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The Top 9 Family Christmas Movies

by David Engle | Dec 18, 2019 | 4 min read

The Christmas season offers no shortage of entertainment. The list of holiday movies is lengthy and full of classics—some made purely for laughs and entertainment, others created with the Christmas message in mind. If you’re not sure which movies or TV specials are appropriate to watch with the family while snuggling on the couch with popcorn and cocoa, we’ve compiled a list for you. With apologies to Clark Griswold and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (a classic in its own right, with an appreciation for family), this list stays on the PG side of the fence, with movies and shows that are as appropriate for younger children as they are for adults. In no particular order…

  1. Elf (Rated PG, 97 minutes)
    One of my personal favorites, Elf tells the story of Buddy (Will Ferrell), a human adopted by Santa’s elves as a baby. As a rather large human among a world of diminutive elves, Buddy clearly doesn’t fit in. Upon realizing who he really is, Buddy leaves the North Pole on a quest to find his biological father (James Caan) in New York City. In classic fish-out-of-water fashion, Buddy hilariously stumbles his way through The Big Apple while spreading Christmas magic and belief to those who need it most. Funny, heartwarming, and full of Christmas cheer, Elf is a holiday classic for kids of all ages.
  2. Miracle on 34th Street (Not rated, 96 minutes)
    A classic in every sense of the word, this 1947 movie tells the story of a little girl (Natalie Wood) who, raised by a no-nonsense executive with Macy’s (Maureen O’Hara), doesn’t believe in Santa Claus…until she meets Macy’s newest Santa, who actually believes he’s Santa! Is he? Will little Susan finally open her heart and her mind, and take a leap of faith to believe in miracles? You’ll have to watch this funny, family-friendly film to find out!
  3. A Charlie Brown Christmas Special (Rated G, 25 minutes)
    Poor Charlie Brown is dismayed by all of the Christmas commercialism that surrounds him, from Snoopy decorating his doghouse for a holiday lighting contest to his little sister Sally asking for tens and twenties in her letter to Santa. Has everyone forgotten the true meaning of Christmas? Not Linus, who delivers a sweet, memorable synopsis of the reason for the season during rehearsals for the Charlie Brown-directed Christmas play. A holiday tradition for decades, A Charlie Brown Christmas is a must-watch for the entire family.
  4. Home Alone (Rated PG, 103 minutes)
    Eight-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macauley Culkin) is the youngest of a large family, teased by his older siblings, scolded by his parents, always feeling picked-on. On the eve of the family’s Christmas trip to Paris, Kevin wishes that his family would disappear. And a power outage that night causes his dreams to come true. The McCallisters are forced to rush to the airport in the morning to make their flight, and lost among all the chaos is the fact that Kevin was banished to the attic bedroom and left behind. Yep, he’s home alone. And forced to deal with a pair of dim-witted burglars who have their eyes on Kevin’s house. Things get crazy and funny, but all the while, Kevin realizes the error of his ways and that family is more important than anything else.
  5. It’s a Wonderful Life (Not rated, 130 minutes)
    Another all-time holiday classic, Frank Capra’s 1947 film tells the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), from childhood through married life. George’s life doesn’t go according to plan, as he’s forced to take over his father’s building and loan business after he passes away. Abandoning his dreams to travel the world and become an architect, George settles in his hometown of Bedford Falls, marries, and becomes a father. As George’s luck keeps getting worse, he declares that he wishes he was never born. That wish sends a guardian angel down to George, and he shows George what life was like if he actually hadn’t ever been born. Seeing how different (not in a good way) the world is without his existence, George comes to realize how much of an impact he’s actually made and wishes to return to his old life, grateful for all he actually has.
  6. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966 animated special; Not rated, 26 minutes)
    The Grinch hates Christmas. All of it. The lights, the trees, the songs, the presents. And he wants to get rid of it once and for all. From his mountaintop home looking down on Whoville, the Grinch plots his Christmas Eve heist and proceeds to rob the town of every sign of Christmas. When he wakes to singing and celebrating in Whoville on Christmas morning, he realizes that the day isn’t about all the stuff in his bag but about kindness, caring, giving, and love. Full of Dr. Seuss prose, classic songs, and Boris Karloff’s voice talent, this animated TV special is one for the whole family to enjoy.
  7. The Polar Express (Rated G, 140 minutes)
    Beautifully animated and full of Tom Hanks, The Polar Express brings the classic story to life in stunning color and realism. The amazing train takes non-believing kids to the North Pole, where they witness Christmas miracles occurring right before their very eyes. This movie, with its message deeply rooted in belief, is the perfect one to watch while under a blanket with the fireplace roaring.
  8. A Christmas Carol (Not rated to Rated PG)
    Pick a version, any version. Charles Dickens’ timeless tale has been adapted for the big screen almost too many times to count. It’s been done by The Flintstones, The Muppets, Mickey Mouse, Bill Murray, Jim Carrey, George C. Scott, and Patrick Stewart, among many others. You know the story: greedy miser Ebenezer Scrooge hates everything about Christmas until he’s visited by spirits that show him the error of his ways until he sees the light and learns the true meaning of Christmas.
  9. A Christmas Story (Rated PG, 94 minutes)
    No Christmas movie list is complete without A Christmas Story. While there’s no real underlying message within the movie (aside from the importance of family and knowing not to stick your tongue to a frozen flagpole), the story of Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and his most memorable Christmas from the 1950s is packed with nostalgic fun that both parents and kids will love.

Now get that fire started, gather the family, and binge-watch these classic Christmas films. What are some of your favorites?

David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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