Earlier this fall, I was enjoying some pre-Halloween fun at Disneyland and noticed that one of my favorite rides was closed. Even though Halloween was a week away, the characters inside It’s a Small World were already being dressed in their holiday finest.
As we in Catholic families celebrate the Advent season by lighting the candles on our wreaths, it’s also a great time to consider possible viewing options for those cold winter evenings snuggled under quilts by the fire.
Sharing a film together as a family can be a beautiful bonding experience, offering not only entertainment but also a gateway to meaningful conversations. Here are a few films our family has enjoyed together:
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Perhaps because I’m a writer of fiction myself, I fell in love with Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens’ frenetic turn as Charles Dickens, the crafter of A Christmas Carol, perhaps the second-greatest Christmas story ever told.
Early in the film, we watch as Dickens is lauded by Americans following his massive commercial success. But upon Charles’ return to his beloved homeland, we learn that he’s had three flops and is on the ropes, overburdened by debt and seemingly faced with a crisis of confidence.
Add in a mooching dad (Jonathan Pryce), a wife (Morfydd Clark) who is pregnant with his fifth child, and a publishing company that seems convinced that their author’s day has come and gone, and you can see why Dickens is absolutely paralyzed and can’t write a single word.
Director Bharat Nalluri invites us to consider the genius that was Charles Dickens and shows us some of the conditions under which he rose to fame.
Especially poignant are his interactions with his family, our gradual understanding of his upbringing, his marvelous sense of humor and character, and how the economic conditions of his age impacted him personally and professionally.
Mary of Nazareth
German actress Alissa Jung portrays the Blessed Mother in Mary of Nazareth, a film that looks at Mary’s life from her childhood years through the Resurrection of Mary’s son, Jesus Christ.
While not explicitly a look at the “Christmas” moment of the Gospels, this film invites us to consider how Mary’s lifelong “fiat,”, her “Yes” to God’s will for her life, can inspire our own trust in God’s plans for our families.
Watching a film depiction of Mary’s life together can be a perfect accompaniment to laying out our Nativity scenes in our homes. Ignatius Press offers opportunities for parish communities to screen this film together for a perfect Advent family outing.
In a family where beloved movies provide fodder for shared quotes, Elf has stood the test of time for our family. Will Ferrell is iconic as Buddy, a grown up human elf who departs the North Pole for New York on a raucous journey of self-discovery that reunites him with his birth father Walter (James Caan).
Along the way, learns some challenging life lessons, falls in love, and spreads a lot of authentic holiday cheer.
While not at all religious in nature, Elf offers precious reminders about the joy of family life, and some elf life knowledge too ... like four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.
The premise of The Star is genius! We are treated to a biblically-inspired retelling of the Nativity story from the perspective of the animals who were present alongside Mary and Joseph at the birth of baby Jesus.
Director Timothy Reckart (a Catholic) and screenwriter Carlos Kotkin have crafted a thoughtful, inspiring narrative while giving agency and voice to those animal figures you and I lovingly place in our Nativity scenes each year.
Present here are the donkey, the sheep, the dove, the camels, the cow and the horse who look upon the manger in my family’s Nativity each Advent, waiting with eager anticipation for the coming of the Christ Child.
In The Star, these animals, voiced by an array of talent, come to life and invite us into the Gospel story with joy, courage, perseverance and an unmistakable sense of mission.
Catholic viewers will definitely want to check out a phenomenal companion resource to the film that has been meticulously and beautifully crafted by the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership.
This FREE, 39-page downloadable resource includes prayer tools (such as a Blessing of the Nativity scene), Scripture references, faith-sharing tips, journal prompts, reflection questions and much more to make this movie a beautiful gift for families and classrooms this Advent season.
PRAY: THE STORY OF PATRICK PEYTON
While it’s not a “Christmas movie” per se, the wonderful family documentary PRAY: THE STORY OF PATRICK PEYTON will forevermore be on my list of holiday family classics now that it’s available for home viewing.
At its heart, PRAY is a collection of stories about the remarkable life and legacy of one man, Venerable Patrick Peyton, told through the impact that he had on so many of us living around the globe.
Filled with history, with innovation, and with true soul, the film not only entertains but also challenges the viewer to rise above this era’s temptation to lose hope. By recounting the challenges that Father Peyton faced, especially in a time when so many of us battle our own hurdles and carry our own crosses, we are reminded that we never walk this journey alone.
PRAY encourages us to seek peace in our world through the powerful tool that is family prayer. Since Mary lies at the center of the Christmas story, better knowing and following the example of Father Peyton in his love for her can serve as a beautiful way to unite our homes in prayer this Advent season.
Image: Adobe Stock
Learn more about Lisa Hendey here.