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Holiday Movies Bring Some Cheer As 2020 Winds Down

It isn’t the holiday season without holiday movies! With family gatherings curtailed, many are taking solace in the holiday movies being offered by Hallmark, Lifetime and Netflix. We’ll discuss why they’re so appealing, and learn about the business behind the movies: how can so many be produced during a pandemic? We also discuss how they’re changing to address diversity and gender roles, as well as the picture they paint about romantic relationships and how we talk about them with our children. What’s your favorite holiday movie?

Airdate: Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020.


New to the holiday movie genre? Click on this link for a guide to navigating holiday moviesfor NHPR listeners,  put together by Mary Carver. It also includes her favorite holiday movies on each streaming service. We asked for more of her favorite made-for-TV holiday movies:

  • Some favorite made-for-TV holiday movies: Window Wonderland, Snowed Inn Christmas, The Christmas Contract, Christmas in the Smokies, Love at the Christmas Table, It's Christmas, Eve, A Bride for Christmas, Double Holiday. 
  • Some classic made-for-TV holiday movies: Holiday in Handcuffs, Christmas Under Wraps, A Royal Christmas, The Nine Lives of Christmas, Crown for Christmas, Rocky Mountain Christmas, Christmas in Evergreen.
  • Holiday movies breaking stereotypes: This year, Hallmark has finally made progress toward diversity and inclusivity. But Lifetime is way ahead. Some of Lifetime's best movies this year are The Christmas Setup (leads are two gay men), A Sugar and Spice Holiday (about a Chinese-American family), and Christmas Ever After (lead actor is in a wheelchair). Lifetime has had more people of color in lead roles the past few years; three I've really liked this year are Feliz NaviDAD (better than it sounds!), Let's Meet Again on Christmas Eve, and The Christmas Aunt. Hallmark did have a movie this year about Hanukkah and a Jewish family that was good: Love, Lights, Hanukkah. Holiday Rush (this one's on Netflix).
  • SO MANY MOVIES. If you're forcing me to narrow it down, here goes: 
  • FAVORITE: Window Wonderland.
  • CLASSIC: A Royal Christmas or Christmas in the Smokies. 

Tom Cook offered some favorite movies that have a Christmas holiday feel to them:

  • Die Hard
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles - around Thanksgiving.
  • Edward Scissorhands, strangely 
  • The Apartment - a Jack Lemmon film 
  • A Street Cat Named Bob - one of my favorites from the past  20-30 years is a somewhat dark story about a British gentleman who is addicted to heroin and has to try to overcome this. It takes place around the holidays, and he picks up a street cat named Bob, and that's the name of the film. And the two of them help each other out in finding out what love and life and family is all about. 


Listener Recommendations

Every year, without fail, we watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  My family loves that movie. We have a set of the moose eggnog cups, and my house is decorated in a very Griswold-esque light display (I learned everything I know about exterior illumination from that movie). This year I added a six-foot tall Clark Griswold cardboard cutout who peers out my window at the few drivers and brave dog walkers who live on my rural road. If it elicits a chuckle, or adds to their enjoyment of the holidays, it was worth the effort, especially this year.  - Michael

My two favorite Christmas movies are Hook with Robin Williams which touches poignantly on the issue of getting so caught up in our life outside our families that we often miss the best part of what being living creatures on this earth has to offer. Lots of laughs, a bit of intrigue and conflict, but in the end it leaves you with the warm rush of joy that Christmas is really all about. 

Another movie that gives me joy is Jim Henson Company-created, one that kids and parents can enjoy together. The Christmas Toy has a lot of humorous scenes that poke fun at our culture. Meteoria is a toy that was the hands-down "star" of the previous Christmas and isn't giving up that position easily. This causes much strife among the toys from years before. I've been enjoying this wonderful story each Christmas since we stumbled on it at least 14-15 years ago! - Lauri, Bradford

Christmas Time: Sweet, funny, sad. Brotherly reconciliation.  - Julie

When Do We Eat? The excitable Jewish patriarch makes Christmas ornaments.  It is a Passover Seder gone mad. Even Gentiles (like me) find it hilarious.  Fast paced with some real twists. A tangential holiday flick. (

The Lion in Winter with Katherine Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, Anthony Hopkins, and Timothy Dalton. Set in 1183, Yuletide, drama, intrigue, no CGI,  only classic blockbuster acting. Totally overlooked like North Atlantic icebergs. But a hit—for those making the effort. ( ) - Andrew, Hillsborough

My favorite Christmas movie is Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. The music for that was surprisingly good.  My brothers and I would go around the house singing, “La, La.  La-la-la-la-la.  He’s just blankety-blank no good!”  - Dave

Emmet Otter's Jutland Christmas. Very sweet. We loved the book and were thrilled when it became a show.  - Ginny, Center Harbor

LOVE , LOVE, LOVE: Moonstruck;Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; andArthur's Christmas - Kristen, Keene 

One of the sweetest holiday-ish movies is: About Time. Time travel, love, father/son relationships, and a powerful message about living life to the fullest…all with New Years Eve as a key moment in the movie. - Steve, Concord

I love to watch holiday movies while wrapping presents. I have a collection of the really old ones -It's a Wonderful Life,Holiday Inn (great dancing but sadly racist), Miracle on 34th Street. Not quite so old - The Santa Claus,The Christmas Story and Love Actually. - Barbara

Miracle on 34th Street, the original. Always brings a tear to my eye when I see the cane by the fireplace. - Russ

This might be too old-fashioned for younger generations, but Holiday Affair with Robert Mitchum is a great timeless movie. - Alan in Durham

 My favorite Christmas movie is A Pocket Full of Miracles starring Bette Davis, Peter Faulk,  and Glen Ford.  It embodies the true spirit of Christmas!  Just makes you feel good!  - Meredith from Tuftonboro

A personal favorite was a PBS special from the 70s called Simple Gifts which consist of several animated stories done in different styles. It is also one of the few specials that actually deals with the Nativity in the form of the last short animated by R.O. Blechman called No Room at the Inn (and without any dialogue). It is unfortunately very hard to find, but it is out there. - Zubi

With tongue firmly in cheek, the movie discussion starts and ends with the true classic -Die Hard - in which Detective John McClain saves the hostages (and Christmas) from Hans Gruber (aka the Grinch). Heart warming!  - Chris, Hooksett


An interesting find was this Scandinavian (Finnish) film called Christmas Story (Finnish: Joulutarina) is a 2007 Finnish Christmas drama film directed by Juha Wuolijoki. It is the story of how an orphan called Nikolas became Santa Claus. - Peter


If you are a fan of the Scottish director Bill Forsyth's movies such as Gregory's Girl and Local Hero try his movie Comfort and Joystarring Bill Paterson as a radio disc jockey whose life undergoes a bizarre upheaval after his girlfriend leaves him just before Christmas. After he witnesses an attack on an ice cream van by angry competitors, he is led into the struggle between two Italian families over the ice cream market of Glasgow, Scotland.  - Diana


As an Irish former Long Islander, I enjoyed Fitzgerald Family Christmas by Edward Norton. It doesn’t follow the typical holiday movie format. Instead, it’s an interesting little think-piece about forgiveness. - Maureen


I wanted to give a shout-out for one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies: The Ref.

Refreshingly dysfunctional characters, terrific casting with Denis Leary, Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey, JK Simmons, BD Wong, etc. Whip smart dialogue. Very funny. - Chris


My favorite underrated movie is the 1940's The Bishop's Wife, with Cary Grant as the handsomest angel ever, sent to help a bishop who needs help.  Also an all-star cast of Loretta Young, David Nevin, Monte Wolley, Gladys Cooper, and many more familiar faces.  A delightful film which I watch every year.  - Sheila


I would recommend Prancer starring Sam Elliott, about a young girl who finds a reindeer she believes is Prancer, and her efforts to reunite him with Santa and the other reindeer. A very sweet movie . - Sally in Concord


My son watched The Snowman every day for three months the winter he was five. - Barbara, Barrington


Nothing brings back Christmas for me like the 1965A Charlie Brown Christmasspecial. It's a must-see each year with its simple message and the wonderful music by Vince Guaraldi, which always makes me smile. - Karin, Laconia


My personal favorite is White Christmas with Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen. What I love about it is the theme of helping a friend and finding ways to bring people together. Plus, Danny Kaye is always amazing!  - Loren, Durham


The classics have always been my favorites- It’s a Wonderful Life,Miracle on 34th Street, etc. But last year, Netflix’s Klaus became my absolute favorite. The story, the character development and the light in this movie has won my heart. - Patti


The most underrated Christmas movie isArthur Christmas. My 14 year old has aged out of most cartoons and will still watch this one. It’s got it all!  - Sarah, Concord


My all time favorite is Scrooge with Alistar Sim. Timeless, always relevant. Has a dark element and such wonderful joy at the end. Sticks closely to Charles Dickens's book "A Christmas Carol"  Sim IS Scrooge!  - Peggy, Center Harbor 


 I just want to recommend Last Christmas starring Emilia Clark (Last Christmas (2019) - IMDb). It is a really good modern rom-com with a twist I have never seen in a movie, which really makes it stand out.  My wife and I LOVED this movie!  - Scott


Many years ago, my grown children and I started watching The Grinch, with Jim Carey, every Christmas Eve. Lots of lessons and humor packed into that film...the results of bullying, the foolishness of focusing on material things, the value of kindness for example. With one daughter in London and one in Connecticut, I guarantee we will all connect by watching The Grinch on the 24th.  - Kathy, Conway



I wanted to share a gem of a new holiday movie called The Jinkx and Dela Holiday Special that came out during the pandemic.  This movie features Drag Race alum Jinkx Monsoon and Ben De La Creme slinging jokes, trading barbs, and celebrating the holiday season.  Although not for the whole family, if you are an adult who loves comedy and hijinkx, I would strongly recommend this.  It has definitely made my season brighter!  - Silver Sweet



Two older black-and-white movies for adults: 1952 British film The Holly and The Ivy - a preacher's adult children reveal the truths about their lives as adults to their father. Drama, with a heartwarming ending. (Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson, Margaret Leighton). 

1960 Best Picture The Apartment: Jack Lemmon as an insurance company worker who climbs the corporate ladder by loaning his apartment to company managers for their affairs. Great comedy-drama (set over the holidays) about morality in the big city. One of Shirley MacLaine's early movies. Excellent original script by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. Smart, dark and funny (if not exactly heartwarming.)  - Jim 






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