All too often, Christmas films are rejected as sappy, saccharine guilty pleasures which set unrealistic expectations for the holiday season. But extensive annual viewings of classic holiday movies have shown me that even the cheesiest films have serious didactic potential.
Here are some of the top life lessons we can take from everyone’s festive favourites.
The nation’s problematic fave and one of my top ten films ever, Love Actually’s soundtrack, cast, and cinematography keep us all coming back, when its body-shaming and casual romanticising of obsessive relationships should have us all running away.
What can we learn from this Richard Curtis masterpiece? That girls love musicians, that a boy who has no time for your family drama should be shown the door no matter how impressive his abs are, and that nothing bad can ever come from sleeping with your boss or pursuing your best friend’s wife (questionable).
This film also provided the mantra to many an Erasmus year – that not speaking the same language as someone needn’t stop you from getting with them – and reassured us all that, even when the US President is a chauvinistic creep, we can always count on the UK Prime Minister to stand up to him and – what? Oh.
If your boyfriend cheats on you, or if your noncommittal friend with benefits proposes to another woman out of the blue, just run away to another country to spend Christmas alone. You’ll come home two weeks later completely self-actualised, with a new man and a couple of charming, chocolate-smeared children to call your own.
Or, if your budget doesn’t stretch to last-minute international flights, just follow in Cameron D’s high-heeled footsteps and blast Mr. Brightside whilst inhaling the contents of your local delicatessen.
Doctor Seuss’ ode to determinism has some pretty solid life lessons hidden behind the garish glitter of Whoville. You shouldn’t be mean to the eccentric kid in your class, two women can do an amazing job of raising a baby, and the good guy will always get the girl in the end, even if he’s a furry green cavedweller.
The Grinch also reminds us that even the prickliest of Scrooges have it in them to become the Holiday Cheermeister – so keep plying your grumpy great-aunt with Baileys until she finally smiles.
This is a funny family favourite about an abandoned infant who is forced to engage in physical and psychological warfare with a pair of sadistic criminals – twice. The Home Alone series gives you the perfect opportunity to go over your formative years with a fine-tooth comb and pinpoint the second you became an adult: the first year you watched this cracker and found yourself wondering how the McCallisters managed to pay the mortgage on that mansion whilst flying first-class in high season, your childhood officially ended. Merry Christmas to all.
The Santa Clause
Roll with the punches and embrace spontaneity, particularly when it comes to your career. If you’re part of a blended family, you’ll definitely end up on the naughty list if you’re mean enough to turn your stepchild against his father. And don’t try to be a culinary hero at Christmas – there’s no shame in heading out for dinner (and a glass of chocolate milk) if cooking isn’t your thing.
Bridget Jones’s Diary
This one isn’t strictly a holiday film, but it’s bookended by snowy scenes and perfectly captures the existential dread associated with spending Christmas in a single bed in your parents’ house, so it definitely merits a spot on the nice list. Plus, everyone’s favourite Singleton is a soothing antidote to the smug, matching PJs-clad, #HePutARingOnIt #LuckyGirl couples who dominate December every year.
This film teaches us that, at Christmas, you should cave and wear a knitted jumper for the day if it makes your mum happy (see also: the Weasleys). You can do a lot with leftover turkey. Unsolicited romantic interrogations or advice can make other people feel like shit, so mind your own business and lay off. And just because a grouchy lawyer with a superiority complex and a penchant for tragic knitwear ignores you at a party and belittles you behind your back, it doesn’t mean you won’t go on to marry him. Result.
Jingle All The Way
Men are useless when it comes to assuming even the tiniest degree of the responsibility associated with the holiday season. Years’ worth of parental neglect can be cancelled out if you purchase an overpriced doll and hijack a parade. And, for the love of God, pre-order your Christmas presents (we’ll let Arnie off the hook since Prime wasn’t around in the ’90s).
It’s a Wonderful Life
Full disclosure: I haven’t quite made it the whole way through this movie just yet. I know it’s unfailingly lauded as a life-affirming heart-warmer, but the first few scenes alone always have me bawling and switching over to something less distressing, like Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen or the first seven minutes of The Snowman. But I think that in 2018, I’ll try and tick this seminal festive flick off my bucket list. This year – much like last year, and the year before that – has been a sociopolitical shitshow from start to finish, so any story that celebrates love, selflessness, and tiny acts of kindness is bound to be a welcome distraction from depressing headlines and hashtags.