by Leah Sottile

The holidays have always held an element of discovery for me. Christmas Eves were always spent in my footie-pajamas, a warm mug of Swiss Miss with mini-marshmallows in hand, and sheets of loose leaf scrawled with probing questions for Santa Claus. What were his interests? His favorite foods? Any fears? Table tennis or racquetball? Needing answers, I'd drag my parents downstairs no later than 4 am -- discovering the once full plate of homemade cookies and Hershey Kisses now empty, except for that one half-eaten confection that Santa clearly didn't have time for. His handwriting -- all in capital letters -- would answer each of my questions. And it was then that I realized how similar his penmanship was to my Dad's. That was because, my mother told me, my Dad just so happened to attend to school with Santa Claus himself. It explained so much.

Ah, the discoveries of the holidays. I would have never guessed that Santa was originally from Queens.

Although my family never discovered the holiday spirit by eating freshly roasted chestnuts, wearing corny Santa hats or ugly handmade sweaters -- I have cool grandmothers, thank you very much -- one thing we always did to get ourselves into the spirit was to watch holiday movies. We'd laugh along with Ralphie, Clark Griswold and Charlie Brown; we'd watch my mom tear up every year at the end of It's a Wonderful Life. Over stories of joy and togetherness, we would discover the spirit of the holidays -- and the following, in no particular order, were some of my favorites.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Commercialism and quandaries plague the star of Peanuts, and through his friends and family, he learns the true meaning of Christmas. A strange, bitter cartoon, but one that has taught millions the spirit of the holiday season.


A modern-day adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but way better because Bill Murray's in it. And any way we can pencil Murray into the holidays makes us whir like little dreidels.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

A film that's funny because it's so true. Christmas lights break, in-laws snore, money is tight and the cat chewed through the twinkle lights. It's the movie to watch when the holidays are on the verge of getting too stressful, and hearing Cousin Eddie talk about "the shitter" is the only thing that'll pull you out of your mid-holiday funk.

Die Hard

...Or perhaps you're so far embedded in your holiday woes that seeking entertainment in the form of violence is your only lifeline to forgetting about toy stores and fruitcake. All that is nicely packaged here, complete with blood, guts, spies and explosions -- all with a holiday theme, of course.

A Christmas Story

Kids are bundled for cold weather like pigs in blankets. Tongues stick to metal poles. Dad longs after a lamp with a mannequin's shapely leg for a stand. The classic American holiday story, and it's funny every year.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King and head honcho of Halloween Town, discovers Christmas Town. Weary of his ghoulish traditions, he kidnaps Santa Claus and attempts to handle Christmas on his own -- but he misses the point. Add a little Goth to the season with Tim Burton's heartwarming, off-color animated holiday flick.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Burl Ives narrates as Rudolph, the misfit reindeer, who seeks a land that will accept him and his dentistry-bound elf friend in this 1964 animated classic.

Love, Actually

It's a sappy title, but it tells the semi-believable story of a few Brits who are just trying to live through life's minor yet heartbreaking struggles during the holiday season. Bring Kleenex.

The California Raisins' Christmas Claymation Special

You might have forgotten them, but the singing aged grapes are the highlight of one Inlander staffer's holiday season. Why? Direct all queries to -- he's itching to tell you.

Santa vs. the Snowman

A lonely snowman thinks Santa's slacking on the job, and he vies to take the reins of his sleigh on Christmas along with his army of icy companions.

Pieces of April

One of the few Thanksgiving movies out there, and this one features a punked-out Katie Holmes just trying to impress her family as she hosts her first holiday meal. The oven breaks, and she's forced to take her suburban family for a memorable meal in New York's Lower East Side.

It's a Wonderful Life

Moms across the world love this movie. Especially mine. So it makes the list. (Think I could get that digital camera now, Mom?)

Publication date: 11/25/04

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About The Author

Leah Sottile

Leah Sottile is a Spokane-based freelance writer who formerly served as music editor, culture editor and a staff writer at the Inlander. She has written about everything from nuns and Elvis impersonators, to jailhouse murders and mental health...