1. Curl up with a holiday classic

    A scene from Love Actually a quirky, modern holiday classicIf the stress of the season or recent events is getting to you, try what I do darlings: curl up with a classic. Never underestimate the feel-good factor of a fabulous holiday movie. A well-chosen one really can lift your spirits. You may think the airwaves are chock-a-block full of holiday specials. They are. So if Charlie Brown, The Simpsons, and Lifetime movies warm your heart – by all means have at it. What I am suggesting, however, is building your own library of old and new classics to get you through the season in style.
    One of my husband’s holiday favourites is the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. If you haven’t seen it, darlings, you don’t know what you are missing. This bittersweet story has been remade, but the new versions can’t come close to the original’s charm. It is a timeless story of goodness and giving. A quirky angel shows a compassionate but frustrated man how great he was, and how different the world would have been without him. 
    Jimmy Stewart plays small-town boy George Bailey. He dreams of making his fortune around the world, but he is forced to sacrifice his ambitions to stay home and help his family and his town. He marries Mary Hatch, his high school sweetheart, played by the lovely Donna Reed. Events bring George to the brink of despair one cold Christmas Eve, but he is saved by Angel Second Class Clarence Oddbody.
    This black-and-white tale is grittier than most Christmas movies made today. George Bailey’s life was wonderful, but he had a miserable slog realizing it. Indeed, George goes through an earthly hell before the bells ring and the angel earns his wings. Maybe that’s why the film flopped at the box office when it was released in 1946. It found its true and loyal audience in the 1970s, when the ownership rights to the movie lapsed, and local TV stations broadcast it over and over because it cost them so little. That helped the film get rediscovered, and it became a classic because its characters and issues are timeless and unforgettable. It is at times hilarious and heartbreaking, an emotional roller coaster that would remind even a non-believer of the true message of Christmas. In many ways this shameless tearjerker has never been more powerful or relevant.
    My must-see holiday movie isn’t that old. Love Actually was made in 2003 by director Richard Curtis. He also made the now-classic romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral. Love Actually has that same wonderful quirky feeling and the same wry writing.  I fell madly in love with it the first time I saw it. I love the soundtrack and the song, All I Want for Christmas is You. It gives me a chill. It’s romantic and fun. This movie makes me laugh, cry, and feel exactly the way I think Christmas should feel – warm and delicious. It is the perfect movie for an unabashed romantic.
    The cast is fabulous with Keira KnightleyHugh GrantLiam Neeson and Emma Thompson. It’s a compilation of stories that intersect the month before Christmas in London. The stories all involve love, loss, and renewal. It is an enchanting film for a magical season, made with uncommon grace and humour. 
    A friend recently longed for a quiet afternoon with A House Without a Christmas Tree. This movie stars Jason Robards. Set in 1946, a young girl in Nebraska longs for a Christmas tree. The tree and holiday celebration are things her bitter widowed father won’t give her. My friend decorates fabulously for the holidays. She finds a way to bring joy to the most mundane situations. I can see why this is among her favourites.
    I also have a fondness for Nancy Meyer’s Holiday with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet. Nancy Meyer makes smart chick flicks. She also made the wise and wry, It’s Complicated. In Holiday, Cameron and Kate are two heartbroken women who trade places. English editor Kate comes to sunny L.A. to escape her romantic disillusionment. High-powered Hollywood film producer Cameron lands in the icy cold Cotswold’s to recover from a broken romance. It is a delightful and well-written romantic comedy that’s all the more magical for the holiday setting.
    Another favourite, The Diary of Bridget Jones, is not strictly a holiday movie, but it ends with a grand holiday finale. Renee Zellweger stars in this thinly-disguised modern take on a Jane Austen tale. Bridget struggles with her work, weight, and (self) worth. Then she has to choose between an honourable man and a romantic scallywag. It’s also lovely to watch Hugh Grant and Colin Firth co-star.
    I also never miss the old musical Holiday Inn when it is on. I love the picture-perfect New England inn, snowy sleigh rides, and old show tunes. Corny?  You bet, and I love it.  After all, I like all the hoopla, holly, and silver bells of the holidays.
    This is my list darlings. It is missing many classics that you may enjoy. My list is heavy on romance; for that I make no apologies. You may enjoy: A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, or Scrooged. I know someone who likes to watch The Walton’s Christmas Special, because that is what her family did. If you start to look into it, you may be astounded by the number of holiday movies available. I was.
    The holidays shouldn’t be spectator sport – heaven forbid! But sometimes it’s good to curl up, relax, and enjoy a little holiday cheer, Hollywood-style.
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