It’s December, which means the holiday season is in full swing. Diwali was just over a month ago on November 4th, Hanukkah ended yesterday, the winter solstice is coming two weeks from today, Christmas just after that, and Kwanzaa will finish out the year (for more information about different holidays celebrated each winter, check out last year’s blog post!) These holidays usually mean traditions like spending time with family, holiday cooking, decorating your house, traveling, or even reading. Out of all the traditions I grew up with, one of my favorites will always be watching holiday movies.
Every winter when I lived with my parents, my mother and I would spend most evenings watching holiday movies. When I was young that was children’s movies and TV specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or the Rugrats episodes about Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. As I got older, we moved on to formulaic, feel-good Lifetime and Hallmark originals. We watched them almost daily, and never ran out of new ones to watch (seriously, Hallmark debuted 42 new holiday movies this year, 40 in 2020, 40 in 2019, and so on). Even though I wouldn’t say these usually made-for-tv movies were a favorite genre, there was something comforting about watching happy characters surrounded by decorations, music, common Christmas foods, and all the other Christmas traditions I took part in throughout my own life.
But for all the predictability and happy endings that were a good part of these holiday movies, I also found that there was less representation of holidays other than Christmas. Besides the rare title like Hitched for the Holidays, which features a love story between one Jewish main character and one Catholic main character over both holidays, there were very few holiday movies centered around Hanukkah, and even fewer around Kwanzaa, Yule, or other winter holidays. Even within the Christmas movies themselves, there was very little diversity in casting, featuring all or almost all white characters, no representation of disabilities, and no queer characters, let alone as love interests. While this didn’t necessarily ruin these movies for me, as time went on it became more apparent that these movies weren’t ones where I could completely identify with the characters, and many other people couldn’t either.
Even though I and many others couldn’t identify with many of these characters, I will say even in the last decade or two there have been significant improvements in representation within Christmas movies, as well as a wider variety of holidays represented in movies as a whole. There are new queer Christmas movies, ranging from predictable feel-good stories like The Christmas Setup to nontraditional horror comedy like Anna and the Apocalypse. There are new holiday movies with disabled characters portrayed positively, like Last Christmas. And there are tons of new Christmas movies with nonwhite characters, ranging from romances like A Christmas Miracle to comedies with Black and Jewish leads like The Night Before. Although a slower progression towards representation, there is also an increase in holiday movies not just featuring winter holidays besides Christmas, but centered around them like that of Love, Lights, Hanukkah! These new movies can’t change the fact that growing up there was very little representation in holiday and other wintery films, but they can create a better understanding and reflection of all those in our community going forward, for children and adults alike.
Whether based in religion, family customs, or a tradition of your own making, most people have things they love during the winter holiday season. If you’re like me and get into the spirit for the holidays you celebrate through movies, check out this list of movies to watch to celebrate all the various holidays this winter season!