A recurring theme in The Lord of the Rings is the quest that one accepts in ignorance – no hobbit could undertake to destroy the Ring if he really knew what was required to succeed. I believe this is the reason that people don’t tell you the truth about parenting. If we really knew what it would take, we could never do it. One of the lesser sacrifices of parenting, but one that still galls me, is the vulnerability to sentiment.
People joke about post-partum women crying over Hallmark commercials; they don’t mention that it never gets better. Before I had kids, I rarely cried when real people died. Now I cry if a puppy whines on TV. But even with my maternal dampening of saccharine sensitivity, the corporate maudlinism of the Christmas season makes me gag.
Every year as I’m shopping for Halloween costumes I look at the Christmas lights in the stores and my mouth curls into a sour grinchy frown. Like the Grinch, I meet every holiday season with resistance, holding out until about the time it’s too late for shipments to arrive in time for Christmas before my toes warm over the Christmas coals and my heart finally opens to holiday cheer (still no roast beast though – I’ve never forgotten Petunia’s Christmas).
How the Grinch Stole Christmas has always been one of my favorite Christmas stories not only because it mirrors my own annual emotional narrative, but also because it manages to capture the good parts of a much abused holiday without getting stuck in the sap. (This year I watched the live version with Icelander Stefan Karl snarling delightfully in the lead role).
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Here are some other weapons in my arsenal of anti-corporate holiday cheer.
Miracle on 34th Sreet
Somehow I avoided this one until just a couple years ago, expecting it to be some kind of post-war Americana cultural propaganda. Instead, it’s one of the snarkiest movies I’ve ever seen. Except for Kris Kringle, who is in a delusional old man, everyone involved acts exclusively from cynical self-serving motives. A man befriends a little girl just to hook up with her hot mom, a department store executive draws in customers with a counter-intuitive marketing scheme, a judge lies to get re-elected, and a little girl blackmails a delusional old man to get a new life for Christmas. Everyone does the right thing for the wrong reasons, and the world is a better place for it.
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In my opinion, Will Ferrell is the under-rated genius carrying the cinematic torch lit by Jimmy Stewart. He is most known for hit-and-miss inane slapstick, but every now and then he puts out something understated and beautiful. No one saw the sweet and meaningful Stranger Than Fiction, but it was one of my favorite movies of its decade. At his best, he sneaks meaning into camp like vegetables hidden in cookies. Most recently, Ferrell slid some weighty messaging into the Lego movie, but the classic example is Elf. It’s a stupid movie with a ridiculous premise delivered in housepainter’s brushstrokes. But the love story manages to be sweet anyway, the dad’s expected conversion from naughty to nice actually packs some punch, and some overly sentimental moms may have been known to tear up at the big caroling scene in the climax.
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A Christmas Story
Any movie that plants an association between fishnet stockings and Christmas in kids’ heads is okay in my book. Plus, who doesn’t have childhood memories of Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant?
I usually like Bill Murray, but I almost can’t handle this movie because of all the bad hair. The heartfelt monologue at the end is crap, but it’s worth it anyway, just for Carol Kane’s Ghost of Christmas Present. It’s like watching my six-year-old beat up on Bill Murray and I will never tire of it.
So, there are my top five picks for adding some acid to the sugary confection of Christmas. If these don’t help you bring the cheer, may I recommend spiked egg nog? How about a hot toddy?
I think Denis Leary said it best, “Merry Fucking Christmas!”