Even though my days of tearing open presents at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning are long over (we wait until the respectable 9 o’clock hour these days), the magic of the holiday is alive and well. In fact, you’ll probably find me belting out Mariah Carey Christmas carols while decorating our tree as soon as it’s socially acceptable to do so — ideally the weekend after Thanksgiving.
As soon as the first flakes fall, I want to put on my ugly sweater, add candy canes to my hot cocoa, and bake tray after tray of cookies to eat while watching the perfect movie to get into the spirit of the season. Here are some of my favorites when it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas:
When you want to feel the magic: “Elf”
First, we can watch this movie, and then we can make snow angels for two hours, and then we can go ice skating, and then we can eat a whole roll of Tollhouse cookie dough as fast as we can, and then we’ll snuggle. I love how this movie captures why believing in the spirit of Christmas — giving, joy, and kindness — is more important than going through the motions of the holiday. Also, Will Farrell makes me belly laugh every time.
When you want to feel independent: “Home Alone”
One must-do Christmas tradition in my house is making breakfast for dinner and watching this John Hughes movie. While the premise seems improbable by today’s standards of smart homes and cell phones, it’s still full of laughable slapstick humor. I definitely wouldn’t have come up with some of the wild home security solutions that Kevin does (a tarantula!?), and that’s part of the fun.
When you want to say, “awwwww”: “Love, Actually”
I watch this movie every single year and it never fails to be one of my favorites. (Don’t @ me, haters). Is it a true Christmas movie? Maybe not, but the holidays serve as a backdrop to propel the plot forward. With so many different threads to follow — and a star-studded ensemble cast — I always find something different to enjoy. At the end of the day, it’s all about love. If that’s not the spirit of Christmas, then I don’t know what is.
When you’re in the mood to waltz: “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
Yes, I can watch the “Harry Potter” movies anytime (and believe me, I do), but this one has the best Christmas scenes of the whole series because of the Yule Ball. With a stunning set covered in ice sculptures (including ice violins!), a swirling score, and laughably awkward teen scenes, this is one of my favorite movies to rewatch during the holidays.
When you want to fall in love: “While You Were Sleeping”
This is the second rom-com on this list, and while there are more I could add (“The Christmas Prince,” “The Holiday,” “Serendipity”… the list goes on), my all-time favorite is this Sandra Bullock 1995 classic. My mom and I love to watch this will-they-or-won’t-they story every year when I go home for Christmas because it’s a feel-good movie that reminds you of the power of family, chosen or not.
When you wish Christmas had more explosions: “Die Hard”
When we’re sick of watching sappy Christmas romantic comedies, we mix it up with this one. Is it a Christmas movie? Technically, yes, since it’s set on Christmas Eve. It’s Bruce Willis at his finest taking out bad guys, climbing through air ducts, and saving Christmas for everyone.
When you want to feel grateful: “It’s a Wonderful Life”
This movie is a classic for a reason. My family and I usually put this on after Christmas dinner to bask in the glow of good food and good company. Life is full of ups and downs — but no matter what, Christmas is a time to celebrate gratitude for all that you do have. You’ll finish the film feeling like you could lasso the moon for the ones you love. Listen for the next bell that rings — it means an angel gets their wings!