that most Christmas movies without snow take place in warm climates like Los Angeles or Phoenix or the lack of snow is part of the plot.

So, what apparently makes a Christmas classic truly timeless? According to Ben Mankiewicz, one of the things that make a Christmas movie a classic is that it must have some emotional resonance that lasts beyond the immediate viewing of the movie. While Christmas movies do have the expectation of being seen every year in December, which increases its chances to be a perennial must-watch, what helps send it into that classic status is similar to any other film: it’s the way it makes us feel and its re-watchability.

When everyone who Buddy the Elf in Elf has met throughout the story sings at the end of the movie, we’re touched. When all those who George Bailey helped over the years come to his aid at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, we realize the importance of family, friends and selflessness.

Christmas movies touch us in a different way than other classics might. More often than not, you’re getting a happier ending and a movie with more hope and heart.

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