When it comes to the holidays, my family doesn’t really indulge in any sort of festivities. We may use the occasion as an excuse to give each other presents, and might even splurge on Tofurky’s attempt at a vegetarian turkey roast, but other than that, it’s business as usual in our household. The only truly festive thing in which we partake is indulging in holiday movies. We’ve watched almost every Christmas Carol adaptation there is, and even though he grumbles and groans about it, I have forced my father to watch the most recent Christmas Prince movie for the past three years.
For an hour and a half, all of my troubles seem to disappear as I completely suspend my disbelief and immerse myself in a world where anything is possible. I love the predictability and comfort these movies provide, but I have always taken issue with the homogeneity of a lot of these films. The magical world in which these movies take place is filled with endless possibilities…provided you are white, heterosexual, or Christian. Everyone else, it seems, gets reduced to a side character who adds little to nothing towards the plot. The escapism that these holiday movies offer is something that I need now more than ever, but this year I tried to look a little harder for movies that depicted a broader array of experiences. Many of the movies that I watched had diverse characters, but their stories still felt like they were being told through a white, straight, and Christian lens. The following five films were ones that I felt did the best job at portraying authentic characters and cosmopolitan casts, while also remaining true to what makes holiday movies so comforting to watch.
- Hitched For The Holidays (Amazon Prime)
When looking for movies that showed Jewish characters celebrating Hanukkah, I quickly realized that there actually weren’t that many options. After watching an incredibly offensive Adam Sandler movie and three other bland movies that all blurred together, I stumbled upon Hitched for The Holidays. Fans of Schitt’s Creek will recognize the actress who plays motel owner Stevie Budd, Emily Hampshire, who portrays the movie’s main love interest. It’s this Canadian celebrity that initially drew me to this film.The movie follows Rob and Julie (Hampshire) as they pretend to be dating over the holidays to appease their overbearing parents. Inevitably, shenanigans ensue as they navigate their way through their respective holiday traditions, all culminating in a hilarious scene where Rob’s family pretends to be Jewish to make a good impression on Julie’s family, which inevitably ends in disaster. The fake-dating trope was masterfully done, and I found the Christmas and Hanukkah scenes to be especially heartwarming.
- Holiday Calendar (Netflix)
When it seems that every major studio film features white leading characters, it was refreshing to watch a holiday film with a Black lead. Kait Graham plays Abby Sutton, a struggling photographer who receives an old advent holiday calendar from her grandfather. While she initially writes it off as a useless antique, she quickly realizes that the contents of the calendar are predicting her future and possibly even leading her to love. The fantastical element was a wonderful addition to an already great story packed full of swoon-worthy moments. I finished the movie with a smile on my face, wondering where I could find a magical calendar of my own.
- Let It Snow (Netflix)
Based on the collection of novellas by John Green, Lauren Myracle and Maureen Johnson, Let It Snow is an ensemble film that takes place over the course of one day during a large snowstorm. As the day progresses, unlikely connections begin to form between a cast of colourful characters and hidden feelings come to light. The three main stories were a budding romance between two longtime friends, a Waffle House waitress gathering up the courage to confess her feelings to the head cheerleader, a whirlwind adventure between a girl who has to reject her Columbia acceptance to take care of her sick mother, and a famous singer who’s all by himself for the holidays. The individual storylines were all well developed, and they were also seamlessly tied together by the end of the movie. To make an already great movie even better, Joan Cusack was the narrator and even made a cameo appearance as the town’s outcast and plow truck driver.
- New York Christmas Wedding (Netflix)
This one isn’t exactly a traditional holiday movie, as there are some heavier moments, but I loved it too much to not include it. In this It’s A Wonderful Life-esque story, we follow a soon to be married Jennifer, who is starting to have second thoughts about marrying her fiance David, who is set to inherit a Fortune500 company. On a late-night run, she encounters a mysterious man who turns out to be her guardian angel. The next morning, she wakes up in the same bed as her childhood best friend, who has in fact been dead for ten years. Her guardian angel has granted her a glimpse of another life, and she has until Christmas to see what life could have been if she had confessed her feelings to her best friend and hadn’t strayed so far from her roots. I loved that this incredibly touching romance was between an Afro-Latina and a Latina, and the ending was brilliant. The tearjerker moments were masterfully juxtaposed with heartwarming ones, making this a fantastic holiday film.
- Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (Netflix)
Okay so this last one is technically a mini-series, not a film, but given that I finished this in one day, it basically felt like I was watching a very long movie. When Dash stumbles across a notebook in the Strand that Lily placed there in hopes of finding true love, he doesn’t think anything will come of it. What ensues is a whirlwind romance, as they use the notebook to communicate their deepest insecurities and push each other outside of their comfort zones through a series of dares. Lily is half-Japanese, her brother has an incredibly adorable same-sex romance, and all of the supporting characters are diverse in a way that felt very natural and not forced. My favorite scenes include Lily attending a Hanukkah rave for a punk Klezmer band called “The Challah Back Boys”, Dash attending a Mochi making class taught by Japanese grandmothers who don’t speak any English, and Nick Jonas giving Dash romantic advice. Despite there being only eight twenty minute long episodes, all the characters were fleshed out really well and I fell in love with every single one. I finished the show wanting more, and I was happy to find out that there’s plans to film a second season!
There’s still a long way to go when it comes to representation in both holiday movies and films in general, but it’s nice to see that this genre is starting to diversify. Whenever you’re in need of a break from this unpredictable world, sit back with a cup of hot cocoa (marshmallows included) and watch one of these heartwarming, romantic holiday films!