My favorite holiday films

December 16, 2016

One of the things I look most forward to this time of year is grabbing a mug of hot cocoa, wrapping myself up in a blanket and watching my favorite Christmas movies on the couch with family and friends. Over the years, my family has accumulated a solid collection of holiday films that are now staples in our home during the season - and sometimes even throughout the year. As a kid, my mom would record the movies that were on TV so we could have them on VHS tapes. The quality we get now with DVDs is obviously much better, but I do miss catching the 90s holiday commercials that were included in those recordings (anyone remember this Toy Story one?) It's been fun watching this collection grow with every Christmas, and I'm excited to continue adding new favorites in the years to come. Here are our go-to films to get us in the holiday spirit (not that we need any help in that department). 

P.S. Click on the movie titles for some of my favorite scenes.

There are two types of people in this world: the ones who love Will Ferrell and the ones who can't stand him. When it comes to this film, the latter doesn't exist. Will Ferrell was born to play Buddy the Elf. Also, can we talk about the fact that this movie has been out for THIRTEEN years?!

Admit it: at some point during your childhood, you fantasized about accidentally being left home alone to do as you pleased while your family wallowed in guilt for leaving you behind. No shame in Macaulay Culkin's game.  

This film, written and directed by Nancy Meyers (AKA my female film industry idol) is one of my favorites not just during the holiday season, but all year round. It's a fun, charming, feel-good story - with a great cast - that can instantly make even the gloomiest of days better. Plus, the homes and scenery in the movie are stunning.

The only romantic comedy my dad actually enjoys watching every Christmas, this film about a group of Londoners navigating love, loss, sex and careers during the holidays is full of dry British humor (the best kind) and some major tugs-at-the-heartstrings moments. As if that isn't enough, the film score is absolutely beautiful, as can be heard in the clip above

Just as Will Ferrell was born to play Buddy the Elf, Jim Carrey was born to play The Grinch. I laugh out loud every single time I watch this, and the older I get, the more I find myself relating to the Grinch ("dinner with me? I can't cancel that again.") 

It's a Wonderful Life

My parents used to play this 1940s film for me and my sister to remind us that everyone has a purpose, the most important things in life aren't things, and that life is a beautiful gift. It's an oldie but goodie with the sweetest message of all. 

Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon are hilarious and lovable as a happy couple ... with insane families. Caught red-handed trying to escape to Fiji for the holidays, they're forced to face all four of their divorcee parents on Christmas Day. Cue disaster.

You can never go wrong with 1990s Mara Wilson (AKA Matilda) but in this film, she is at her absolute cutest. Richard Attenborough is the perfect Santa and NYC is the perfect backdrop  in this story about believing in good ole' St. Nick.

There's a reason they play this movie for 24 hours every Christmas: it's an all-American classic. From the iconic scenes still famous to this day to the genius writing and hilarious narrating, it's a movie we never, ever go without watching on Christmas Day. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a workaholic father who keeps letting his kid down after missing important events and milestones. After promising his son that "Santa" will get him the action figure that he wants for Christmas, he sets off on a quest all over snowy Minnesota to find one ... only to realize they're sold out everywhere. Hilarity ensues once comedian Sinbad enters the story as an angry postal worker who becomes Schwarzenegger's competition.

Growing up in South Florida, I never understood people who wanted to spend their Christmas in the tropics since I always wished it would get cold and snow. Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis are hilarious as a couple that tries to get away with skipping Christmas by going on a cruise, only to realize their holiday-crazed neighbors won't let them go without a fight. 

Every time I watch this, I'm even more amazed at how much the animated character Tom Hanks voices actually looks like Tom Hanks. This movie, based on the classic story, reminds us that believing is seeing.

Ah, Tim Allen's original Christmas movie debut. While spending Christmas Eve with his son, grumpy divorcee Scott accidentally startles an imposter (AKA Santa) to his death, and finds that he must take on the role of Santa himself. You break it, you buy it ... ?

Chevy Chase plays an optimistic yet short-tempered father who just wants his family to have a perfect Christmas ... which basically means that's the opposite of how it's going to go.

I love watching this movie knowing it was one of my mom's favorites when she was a kid. This 1970 film about the story of Saint Nicholas is so cute despite its now very outdated animation. 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman

Two more classics straight out of the 1960s. Even though I find myself laughing at how cheesy these are, I still think this Rudolph is adorable and I still get sad every time Frosty turns into a puddle (but, as with almost every Christmas movie, there's a happy ending). 

It's the most wonderful time of the year

December 5, 2016

My sister and I embracing our inner kids, Christmas 2015

Looking back, I think there were two parts to every year of my childhood: the holidays and the time I spent anxiously waiting for the holidays to arrive. Christmas has such a special place in my heart. It encapsulates the greatest memories of my childhood - memories I still remember so vividly. As a little girl, I'd get so excited to wake up the day after Thanksgiving because I knew that was the day my mom would play our favorite holiday casette tapes and CDs while my dad brought down all of our Christmas decorations from the attic. That same day, we'd go pick out our tree (I loved the smell), decorate it from top to bottom, put lights around the outside of our house, scatter our Christmas figures throughout the inside of the house and put together our Christmas village. Getting to see those decorations come out of their boxes after 11 months of hiding, looking at our tree lit up every night before bed, visiting the most ornately-decorated houses in town, reading Christmas stories by our *fake* fireplace and spending the evenings on our couch watching holiday movies and sipping hot cocoa were some of my greatest childhood memories ... but nothing topped Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

We always spend Christmas Eve at my cousins' house; it's one of my favorite nights of the year. As kids, my cousins and I would kick the night off with a show where we'd force our family to watch us sing carols while dressed up as holiday characters (check us out below). Really, the entire night was just an opening act for "Santa" - AKA an airplane we swore was his sleigh - flying over my cousins' house. There are no words to describe the excitement we'd feel thinking we were witnessing Santa's roof-to-roof travel right above our heads. One year, there was a plane flying much lower than usual and, assuming it was him, we took advantage of the opportunity by yelling what we wanted to wake up to the next morning. My wish? I wanted him to give my late dog, Pooka, a voice so I could talk to him (the voice of young Simba from The Lion King, to be exact. I was very specific). Later that night before bed, my sister and I would set out cookies, milk and our letters for Santa along with carrots for the reindeer, which I later learned were being given to our rabbits. And then, drained from the night's festivities, we'd eventually fall asleep.

Nothing can adequately describe the thrill that coursed through my entire body when I woke up Christmas morning. It would paralyze me at first, but soon enough I'd jolt up out of bed, creep out of my parent's room (it was a tradition for me and my sister to sleep there on Christmas Eve) and slowly turn the corner that led to the living room, knowing that the highlight of the entire season was just one glance away. And suddenly, I saw it: a floor completely covered in gifts, alongside half eaten cookies and carrots and a response to my letter from Santa himself (kudos, dad's left hand). After doing what I'm sure was an incredibly dorky happy-dance, I'd dash back into the room, jumping on the bed to wake my parents and sister up so we could open our gifts and put on the Disney parade. That entire morning - the smells, the sounds and feeling of ripping open wrapping paper - was the definition of Heaven on Earth. 

To this day, Christmastime is still my favorite time of year, and I think that's mainly because it re-connects me to the little girl I once was … a little girl who not only believed in a sweet, chubby white-haired man in a red suit delivering presents down our non-existent chimney, but also in a pure and perfect world. Growing up is tough, and each year, the holidays seem to remind me more and more of this weird, difficult and confusing time of life that I'm in (my childhood self would cringe at the fact that I asked for a veggie spiralizer this Christmas) but they're also a reminder to love harder, dream bigger and believe in better. That's how I plan to send the year off, and I think that's how childhood Stephanie would have wanted it.

Oh, and spoiler alert: my dog never got Simba's voice. 

Me before braces and Gabbi before emotion, circa 1996

My cousins and I, forcing our family to hear us sing since the 90s 

Our tree this year, daytime (my mom really loves Disney)

Our tree and village - minus the train - at night