What to Watch This Christmas? The Classics.

Updated: Jan 27

We’ve written about ways to make memorable moments with your kids this holiday season -- for instance, curling up with classic musicals. Here we also want to share a few of our favorite classic Christmas movies! With seemingly endless Christmastime entertainment options available on seemingly endless platforms (from Hulu to conflicted Netflix), you might feel stuck with flicks such as Bad Santa, Die Hard, or Home Alone (while nostalgic in many ways, some elements may be less appropriate for the littler ones). May we suggest a few timeless favorites! Like with musicals and books, we are biased toward tried and true classics. Check out some of our recs below. Also find more reviews of Christmas movies (sorted by age) at Commonsense Media.

Annie: Bonus movie plus musical! A classic among classics, Annie might best be known for her playful locks, cheerful demeanor, and vocals belting out songs like Tomorrow and It’s the Hard Knock Life. “Little Orphan Annie has been a part of American pop culture for nearly a century now—first as a comic strip which made its debut in the summer of 1924, then as a popular radio show in the 1930s, which spun off into a couple of film productions later in that decade and a hit Broadway musical in 1977.” Since then, movie remakes of Annie all inspire messages of optimism, persistence, hope, strength, and kindness. Even without family and within a rough orphan environment, Annie is determined to stay positive. It is at Christmastime that her positive vision becomes a reality.

Charlie Brown Christmas: In this animated 1965 movie, Charlie Brown decides to direct a holiday play after he feels frustrated about Christmas becoming too commercialized. Just as Charlie Brown manages to do during other holiday specials, he gets to the heart of the matter with childlike innocence as he and his friends discover the true meaning of Christmas.

It’s a Wonderful Life: Movieguide describes this 1946 classic as “arguably the most beloved movie of all time.” Viewed as “certainly the most uplifting, rewarding, and redemptive,” as well as “emotionally powerful, psychologically enriching, and beautifully made.” Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed show why they are truly actors from a different era. We love their iconic characters, such as George Bailey who is reminded by an angel about how wonderful his life is, and how he is “the richest man in town” . . . an especially poignant message in the challenging year of 2020.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol: This short (26 minutes) 1983 animated movie is an excellent and approachable way to introduce kids to the themes of transformation, philanthropy, and kindness through the character of Ebeneezer Scrooge. You can follow up with the delightful 1992 The Muppet Christmas Carol, starring Michael Caine and all the Muppets, as well as the 25-minute 1971 version that won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Subject (still the only television special and only Christmas Carol adaptation to do so).

Miracle on 34th Street: As Movieguide writes (giving the movie 4 stars), this warm-hearted classic, in which a skeptical young girl comes to have faith and hope, “stresses the importance of family and that intangibles of love, hope, and trust are more important than money.” While we’re partial to the 1947 version starring Maureen O’Hara and a young Natalie Wood, the 1994 remake is also very sweet. But like It’s a Wonderful Life, the black and white movie I watched as a little girl left a profound impact and has stayed with me so many Christmases later.

Bonus: watching black and white movies provides a great opportunity to teach your children what television and movies used to be like. For example, I will never forget my dad telling me what it was like for him to experience watching The Wizard of Oz, which starts in black and white but changes to color when Dorothy wakes up after the tornado. He said that watching the movie as a young child, he felt like a whole new world had opened up to him!

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: We highly recommend reading the book before watching this movie. It’s both laugh-out-loud hilarious and incredibly poignant, as six poor and poorly-behaved children strongarm their way into taking all of the important roles in a church’s nativity play. To everyone’s surprise, these kids make the pageant the most touching the church has ever witnessed. The book was made into a short movie in 1983.

The Small One: In this sweet animated 1978 movie, a Hebrew father tells his son to sell his donkey in a Jerusalem market. The little boy is about to give up when he meets Joseph. You can also see the book being read here.

What are some of your favorite Christmas classics? Email us at crew@primerrily.com and let us know!


A.J. Grey is a lawyer, mother, and leader in several civic organizations. Her favorite American value is equality, of people and of opportunity.

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