Christmas…It’s that time of year when you gasp, “It’s Christmas time again already?!” Even though we experience all things Yuletide at the same time every year, we always seem surprised when the first notes of “Sleigh Bells” ring through the speakers above us at Target. The music hits our ears, and the panic hits our nervous system. We go into must-buy-everything-now mode and don’t come up for air until around January 4th.
But I’m not here to talk about the stress of the season. I’m going to give you the gift of calm through the warming glow of celluloid experienced vicariously through your home theater system. My gift comprises the 5 best holiday movies for kids. Well, mostly for kids…
As a parent, you sometimes have to watch over and over again certain movies that are just for the kids. You have no choice—the little rascals make you sit and watch them. I, however, will focus on kids’ holiday movies that adults will not only be able to tolerate but actually enjoy watching.
The importance of watching Christmas movies together
I know what you’re thinking. “Why do I need to watch these movies, too? Can’t I just put on a tried and tested, top-ranked Christmas movie for kids on Netflix, make them some hot cocoa, and leave them to their devices while I go in the other room and watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football?” Well, you could do that, but you’d be missing out on some quality family time.
In this day and age, when the word “screen” has become as common as “apple” or “common core,” we have to cherish the moments we get with our kids in between iPad time, TV time, OCULUS VR time, and (for the last year and a half) Zoom school time. It’s not just the kids, though.
We all have shows we like to binge-watch, Candy Crush games we like to play, and TikToks we like to mindlessly scroll through on our phones. Now is the time, more than ever, to find a common screen-time event for the whole family to enjoy together: The Holidays.
Having a common, shared experience even on a screen is valuable. A movie only lasts about 2 hours, give or take, but the memory of watching a movie lasts a lifetime. I still get nostalgic about films I’d watch with my family as a kid. Most of them I now share with my son, and we can make each other laugh with a line or a quote from one of these movies at any time, day or night. Plus, holiday movies just have that extra punch, that extra warmth, that extra little bit of magic that not only makes them memorable, but it makes the time of year you watch them that much more special.
My father passed away when I was a teenager, which is now a very long time ago, but when he was alive, every Christmas we would watch Albert Finney in Scrooge, a 1970 musical version of the classic Dickens tale. It’s a great movie, but watching it at any other time of the year would ring hollow. Just the fact that we refused to watch it until Christmas Day made it such an event, a special viewing. It gives me a warm feeling just thinking about it—I can actually taste the eggnog we always enjoyed while watching the movie.
My point is that just because you watch a movie on a device screen doesn’t mean it can’t still be a wonderful way to spend time with the family during the holidays. You can watch your sporting events later. That’s why God invented DVR machines.
The 5 best Christmas movies for children…and adults
So, now that I have told you about why you need to watch these holiday movies for kids, let me help you decide what to watch. I hope I’ve chosen wisely enough to make you look back on this article and the advice contained within it with fondness, not black anger. Now onward to the list!
1. Arthur Christmas (2011)
This wonderful animated film features the voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, and a slew of other wonderful British actors. The story revolves around Arthur, who is the youngest son of Santa Claus. He seems to be the only one in the family who remembers what Christmas is all about.
In their version of how Santa accomplishes his exploits every Christmas Eve, the filmmakers have Santa operating a giant spaceship crewed with countless elves who deliver gifts, Mission Impossible-style, to children all over the globe. Santa’s eldest son, Steve, who is next in line for the job, clues us in to the fact that “Santa Claus” is like the Queen of England—it’s a position passed down from generation to generation. Steve runs the operation like an army general from Santa’s headquarters up at the North Pole.
When a little kid’s present gets left behind and Steve has no intention of jeopardizing the mission for a single child, Arthur takes it upon himself to deliver the forgotten toy by Christmas morning. He enlists the help of his grandpa, whom he calls Grandsanta, a retired Santa Claus who used to do his deliveries the old-fashioned way. Adventure and hilarity ensue, culminating in a heartwarming finale that teaches us all a wonderful lesson about remembering why we do the things that we do.
This was the 1st Christmas movie we took our son to see at a movie theater, so it holds a special place in my heart. I think you will also be highly entertained, and the kids will love this wonderful Christmas movie.
You can stream Arthur Christmas on Amazon Prime.
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Admittedly, this one is 100% in my wheelhouse. I’m a huge fan of both Halloween and Christmas, and this Tim Burton flick ticks all the boxes I need ticked when it comes to holiday fare.
If you’ve never heard of this classic children’s Christmas movie, I won’t make the assumption that you have been cryogenically frozen since the 1960s, but I will still ask, “Where have you been living?!” Jack Skellington, the protagonist of the movie, has permeated all areas of pop culture merchandise, from blow-up lawn decorations to coffee mugs and children’s school supplies. Well, no matter. You’re about to discover a wonderful piece of cinema, and, in a way, I envy you for getting to watch it for the 1st time.
Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town. He has always lived in that place, and along with all the other creepy townsfolk, Jack assumes is the only place to live. That is, until the day he wanders into the forest, bored with his same-old routine of all things scary. He finds there a circle of trees, each one sporting a door with a unique symbol of a holiday on it. Curious, Jack walks through the door adorned with a Christmas tree. This leads him to Christmas Town, where he is blown away by everything Christmas!
Naturally, Jack returns to H-Town with a new obsession and decides that he needs to create a Christmas of his own. He has Santa Claus kidnapped so the jolly old man can assume his holiday duties. We then get to see what Christmas would look like through the lens of Halloween, including presents containing shrunken heads, live bats nestled in Christmas trees, and people-eating Christmas wreaths. The most fun part is the terrified children.
This might sound scary, but it’s not. It was actually a great way for my kid to confront his fears about monsters and Halloween in general when he was young. The music is great, the characters are funny, and the overall message has a lasting effect.
Now dash over to Disney+ to stream this gem of a holiday kids’ movie.
3. A Christmas Story (1983)
Are you looking for a good Christmas children’s movie about a kid trying to convince his parents, Santa, and anyone who will listen to get him a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas? Then look no further because that’s exactly what you’re getting here!
This tale of the pitfalls of childhood desire is based on the writings of Jean Shepherd, and it delivers on all levels. It’s hilarious, poignant, and even a little emotional at times. There are definitely parts of this movie that might require some discussion, but I promise you, watching it will become a tradition in your family for many years to come. You’ll find yourself saying things like “Frah-gee-lay, must be Italian” and “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” in daily life the whole year round.
There’s a reason this movie plays on a loop every year on TBS for 24 hours straight starting at 8 pm on Christmas Eve. It’s simply one of the best children’s Christmas movies around, a bona fide classic.
4. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The Muppets taking on Charles Dickens? What more could you possibly ask for in a good children’s Christmas movie? Nothing, you say? How about Michael Caine portraying the iconic main character Ebenezer Scrooge? Yeah, that’s what I thought…
Directed by Jim Henson’s son, Brian, not only is this movie charming, but it tells the classic story of A Christmas Carol through the eyes of Gonzo, who, along with Rizzo the Rat, acts as the narrator. As we watch Scrooge navigate his late-night encounters with a slew of Christmas ghosts, we can’t help but laugh at the antics of Kermit (playing Bob Cratchit) and the rats that help run Scrooge’s accounting firm, not to mention Statler and Waldorf, who have a nice, dual cameo as Jacob (& Robert) Marley.
I have a rule of thumb when it comes to classic stories: if the Muppets are involved, you can’t go wrong.
Stream this movie on Disney+.
5. Home Alone (1990)
Macaulay Culkin in his Macaulay Culkin-est role leads the charge in this adorable Christmas romp that still holds up as one of the best holiday movies for kids 32 years after its release.
Mac plays Kevin, the youngest sibling in a large brood who gets left behind at home after his chaotic family, who are embarking on an epic trip to Paris for the holidays, wake up late and have to scramble to get on the plane. The parents miscount their children and forget a still-asleep Kevin in his bedroom. Typical, right?
Kevin is resourceful and manages to keep himself clean and fed while his mom tries to get back to him. However, his house gets targeted by a couple of bungling burglars and, with no alternatives, Kevin takes it upon himself to thwart the robbers and protect his home at all costs. Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci are hilarious as these inept thieves, and watching them getting bested by an 8-year-old is priceless.
The movie itself is hilarious, exciting, and very touching. It also offers a few great life lessons about things like judging people by their looks and being careful what you wish for. Your kids will come for the adventure, and you’ll stay for Daniel Stern’s riotous scream when Kevin puts a tarantula on his face.
OK, no more spoilers. I can’t vouch for the quality of the sequels, but you can stream all movies in the Home Alone-verse on…you guessed it, Disney+.
Honorable mention: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
I didn’t want to include this title in the list above for several reasons, one being that some kids might scoff at the idea of watching a movie in black and white. I don’t blame them as I had the same aversion to old films as a child. However, my dad made me watch it when I was young, and I have to say that Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life has become my favorite movie of all time. Period. (And yes, I have seen all the Marvel movies).
Most people think it’s too long, but they are wrong. My wife calls it depressing, but I lovingly disagree. It’s a cinematic masterpiece that culminates in one of the greatest moments in Christmas movie history. I really think that if you and your family give it all of your attention, you won’t be disappointed and, hopefully, neither will be the kids.
You can stream it on Amazon.
Other films in the running
I have a hard time narrowing down choices when it comes to my favorites. So, just in case nothing on my list piques your interest or you feel that it doesn’t include enough Netflix Christmas movies for kids, don’t worry. Here are a few more that you’ll love:
- Elf (2003)
- The Polar Express (2004)
- The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
- The Grinch (2018), Klaus (2019)
- A Christmas Carol (2009)
- Edward Scissorhands (1990)
- Holiday Inn (1942)
- Prancer (1989)
- Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
- Scrooge (1970) (starring Albert Finney, of course)
My family really loves this time of year, and we try to take advantage of it as much as we can. Last year, when the world shut down, we went to Christmas Light drive-throughs instead of tree-lighting ceremonies and participated in online singalongs instead of singing Christmas carols in our neighborhood. We kept our holiday cheer level high and our Yuletide calendar full. One activity we always made sure we had time for was watching Holiday movies together.
Christmas movies for children are in abundant supply. If you make some popcorn and hot cocoa, the kids will practically come running. When they do, don’t slink away. Stick around and watch a movie with your kids. You won’t regret it.