Bread, Salt, and Wine

As the endless loop of Christmas-cookie-cut Hallmark movies beckons yet again this year, the tried-and-true season classics struggle for air time and our time.  If it weren’t for streaming you might not be able to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas anymore.  You’ll have an easier time finding Miracle on 34th Street (but maybe not the 1947 original).  On the other hand, you should find It’s A Wonderful Life right there in your online library or movie collection.  You do have a copy of the greatest Christmas movie of all time, don’t you?

CNN Entertainment recently posted a list of “Hollywood’s stars’ favorite Christmas movies”, which is wrong on so many levels.  I’m not saying an actor can’t be an authority on movies.  Some of those interviewed have been in Christmas movies themselves.  No, it’s more about the concept of ranking Christmas movies.  It’s a futile attempt to place one above another, when the truth is each of us already has a favorite.  I may be trying to sway you to my favorites today, but deep down I know you have yours and they’ll never change.  Until a better one comes along, that is.

CNN’s list – or anyone’s for that matter – includes movies I struggle to associate with Christmas.  Home AloneThe HolidayYou’ve Got Mail?  Sure, each of these takes place during the season but they’re not really Christmas movies.  Strike them from the list, please.

How about The Santa Clause, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (the 1964 stop-motion original), or How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Boris Karloff or Jim Carrey, you choose).  Okay, now we’re starting to get somewhere.  With each of these films you can at least claim a story about Christmas.  They even include pretty good messages about the spirit of Christmas.  Just not THE message.

A Charlie Brown Christmas still gets me at the end when the Peanuts gang sings, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.  The Polar Express asks us to just “Believe”, which I would if I could get past its creepy animation technique.  And Love Actually is a collection of feel-good rom-com stories where viewers tend to choose just one as their favorite (again with the rankings).  But none of these films dig much below the surface of the reason for the season. 

[For the record, I’ve never been a fan of “A Christmas Story”.  I think it’s a cult classic with a bizarre sense of humor.  One or more of you will disagree, which means you’ll be happy to know about HBO Max’s follow-up film featuring Peter Billingsley (again) as very grown-up Ralphie.]

Okay, I’ve stalled long enough.  I could take on another dozen so-called classics and explain why they don’t belong on any “best list” of the season’s movies.  Instead, let’s cut to the chase and cover the three films whose stories illustrate the meaning of Christmas:

A Christmas Carol.  The Charles Dickens classic has been recreated on film more times than I can count (and most versions are pretty good) but it’s hard to top the 1938 original.  Maybe it’s because Dickens’ ghosts really scared me the first time I saw them (even in black-and-white).  More likely it’s because Reginald Owen so perfectly portrays the remarkable transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from mean and miserly to giddy and grateful.

Miracle on 34th Street.  Again we have several versions here, but none better than Edmund Gwenn’s turn as Kris Kringle in the 1937 original (for which he won an Academy Award).  Also, I’ll watch any movie with the lovely Maureen O’Hara, and Natalie Wood is adorable as sweet, innocent Susan Walker.  But above all, “Miracle…” is about believing.  C’mon, you remember the scene… all those bags of letters to Santa being dragged into the courtroom…

It’s A Wonderful Life… is, simply put, in a Christmas class all by itself.  When critics describe this film as, “The holiday classic to define all holiday classics…”, you know you’ve got something special.  If you’ve never seen It’s A Wonderful Life, kindly put down your electronic device and spend the next two hours with George Bailey in his little town of Bedford Falls.  Talk about the meaning of Christmas.  I won’t give it away, but the final scene where Mary drags George down the stairs to see “the miracle” is the message of the entire movie.

Maybe you don’t agree with my top Christmas movies (comments, please!), but you should at least admit to an underlying concern.  All three of my choices were produced over fifty years ago.  Fifty years!  Am I suggesting there hasn’t been a more meaningful Christmas movie made in the last half-century?  YES, I AM!  Seriously, Hollywood, you can do a whole lot better than Elf.

If you’ve spent any time watching the Hallmark Channel this season (and… sigh… a ranking of those Christmas movies can be found here), you owe it to yourself to also watch at least one of the three movies I highlight above.  Hopefully you’re watching them again, not for the first time.  After all, as we learn in It’s A Wonderful Life, there’s much more to bread, salt, and wine than just the title of a blog post.

Some content sourced from the CNN Entertainment article, “Tom Hanks and more stars share their favorite Christmas movies”, and IMDb, the Internet Movie Database.

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to "Life In A Word".

34 thoughts on “Bread, Salt, and Wine”

  1. You fooled me! I call it false advertisement.
    I kept reading looking for the bread. You know I love bread and butter, so that title grabbed me right away. I expected pictures, recipes, funny anecdotes, anything.
    Yep, color me disappointed 😦
    I will, however, attempt to watch one of those movies from above, in its entirety, for the first time.
    Blessings to you Dave!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good heavens, Ana, you need to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” so you’re no longer disappointed! The movie will give bread a much deeper meaning than any pictures or recipes I could’ve included here. But thanks a lot, now you have me craving fresh bread. Got a good recipe? 🙂

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      1. I have started watching it several times, but for some reason never watched the whole thing. I will make sure to change that this year.
        Speaking of bread recipes, I am thinking about getting a bread maker. I am just afraid that I will eat nothing but bread the moment I get it.

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  2. The Holiday is my favorite Christmas movie. I like A Christmas Story with Ralphie, too. I don’t know how You’ve Got Mail, a movie I like, is considered a Christmas movie, but so be it. I adore Charlie Brown’s Christmas special and the original Grinch TV special. After that I’m not too tuned into holiday movies.

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    1. I’ll grant you “The Holiday” as your favorite as long as you tell me you’ve watched “It’s A Wonderful Life”. And I completely agree – why is “You’ve Got Mail” considered a Christmas movie? By that example you might as well put “Sleepless in Seattle” on the list too.

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      1. Of course I’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life– about a million times! I still laugh when the floor goes out from under James & Donna plunging them into the pool. Now that I think about it, wasn’t The Thin Man set at Christmastime. I love me some Nick and Nora.

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    1. Have to admit, “The Christmas Shoes” gets me every time I watch it. It doesn’t feel much heavier than a Hallmark movie but at least it has a solid message.

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  3. Rudolph is one of my favorites, and I love The Polar Express even if the animation is kinda creepy. I still need to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, I’ve seen parts of it but never the full thing. Christmas Vacation is a good one too, that’s the most quoted in my apartment.

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    1. “Rudolph…” ties “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as my favorite children’s Christmas movie. The story and the characters are endearing, and I love the stop-motion animation.

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      1. Hum… The Christmas Chronicles is more fun, A boy Called Christmas is more serious. So depends on what your mood is. Oh, KLAUS — FOR SURE. It’s an animation, so not so long. You’ll like that one.

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  4. Watching some of these movies with my kids will be fun over Christmas break. I own It’s a Wonderful Life, but I might not have remembered to watch it with them. I ordered the original Miracle on 34th Street just now from the library. I *think* I’ve seen that movie, maybe forever ago, but am unsure. Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

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    1. I remember forcing my kids to sit through “The Sound of Music” because I considered it required viewing as one of the greatest movies of all time. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is in the same category. Maybe years (decades?) later they’ll appreciate my gesture.

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      1. I think you’re gonna turn the tables on me here, Betsy. I confess I’ve only seen a few scenes from “The Princess Bride”. Think the humor has aged well? Every now and then someone quotes the movie and I have no idea what they’re talking about.

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  5. I’m not much of a movie buff Dave and years ago the subject of the perennial holiday movies came up at work and I mentioned I’d never seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “White Christmas” or “Miracle on 34th Street” so one of my coworkers had videos for all and brought them in as a weekend “watching assignment”… however, I fell asleep for “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I never saw the Peanuts specials as I was older by then. I did love “Rudolph” and “Frosty” and even “The Grinch”. My mom ordered me a video set of Rudolph and Frosty so I didn’t have to watch them live or what I’d previously taped. I’ll send you a copy of the link to my post about that in a separate comment for when you get time to read it.

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    1. You really should give “It’s a Wonderful Life” another chance. We love watching it every year even though we practically know every scene and line by heart. The message is all about giving and the final scene sums it up perfectly. Rudolph and Frosty (the stop-motion animated versions) will always have a place in my heart (as will “A Charlie Brown Christmas”) since I watched them every year as a kid. I’ll read your post about them now – thanks!

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      1. I really should do that Dave. I don’t know why I had a difficult time getting into it. I don’t know a lot of the older movies. For a while I had The Movie Channel as a cable channel and I tried to watch some of the older classics. There are many classic movies I’ve never seen. I just watched “The Big Chill” a few months ago as I’d never seen it and it was an era I could identify with and the characters all went to University of Michigan, so that movie was a BIG deal around here when it first came out. Glad you liked my post about those Christmas childhood favorites. Memories like these I treasure. I had Christmas records (I think 45s as they were small) of the popular Christmas children’s songs at the time. They were in different colors, not black vinyl like a regular 45. Sweet and simple times.

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  6. I agree with you on 2 out of 3 but would substitute White Christmas for Miracle on 34th Street. I watch It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol and White Christmas EVERY year – it’s tradition. My mother loves Ralphie in A Christmas Story because she grew up in that era, so I have to suffer through that one although it’s not my favorite. I’m curious about the sequel. For kids stuff, Rudolph is the best. I like the 1954 edition of A Christmas Carol the best. When I was a kid we would watch the 1939 edition and I would be scared to death. I would go upstairs to bed as soon as the Ghost of Christmas Past appeared with the black shroud on and pointed at the tombstone. My dad always watched it – usually on Christmas Eve – after church – he said it was the first movie he ever saw in a movie theatre, and he was scared too. It would be even scarier on a big screen if you’d never seen one before.

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    1. I’m glad you mentioned the 1954 “A Christmas Carol” Joni, because no matter my own opinion it’s regarded by critics as the best of the versions. I’ll have to find it again this year. And “White Christmas” is a great movie simply because Crosby and Kaye are in it (I can never get enough of “Singing in the Rain”. And remember “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”?). The final scene in “White Christmas” where they surprise the general is wonderful.

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  7. My favorite Christmas movie is The Christmas Carol musical with Albert Finney (1970). Superb acting, spot-on costumes, and delightful music and dancing. Even if you’ve watched dozens of adaptations of Dicken’s Christmas Carol, this one is still a must-see as far as I’m concerned! Can’t recommend it highly enough.

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  8. I am one of the holdouts who prefers Miracle On 34th Street (which I believe was 1947 instead of 1937) to It’s A Wonderful Life, though it is a close race.

    One nobody remembers and which is rarely shown is the 1971 TV Christmas movie The Homecoming, which was the genesis of The Waltons TV show a year or two later. Patricia Neal played the role of Mrs. Walton. Also, it took awhile but I warmed to A Christmas Story, mainly because it synchs with my goofy sense of humor.

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    1. I’ve never heard of “The Homecoming” but now I’ll be looking for it because I’m always up for a new Christmas movie. Interesting to read how it’s linked to The Waltons. And “Miracle…” is amusing in that readers love it but each seem to prefer a different version.

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