December 15, 2010

Dirty Secrets of the Interfaith Child: Favorite Christmas Movies

Posted in Interfaith, Judaism at 11:52 pm by chavalah

So. Thanks to the intersection of the Jewish and Christian calendars this year, we’re sorta at a midway point between Chanukah 5771 and Christmas 2010. Hope all my Jewishly-inclined readers had a very happy Chanukah. I actually just posted a slideshow of some of my activities on JewishDC; you can find it here.

Since I’ve started re-embracing my Jewish heritage as a young adult, Christmas is a holiday with which I grapple. Like many interfaith kids, I grew up celebrating it at home. We’d buy a Christmas tree and drag down all of the decorations from the attic, though Mom has always put her foot down concerning outdoor displays. Apparently, it’s ok to celebrate Christmas inside the house, but we don’t have to broadcast to the neighbors what we’re doing. 😛

My memories from childhood still comfort me. Since we do not celebrate the religious aspects of the holiday (save for the songs that my mother loves to sing,) we were left with the commercial—twinkling lights, candy canes, jolly fat men in suits, a special day for presents. As I’ve grown up, I’ve tried to reconcile what my parents most love about this holiday, too—a chance to check in with family near and far, and a small, little burst of warmth and happiness in the middle of a cold and dreary winter. Come to think of it, these feelings are starting to color my perceptions of Chanukah as well.

I’ve given up a lot of the mythology that I clung to as a child—I don’t decorate my apartment in red and green, and I certainly don’t leave out cookies for Santa anymore. 😛 But one thing I can’t give up is the Christmas movies. Not so much the new stock that’s hitting theaters now for the generation proceeding mine, but the fare that I loved from the 1990s. I remember watching these films as a way to start my winter vacations. 😛 Amazingly enough, they still play some on tv sometimes! So without further ado, allow me to present a list of my favorites.

HOME ALONE (1990) and its sequel (1992) involve a young boy being accidentally left at home (or New York) as his family travels during Christmas. Consequently, he has to save the holiday in some for or another from two bad guys, while his mother races back to get to him. Ok, it’s just difficult for me to comprehend anyone not knowing of this film series, but to be fair, being born in 1983 left me contractually bound to carry a childhood torch for Macaulay Culkin. 😛 And then, as I aged and matured, I transfered my affections toward Elijah Wood. *adolescent swoooooon* But anyway.

Here’s a fun fact—one of the goons from the movies was Jewish! 😛 Yup, in movie 2, Marv and Harry break into a toy store’s cash chest on Christmas Eve, and Daniel Stern’s character says ecstatically, “Happy Chanukah, Marv!” …okay, so maybe he’s not our best role model. 😛

This movie series might’ve been the first and last time that I could watch an undue amount of violence (cos seriously, Macaulay put the bad guys through the ringer) and feel amused rather than horrified. Home Alone was that quirky sort of movie that made it look like Marv and Harry were going through a funhouse rather than getting the $%@#$ beat out of them by an eight year old. I guess if it were more real (blood, gore, death) it would have taken away from the Christmas spirit. Plus, then Macaulay would have been carted off as a childhood sociopath. And he already covered that role in The Good Son. 😛

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS (1991) is about two kids who, with the help of Santa and some friends, get their divorced parents back together for the holidays. Here’s a fun fact about this movie—it features the childhood renditions of Ethan Embry (then Ethan Randall) and Thora Birch!

If there was any movie that encompassed my own childhood Christmas mythology, this was it. Heck, I’m still disappointed that my dad’s Bronx upbringing wasn’t as glitzy as the Manhattan lifestyle depicted in this film. 😛 I was around the same age of the little girl played by Thora—Hallie O’Fallon, who played piano, loved to read, believed deeply in Santa Claus and went every year with her mother to see The Nutcracker. *sigh* It’s been years since I forced my mother to get annual tickets, but I still think about coughing up the money to see that ballet every Christmas.

Ethan, Hallie and Ethan’s love interest Stephanie (Amy Oberer) work together to trick the mother’s fiancé into the back of an ice cream truck on Christmas Eve and bring the hapless couple back together during a snow storm. It’s another one of those adorable hooligan films where everything works out for them in the end. How can it not—Leslie Nielsen (may his memory be a blessing) plays Santa Claus! Turns out he can be just as loving and magical as he can be hilarious in films such as Airplane! and The Naked Gun.

Another nice, Jewishy moment from this film: the characters stop to wish people on the street a Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah, because in the words of Hallie, “teacher tells us to say both in New York, cos people are sensitive.” 😛

THE SANTA CLAUSE (1994) features Tim Allen as a failing, divorced father who must take on the role of Santa Claus once he scares the original off his roof and puts on his coat. It’s ultimately the story of a kinda Grinch-like guy finding new meaning in his life and re-dedicating himself to his family in the spirit of the holidays.

My favorite thing about the movie growing up was the warm, homey feeling at the North Pole (staffed by hundreds-year-old elves who look like little children serving cocoa) and watching the new Santa Claus (aptly enough named Scott Calvin) struggle with his new duties and re-build his relationship with his son, Charlie. Unlike in the other films, there’s not a lot of violence (though the police go on a manhunt for “Santas” as a sub plot) and the family isn’t magically put back together. But they learn to live together—Scott, Charlie, mom Laura and her new husband, psychologist Neal.

People are less fond of the two sequels from 2002 and 2006 respectively, and I suppose they lack some of the magic of the original. But they make up for it in new ways. I’m just such a fan of how this estranged, unusual family comes together. As Charlie grows up, he takes on less of a role and his new half-sister Lucy (Lilliana Mumy) takes center stage as Scott’s new helper and bff. I mean, how touching is that? This is the child of his ex-wife and her new husband, which must be difficult, even for Santa Claus! But Lucy has a knack for helping “Uncle Scott” out of all of his biggest problems, both personal and professional.

Another great thing about this franchise is that the majority of the cast reprised their roles over a 12 year period. That’s loyalty! 😛 I was particularly taken with Eric Lloyd (Charlie) who maintained his baby face that entire time. *swoon* Perhaps this isn’t the type of thing that a young man might like to hear, but it’s so unusual that someone would continue to look so similar after all that time. I’m glad he decided to come back and play Charlie as a teen. It just gave me more of that homey feeling from the original.

…one of the only main characters not to be in all three movies was Head Elf Bernard, played by David Krumholtz. Ah well, maybe someone finally ticked him off to the fact that Christmas isn’t a Jewish holiday. 😛 But he certainly made it far up in Santa’s organization for a yid!

For a change of pace (and shifting into adulthood :P) my favorite Chanukah movie just might have to be…The Hebrew Hammer. :”> Yup, that’s right. It’s kind of like Shaft meets raunchy Jew jokes in this quest to save the Festival of Lights from a maniacal Santa Claus. Written by and starring a fellow half-Jew, Adam Goldberg! …yay and mazel tov? 😛 Hee.

What are some of your favorite holiday movies?


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