I know Advent hasn’t begun yet, but I thought I’d sneak this post in here as this is something you may start doing throughout that period of waiting on Sundays (the Little Easters).
In my post on keeping Christ in Christmas I spoke about keeping Sunday as a sabbath and making the time together special and dedicated to God. I also suggested watching a Christmas movie with this focus in mind. Of course there are many Christmas movies, but they’re not necessarily focused on God, and those that are are not necessarily good for children. So here I thought I’d share some suggestions (big hint: the last one’s my favourite).
Some are more of a grown up offering, but there are enough children’s selections to choose for each advent Sunday – which means that the others can always be a midweek, late viewing option.
Miracle on 34th Street
Whether it’s the original or the colour version this film explores the nature of belief that can’t be proven without a doubt. Although the film focuses on Santa Claus, and there are posts that explore how the character that he has become can be rechristened, the arguments can be used to talk about faith and enable young children to start to understand the nature of proof and the will to believe.
In the film their are “proofs” that the store Santa is the genuine article; his ability to sign to a deaf child, his knowing what each child wants even when he hasn’t been told, the consistency of his statements about who he is along with his actions.
However the film points out that ultimately there can be no definitive proof and believing must be an act of the will which results from being persuaded not by the desire for the magic, but the desire for the values that underpins the magic. The scenes were people are encouraged – including adults generally and in particular those in positions of authority – to declare their belief in Santa show they ultimately do so as a way to declare their belief in the spirit that underpins Christmas itself. I’m not talking here of the material; they are declaring their belief in love, charity, family, and grace.
Ultimately this belief based on will is rewarded for the child protagonist, who has her wish of a family fulfilled.
This is reflected in the belief of the modern Christian’s faith journey, those who believe without seeing and who are ultimately blessed. These blessings come in the form of “proofs”of Gods existence through answered prayer. In this film Santa, a Christ figure, imitates Jesus who speaks of Himself and Whose actions validate what He says. For example His assertion that the paraplegic man’s sins are forgiven, which is easily stated, with the healing power of His words which enable the same man to get up, pick up his mat and walk.
When this film first came out I thought it would be anti Christian and as a result didn’t go near it. However, despite it being a very secular offering in many ways, there is a lot to recommend it.
The story follows a lie, brought about as a result of pride, which escalates when it is overheard and taken as the truth. The central character, Paul, also deals with other faults, as we all do; his temper, his willingness to lay the blame at others feet for his own faults and his refusal to admit his original act despite it leading him ever deeper into difficulty.
The secular life style is at play throughout – he lived with his girlfriend Jennifer and, despite his wanting marriage, she left him to pursue a glittering career that never materialised. However even within that there are points to raise with children that point to the truth, as living this way has inevitably resulted in both Paul and Jennifer to be unhappy with their current life.
It’s the broken relationship of Paul and Jennifer that drives the plot after all; he had thought he was building a life with her that would last and was left living in the house they shared without her. How many women have I known who’ve done that?
The film is amusing, but it has a surprisingly touching treatment of the nativity itself and it doesn’t avoid the wonder of the divine birth.
Watch it with caution, but look out for the talking points that may come up.
The Small One
A Disney movie from an age where the Christian faith was reflected in the movies – and this is a lovely one. It’s about a little boy and his beloved donkey who is too old and must be sold. He wants to take him to the city himself to sell. The donkey is not wanted and the musical cartoon delivers the storyline well. This includes a market seller who mocks the donkey and the little boy’s defense of him; he was a donkey fit to carry a king!
Then the unwanted donkey is bought by a kindly man that is taking his pregnant wife to Bethlehem. Carrying a King indeed.
Muppets Christmas Carol
Don’t be put off by the zany figures; this film is close to the source material and a wonderful, funny, introduction to this Christmas classic for young ones. It may not have a focus on the Christ child, but as always it focuses on the Christian message of selfless love. It therefore provides a wonderful talking point for those encouraging children to focus on the presence, not the presents.
There is a healthy does of faith too in the wonderful song when the Cratchet family prays and sings ‘Bless Us All’. As Dickens designed it, their simple love in spite of a life of poverty is a wonderful contrast to the miserly Scrooge. Watch it at the beginning of the holiday and sing the song at grace each day.
The Chronicles of Narnia
A wonderful film at this time of year as it shows discipleship and the rational behind trusting in something fantastical, despite it being out of the natural order of things. The conversation between the wise professor and the older Pevensie children, Peter and Susan, is a gold mine for discussion points. As they describe their sister’s insistence on the magical world in the wardrobe he asks them if she is normally the truthful one. Of course their response is yes, and he points to her character being an indicator that what she is saying is therefore likely to be true. No matter how fantastical.
For all Christians it can be related back to Christ and C.S. Lewis’ statement that Jesus can either be an evil man, a madman or God, but “let’s not have this nonsense of His merely being a good teacher”.
It also points to the witness of the disciples; fleeing from The Cross, cowering in the upper rooms and then proclaiming the Gospel unto death.
It additionally can be used when we teach our children the stories of those saints recognised by the Church, each of them laying down their life for God.
Lastly, from me anyway, it can be used to point to those trusted figures in the family who have an inspiring faith. Encourage your children to hear their witness and mull over the question posed to the children.
Cinderella by Kenneth Branagh
I thought this was an amazing film, going far beyond the animated version. In a time where womanhood is being eroded, Cinderella gives a beautiful tableau in womanly strength, dignity and forgiveness at the end.
She cares for others throughout and doesn’t succumb to evil, living a life of quiet hope. In this movie you can see the theology of Saint Therese.
It is an embodiment of The Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are those who are humble, meek, strive for justice etc. Cinderella isn’t weak, she bears the injustice of servitude with grace. For some this can be antagonising.
Yet it is important to teach our children that there is a difference between cowardly succumbing to oppression and carrying your cross. We say that Jesus was silent before His accusers; however what we mean by this is He didn’t rage against them, or use His or His Father’s infinite power to destroy them, but He spoke Truth to them. When He is slapped by a member of the Sanadrhin He does as He has taught and offers them the other cheek in the form of a question…
22When Jesus had said this, one of the officers standing nearby slapped Him in the face and said, “Is this how You answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus replied, “If I saidsomething wrong, testify to what was wrong. But if I spoke correctly, why did you strike Me?” – John 18
Cinderella does this in the movie…
I could go on with the teaching points, but one last one. Cinderella has always been an allegory of the Church and it’s spouse, Christ. The Holy Spirit purifies her, ready for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Throughout history Christians have turned to power in order to bring about the Kingdom on Earth with dire consequences and in opposition to the teachings of Christ; Cinderella is a portrayal of a woman as a Christ figure choosing peace, humility and love.
It’s not to be underestimated.
It’s a Wonderful Life
A film that centres around a theme of unselfishness, and in a society that repeats the mantra that if it feels good it is good, it is the perfect antidote to our me culture.
I’m sure you’ve seen it, but it’s good to examine the themes it presents again, surely?
George Bailey is a man that’s sacrificed again, and again and again. He sacrifices his hearing when his younger brother falls in a frozen lake and he dives in to save him. He sacrifices his safety when he confronts his boss, a grieving pharmacist, who is about to give out the wrong prescription and possibly kill someone. He sacrifices his dreams of travelling when his father suddenly dies and he takes over his family business in order to save it; a mortgages and loans society that has enabled many residents to get their feet on the property ladder.
Eventually he sacrifices his dreams again, for his brother.
Through his youth he struggles at the bit to get away, then takes on the mantle of husband and father. He is a noble man, unsung; or at least he can’t seem to hear the songs sung about him. He watches instead as he sees others leave his small town and go on to have success elsewhere as he still struggles financially.
Then disaster strikes and we find George on a bridge considering the unthinkable. He is like Job -righteous, but beaten by life. Unlike Job, who refuses to curse God, George is about to do so by destroying the most precious gift God has given him. His life. By doing so he would irreparably damage those around him in the process.
Job doesn’t get an answer to the questions he poses to God, but he finds himself in God’s presence and this is enough for him. Frank Capra, the film’s director, puts on the screen the Christian response to Job’s questioning (whom, as the Biblical book is pre Christ, Job doesn’t yet know).
An incompetent angel shows George what would have been if he didn’t exist and this reaffirms George, encouraging him to get back up and fight again.
I said that we are constantly pursued with the message that ‘if it feels good it is good’, but George’s ethical decisions are often sacrificial and don’t feel good at the time. This is because real love involves the sacrifice of the self and must be given freely. It is getting up in the night to your child for the 100th time, remaining in a relationship when the spark is gone, caring for that sick and elderly relative. But on the other side of the bridge is the reward; a well raised child, a contented, shared dotage and the knowledge that you loved your parents to the end.
We might not, like George, see the bounty in this life. Yet the Christian life is acting in faith that eventually we will swap the rags for a crown of gold.
The Bishops Wife
A film about a prideful Anglican Bishop who has lost site of his mission and the temptation of his wife, and an angel, to ignore the wedding vows already made.
The charming Cary Grant plays the angel who falls in love with the Bishop’s wife during his mission to aid the latter.
It reminds us how we can create idols just as we believe we are worshipping God. As we wrap presents, perfect our decorating and other such things it is good to ask the question if, like Bishop Henry Broughman, we are focusing on the wrong things. I don’t just mean God either, although that’s important, but Broughman ignores his wife and child and therefore opens the door to temptation for her too (which she doesn’t walk through).
It’s perhaps, therefore, a good film to watch at the beginning of the secular festive season to encourage us to ask if we’re keeping things in their proper place.
The Nativity Story
I love this film. Oddly it made me grow closer not just to Christ, but to his foster father Joseph too. There is a lovely scene where Joseph, on his journey with Mary and precious little food resources, halves his bread to share with her. Then, without her knowing, he shares his share with the donkey. It’s such a wonderful depiction of manhood in a time when the role is derided.
My husband and I adopted our children and I’m sure that Joseph was on that journey with me too, supporting me with his intercessions. A lovely Christmas watch.
I was very pleasantly surprised when I first saw the opening scene of this movie and the caption which reads ´Nazareth, 9 months before b.c. ´. Straight away is confirmation that this film acknowledges the importance of the event that is being communicated.
The story revolves around cute and quirky animals, of course, but Mary and Joseph are there too, in what can’t be considered a supporting role, despite the film’s promotional material.
They look so young!
The film beautifully portrays the visitation of Gabriel, whilst still making it appealing to modern audiences. The unexpected nature of Mary’s pregnancy is handled well; managing to convey the dilemma that Joseph finds himself in to adults eyes, but in such a way that awkward questions won’t be forthcoming from innocent little ones.
Throughout the story Mary and Joseph’s love for each other is apparent and they are presented in a surprisingly three dimensional way – again, completely unexpected in what I thought was going to be just a cutesy, kids film.
In fact, it’s not only the pregnancy that is shown as character development points. The couple face uncertainties on their journey and both Jospeh and Mary are shown in turn to doubt and feel despondency. Joseph asks whether he, a poor carpenter, has the capacity for such a task.
With Mary it appears to be exhaustion, her faith shines through nevertheless. On the visitation of the angel she says thank you, mirroring the Magnificat, and when they face repeated difficulty she acknowledges that “After all, just because God has a plan doesn’t mean to say it’s going to be easy”. Wise words for little ones to hear.
The animal side of the story involves Bo the donkey and his growing awareness through his love for Mary of what is important, ending in his realisation that he has carried The King on his back as he and the other animals kneel to worship.
Bo, short for Boaz, finds his counterpart in Ruth the sheep. The latter has left her flock, despite her great fear and pack mentality, as she has seen the Star of Bethlehem and acknowledges its significance. She makes comments to Bo about her flock refusing to follow her and his acceptance of her; mirroring the Biblical Boaz and Ruth.
I think this will be a firm favourite of my families throughout the years. My children love it and there is so much depth that you can draw on to talk about the significance of Christmas.
I have lots of activities and spiritual preparation for you and your family in forthcoming Advent and Christmas posts. In the meantime please hit the subscribe button, or follow on social media (and I’ll follow you back). I’d love to share your families journey, so keep me updated. In the meantime…