I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.
There are plenty of movies about Christmas. There are many more movies that aren’t about Christmas but include a Christmas scene or sequence. These scenes typically stick out in a film, working the holidays into a particular theme or plot point.
The movie even seems to transform, if only in that moment. Jingle bells are added to the score. Decorations appear that are appropriate to the characters and scene.
Just like real life, it takes over this small chunk of the run time and provides some of the most significant shots in the movie. Here are some important Christmas scenes that take place in non-Christmas movies.
"Almost Famous" opens at Christmas.
Movies that open with a Christmas scene.
When a movie opens on or before Christmas Day, it sets a particular tone that kicks off the events of the story or helps to establish its characters. In Almost Famous, Christmas provides a perfect example of Mrs. Miller’s non-conformist approach to life. While everyone else is celebrating a California Christmas, her daughter calls her out on the fact that they celebrated in September to avoid falling into the commercial trap that the holiday has become.
In Riding in Cars with Boys, Drew Barrymore's Beverly uses the holiday as an excuse to ask her father for a bra. These two cases illustrate why the children in both films end up rebelling against their parents. By denying them what they want, they find ways to push against them until they become practically estranged. What better vehicle than a gift-giving, family-togetherness holiday to illustrate this point.
Though not about family relationships, Cast Away begins at Christmastime in order to kick off the events that lead Chuck Noland to being stranded on a deserted island, just as he is about to propose to his fiance. It’s also an extra hard blow to both he and his loved ones when he goes missing, with him having to spend the first of several holidays alone and with his friends and family having to mourn his apparent loss.
Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean that we are immune from bad things happening. And when they do happen around this time, the season can feel like a slap in the face to our true feelings.
"Jumanji" ends with a Christmas party.
Christmas at the end of a movie
A character’s journey can end on Christmas. Christmas is at the end of the year on the calendar so why not end the film at the end of the year? Besides that obvious parallel, however, a film ends on Christmas to highlight the importance of family, to bring characters together, and to end the film on a happy note.
Jerry Maguire comes to mind in lining up the title character’s epiphany that he loves his family at the end of the film. What better time to show this than at the most family-based, celebratory holiday of the year? The Tidwells celebrate by watching their patriarch, Rod, nearly kill himself while completing a game-winning pass. This scary moment brings his life and Maguire's into focus. Jerry then runs home to his wife on Christmas Eve to utter his famous "You complete me" line and win her back.
The finale of Edward Scissorhands takes place at Christmas. In a fable that explains why it snows in an oceanfront town in Florida, it’s only appropriate that a block of ice appears so that Edward can create snow in the Boggs’ backyard. The neighbors are dressed for the holiday in contrast to their newfound animosity towards this artistic stranger. Their gossipy nature exiles him back up to his castle where he can create white Christmases for years to come.
Children’s films love to end at Christmas because it is the highlight of a kid’s year. Films can provide that colorful, joyful, magical feeling that reminds everyone what Christmas is like from a child’s point of view. Because of this, the happiest part of the movie tends to end at the happiest time of the year.
Jumanji is a good example of using Christmas to show a happily ever after. We see Alan and Sarah grown again after getting the chance to live their lives over again once the game resets their fates. In some brief exposition, we learn that the shoe factory is still running, Alan is close with his parents who are still alive, and they prevent Judy and Peter’s parents from taking their fateful trip. All of this is highlighted in the final scene that takes place at the Parrish house which is no longer the stuffy or torn to pieces mansion but a festive, happy home made possible by their do-over.
The Christmas sequence in "You've Got Mail" shows a shift in customer loyalty.
Christmas in the second act
Sometimes Christmas works best right in the middle of a story, especially one that takes place between fall and spring. If fall represents conflict and spring represents rebirth, this puts Christmas right in the middle of that journey. There could be a major turning point, a brief reprieve of events, or merely a brief mention to show where the characters are at this point in the year.
Romantic comedies and dramas tend to stick Christmas right smack in the middle of their movie. You’ve Got Mail takes place from fall to spring, and in the Christmas scene, Kathleen begins to realize that her small bookstore may not have a chance against the big chain stores when she sees her sales plummet while people walk past the shop window carrying bags from her competitor, Fox Books.
The film Saved takes place over the course of an average school year as a teenage girl comes to terms with being pregnant. In December, Mary's unwed baby bump begins to show. So, she utilizes heavy Christmas sweaters to hide it. This is also when she first gains allies who learn of her situation and don't judge her for her mistake or believe that she should be sent away for it. For the first time since getting the news, she is not alone.
The film Where the Heart Is makes Christmas another instance where the number five is bad luck to its protagonist, Novalee. Since her baby, Americus, is born on July 5th, she turns five months old on December 5th. This results in her being kidnapped by religious stalkers who disapprove of her mother’s unwed status, proving once again that no good comes from the number five in Novalee’s life.
"About A Boy" ends with a Christmas scene very different from an earlier one in the film.
Christmas as a callback
When there are two Christmas scenes in a film, they are usually polar opposites of each other. This is meant to show change and growth and what a difference a year makes.
About a Boy includes a Christmas scene early in the film where the protagonist, Will, prefers to spend the holiday watching old horror movies but is roped in to coming over to spend Christmas with his young friend, Marcus, and his unorthodox family. At the end of the film, he is the willing host of Christmas dinner which features of a mix of friends and loved ones, illustrating that his solo island of a life has grown into a tight-knit island chain.
Bridget Jones’ Diary opens and closes with Christmas scenes, capping off one year of self-discovery and a change for the better in Bridget’s life. Through her diary entries, we see Bridget come to respect herself enough to learn when to run away from bad situations and when to head towards those that are good for her. Christmas gives way to New Year's Day, a holiday where we create resolutions and plans for a better year. Bridget makes good on her resolutions from one Christmas to the next.
In a more traditional setting, Little Women features two Christmas scenes that show how life changes as we grow up. In the first scene at the beginning of the movie, the girls are poor but happy, sharing their few luxuries with the poor neighbors down the road and singing by the piano, missing their father but are comforted by the letters he sends from the battlefield.
The next year, the holiday is larger and more celebratory with presents, cake, a sister recovered from her illness and their injured father finally returned home from war. While this sets everything right, change is inevitable as oldest sister, Meg, accepts a marriage proposal, proving that things can't stay the same forever.
Andy's Christmas present at the end of "Toy Story"
Christmas in children's movies
Some children’s movies have a Christmas scene as the setting for a significant moment in the story, just as adult films do. These scenes are even more appropriate since children’s movies deal with some main Christmas staples, such as toys and animals. However, these scenes can turn the traditional festivities for children on their head as these inhuman characters grapple with conflict within this holiday that no kid has to deal with.
The ending of Toy Story is one appropriate Christmas scene. Since the beginning of the movie deals with the stress of Andy’s birthday, it’s only fitting that a new conflict would arise on the next major gift giving holiday, giving Buzz Lightyear the opportunity to sweat through a possible favorite replacement toy. Here, the genius decision was made not to make their next potential foe another toy but a puppy, after having narrowly escaped the jaws of a toy-killing dog in the movie’s climax.
Babe is another example of how Christmas can be a nightmare for certain kid-friendly characters. Much like Charlotte’s Web, the goal of this film’s protagonist is to find a purpose on the farm so that he does not get killed and eaten for dinner. What better time to slaughter a pig than for Christmas dinner? After all, that’s the purpose of a pig on a farm. Luckily for Babe, he has proven himself worthy of Farmer Hoggett’s affections enough by this point that he is replaced by a duck as the main course of Christmas dinner.
"Meet Me In St. Louis" is a Christmas classic with just a little Christmas in it.
Iconic Christmas scenes
There are a few classic movies out there that are synonymous with Christmas but really aren’t about Christmas. Meet Me in St. Louis is one of those classics. Christmas is one small sequence that makes up the "winter" section of the four-season film, but it is a significant one. The Christmas dance followed by the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, culminating in the announcement that the heartbroken family will not be moving to New York somehow cements it as a Christmas classic.
Likewise, It’s A Wonderful Life is played on TV every December, but most of the film chronicles George Bailey’s entire life. His sprint through town after his run-in with a guardian angel and the ringing bell at the end are the two scenes that everyone references, but they make up a very small part of the story as a whole. Still, we see how the holiday can overtake an entire movie with a few iconic lines and images, not that that's a bad thing.
"Batman Returns." Christmas classic?
Non-Christmas Movies with a Lot of Christmas in Them
Sometimes a film is full of Christmas scenes, but they are rarely labeled as Christmas movies. There is the ongoing debate over action movies, such as Die Hard and Lethal Weapon categorize as Christmas movies.
Superhero movies such as Batman Returns and Iron Man 3 take place over Christmas, yet they are not marketed as such. Both were big summer blockbusters, not holiday releases. Then, there are horror films like Gremlins that put the monsters front and center, making them overshadow the fact that it is Christmas and that they are making a mess of it. It just goes to show that while Christmas can overtake a film, there are certain genres and storylines that even Christmas can’t overshadow.
"Ladder 49" Christmas scene.
Christmas for professionals
In dramatic movies, Christmas can give a character a moment to reflect on their life and where they are at in it. It can help to illustrate their character based on how they choose to spend the holiday and what they think of it. For a busy or focused person, it may show that not even Christmas can make them take a break from their life's work.
In Ladder 49, Jack Morrison is assigned to work on Christmas Eve. Luckily for one young girl, he is there to pull her out of a burning apartment building and save her life. This action rewards him with a high honor from the fire department and helps to reinforce his love of the profession, despite the toll it takes on his family and his own worries.
In Zodiac, Robert Graysmith spends every waking moment researching the Zodiac killer’s crimes in hopes of catching him once and for all. This includes Christmas where he and the police are in the middle of their investigation. Crime doesn’t stop because of the holidays so neither can those who are trying to prevent future crimes from happening.
Then, there is the Christmas and New Year’s sequence where army vet and ping pong champion, Forrest Gump, runs into a broken Lieutenant Dan and decides to spend the holidays with him while he is visiting New York City as part of his press tour. It’s a very measly and depressing Christmas, but Forrest makes the most of it, despite Lieutenant Dan’s crankiness. Though he never says it, you can tell that the lieutenant appreciates the company of his old army private.
Festive "Mars Attacks!" skeletons for Christmas.
Christmas for no reason
In some movies, Christmas appears for just a moment and then is gone again. Sometimes it’s used for a joke, as in the opening of The Addam’s Family, where the crew gathers on the roof to pour an unknown substance from a cauldron onto some unsuspecting carolers.
When a non-Christmas film is released at Christmastime, there is sometimes a note from the studio to add a Christmas element to it. A fun piece of trivia for Mars Attacks! explains that the alien ray guns turn their victims red or green to coincide with its mid-December release.
Then, there is the brief Christmas scene in Better Off Dead to highlight the absurdity of the film as a whole, from gift wrapped TV dinners to jackets with animal heads attached to the hoods and a brand new garage door that stays intact for just a golden few seconds before it is broken once again. Sometimes, Christmas is just there without any real meaning behind it.
Bad gifts highlight the absurdity of "Better Off Dead."
What are your favorite Christmas scenes in non-Christmas movies? Leave your answers in the comments below!
Jessie on December 07, 2018:
“The Apartment” takes place around Christmas time/ New Years. Seasonal Depression !