My only persistent Christmas tradition revolves around movies. During this time every year, I take time to watch my favorite holiday movies, either on DVD or when they appear on Turner Classic Movies. For me, the season wouldn't be completely the season without my having seen these favorites.
Number one on my list is "The Bishop's Wife," starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven, along with the wonderful characters Gladys Cooper, Elsa Lanchester, Monty Woolley, and James Gleason. I have no memory of the first time I watched it, but I do know that it immediately appealed to my sense of whimsy. There are a number of reasons I adore this film, chief among them Cary Grant. He is my favorite male movie actor (Katharine Hepburn is my favorite female). Cary plays an angel whose mission is to help David Niven, the bishop of the title, achieve his goal. Loretta Young is the wife. Cary falls in love with Loretta, who is of course charmed by this most charming of men (David Niven is the only person who knows Cary is an angel). There is much humor along the way, as the angel helps the bishop to the realization of what is most important. There is also good, old-fashioned heart, and the combination makes this my favorite.
Second on the list is "Christmas in Connecticut" with Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan, again with wonderful character actors: Reginald Gardiner, Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, and Una O'Connor. Now, growing up, I knew Barbara Stanwyck only as Victoria Barkley from "The Big Valley." Later on I discovered some of the wonderful movies she made in her heyday, and they were definitely a revelation. In this charming holiday film, Stanwyck plays a Martha Stewart type, Elizabeth Lane, who writes a column for a popular magazine. Dennis Morgan is a soldier who starved himself while adrift at sea in order to keep his buddy alive. Once rescued, all he can think about is the wonderful food he reads about in Stanwyck's column. Greenstreet, the publisher, arranges for Morgan to spend the weekend with Mrs. Lane and her family at their cottage in Connecticut. The only problem: Lane isn't married, has no such cottage, and can't cook to save her life. The resultant screwball antics are great fun, with Stanwyck and Morgan lending considerable charm to the proceedings.
My number three is probably not usually considered a Christmas movie, though it did introduce one of the standard Christmas songs. "Meet Me in St. Louis" chronicles the life of the Smith family in St. Louis in the year leading up to the 1904 World's Fair. Judy Garland is one of the daughters; the child star Margaret O'Brien is her baby sister. The movie covers the four seasons, but the most poignant is Christmas, when the family is facing a move to New York for Father Smith's law firm. To comfort her little sister, Judy sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." This scene never fails to make me puddle up. No one can sing that song like Judy Garland.
Rounding out my list is the 1938 version of Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol," starring Reginald Owen and Gene Lockhart (father of June, who plays one of the Cratchit children in the film). There have been many versions and adaptations of this story, and I've seen a number of them. But this one remains my favorite, largely because of Owen and Lockhart. They never fail to charm me, and I enjoy the magic of the story again and again.
There are a number of films that people love to watch during the holiday season; these happen to be my favorites. I'd love to hear what yours are.