This will be my first Christmas without my mother. She died in June from a neurological disease, and although I knew her death was coming, there are so many things I didn’t consider. Approaching the holidays without her is one of them. I feel like I’m walking through uncharted territory as I run through a gamut of new emotions surrounding her loss.
Typically when I’m feeling emotional pain or grief, I turn to movies. But picking the right movie is a little bit tricky around the holidays. Some movies can evoke a good cry, especially if I haven’t given myself permission to have one recently. Other movies indulge my nostalgia from childhood, when the death of my mother never entered my mind and everything was blissful. Other films are pure escapism with happy endings, restoring my optimism, if only for a couple of hours.
If you’re grieving too, I put together this list of holiday movies to consider depending on your mood.
Movies for a good cry
Miracle on 34th Street
My mother loved this movie, so it always makes me think of her. Eight-year-old Susan (a young Natalie Wood) has been taught not to believe in fairy tales, so when she goes to visit Santa at Macy’s during the holidays, there’s a lot of confusion. She meets a man actually named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) who seems like he really could be Santa, but how can that be true amid all the skepticism? This movie is about opening your heart and letting your inner child believe in miracles and feel the hope and kindness Santa is meant to spread. It’s a great film for those of us who are sick of feeling sad, bitter or cynical from grieving.
The Family Stone
Use caution with this one because there’s a twist in the story that may have you sobbing your eyes out, especially if you just lost your mother. But if a heaving, snotty cry is what you’re looking for, then this is the movie for you.
In this ensemble film, multiple characters are either heartbroken or struggling in their romantic relationship as they approach the holidays. Love (mostly) prevails in the end, but it’s the journey and sacrifice of each character that makes me emotional. This movie is a reminder that while we are all flawed people, true love is worth fighting for. It also means that love continues even after a person is gone.
Movies to indulge your childhood nostalgia
Frosty the Snowman
Yes, we mostly remember this from our childhoods. If you haven’t seen it in a while, you may have forgotten that the jolly, happy snowman melts at the end. The children who love Frosty must deal with losing a loved one, just like we are.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
This movie took a lot of heat on Twitter recently, as Santa and the other reindeer seem to bully poor Rudolph, but it all gets worked out when Rudolf saves Christmas. You also can’t beat that goofy-yet-joyful stop-motion animation that predated Pixar’s computer animation. I always loved the Isle of Misfit Toys and used to imagine visiting when I was a kid.
The Sound of Music
Though this musical technically isn’t a Christmas movie, there’s something about the Alps, the great songs and escaping evil that just has a joyous feel. This movie also has a happy ending, and you will enjoy singing your way to it.
Movies for pure escapism
The eternal question about Die Hard is whether or not it’s an action movie or a Christmas movie. Let’s just agree it’s both, pop some popcorn and indulge in John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) mission to save his family from terrorists at an office Christmas party.
This adorable comedy stars Will Ferrell as a human elf and Zooey Deschanel as his love interest who helps him accept his true self. Set in a New York department store, this movie is full of laughs, romance and self-discovery and has just the right amount of silliness to take your mind off your troubles.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
This updated stop-motion classic from Tim Burton is a beautiful mix of Halloween macabre and Christmas tropes. This is a Christmas fantasy movie like no other, and the songs from Danny Elfman are delicious without being saccharine-sweet. Grab some chocolate peppermint bark and sink in.