The Holy Secular Ritual of Holiday Movies

And our patron saint, John Hughes

Jonas Ellison
Nov 14, 2019 · 3 min read
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I want to watch all the holiday movies.

All of them… Every year.

My holiday movie watching fervor is not limited to Christmas movies. I like (certain) Halloween movies and can’t miss Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for Thanksgiving.

But Christmas is the center of this nostalgic universe for me…

My all-time favorite Christmas movie is It’s A Wonderful Life (I know, I’m a sap). National Lampoons Christmas Vacation comes in at a close second with Home Alone on its heels. Now that I’m a dad, I’ll add Polar Express and The Muppet Christmas Carol to the mix.

Our annual tradition is to go to the historic Music Box Theater every year to the annual sing-along showing of White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney. Families dressed in the most elaborate Christmas outfits pour into the theater while the parents hit the bar pre-show and then sing, whistle, and laugh their way through the entire movie. It’s a local ritual and it’s pretty amazing.

As an aside — last year, since we live just 30 minutes from the North Shore suburbs of Chicago (aka the land of John Hughes), we drove by as many iconic homes that Hughes shot at that we could (including the McAllister house!).

But back to my point — I love holiday movies. It kinda drives my wife crazy because, as much as she loves them (after all, she’s the one who introduced me to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles since I was sheltered from it as a child) she likes to watch them more sporadically. They get worn out fast for her and she enjoys them more if we watch them every few years rather than every single year. And I get it.

But not me... I like to watch them. Every. Single. Year.

Here’s where I’m coming from…

Every time I watch these movies, it feels like I’m watching them for the first time. This is what makes them classics. They’re iconic, meaning they anchor us into time and place. They’re a secular symbol system of sorts.

When I sit down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life, I’m immediately taken back to all the other years I’ve sat and watched it. But each time, I see something new. What’s interesting about this is that it’s (obviously) not the movie that changes. It’s us that change. The movie just speaks to those new movements. We notice things we never could’ve noticed just a year prior. They were invisible to us until now.

This is the dynamic that occurs with the ritual of holiday movies. We’re both nostalgically anchored back in time while seeing the movie anew through slightly older eyes.

There’s a sacredness to that.

Grace Incarnate

A collection of thoughts about life in this grace-starved and Christ-soaked world.

Jonas Ellison

Written by

Midlife ELCA Lutheran seminarian with big Catholic energy MDiv-ing at LSTC Chicago. He/him. Blogs daily(ish) at

Grace Incarnate

A collection of thoughts about life in this grace-starved and Christ-soaked world.

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