Of all the traditions associated with the holiday, nothing quite tops a great (or even a not so great but definitely cheesy) Christmas film around Christmas time. Making gingerbread houses are fun but those cookies taste like ass, drinking spiked eggnog is great but those hangovers are a bitch and everything else either costs too much (buying presents and stocking stuffers) or is a pain in the ass (hanging lights and other decorations).
Watching Christmas movies is the easiest and cheapest way to fill one with holiday cheer. Whether they are animated classics, Hallmark cheesefests or even action movies that are only tangentially associated with the holiday, movies remind us that for a brief moment in time, people can come together and make each other happy. It’s a collision of Hollywood magic and holiday magic that creates the perfect storm of saccharine sweet goodness that makes you feel good.
Since there’s over a thousand Christmas themed or Christmas adjacent films out there, compiling a list that best represents the holiday is no small feat but after much deliberation, I, along with a small handful of contributors, have settled on what we believe are the best of the best.
This is The 10 Greatest Christmas Movie Moments Of All Time.
10. Killing Santa | The Santa Clause (1994)
There have been many iconic Santa Claus performances, but few have been to the level of Tim Allen as Scott Calvin in The Santa Clause. The most iconic scene from the film is the one that starts Scott’s journey, as Calvin walks outside and startles Santa off the roof, killing him. When He finally puts on Santa’s coat, the magic begins as Scott and Charlier take their first ever flight on Santa’s sleigh. And to wrap things up, they land at the greatest north pole ever put on film.
09. Shopping Montage | Krampus (2015)
There’s not enough films about the horror that is the holiday shopping season. Jingle All The Way does a fine enough job at depicting how awful it is trying to find that one specific toy for your brat but the montage at the beginning of Krampus truly captures what it’s like to fight everyone around you for the hottest gadget or newest toy. Ever since Amazon was created, there really is no need to ever go into a store during Black Friday or what have you, so some of you may not know what it used to be like. Much blood has been spilled for shit like Tickle Me Elmo and Furby. It used to be a fucking warzone out there and Krampus is one of the first Christmas film I remember seeing that touched on the ugly side of the holiday.
08. The Miser Brothers | A Year Without a Santa Clause (1974)
The Miser Brothers only really have one scene in the 1974 Rankin Bass classic Year Without a Santa Clause, which is a testament to the iconic status since the Miser Brothers are some of the most beloved Christmas characters. There are truly three scenes here back-to-back but they’re hard to separate. Each Snow Miser and Heat Miser do their song and dance routine, complete with tiny minion replicas of themselves and generally act like petty brothers. The reveal that they are the sons of Mother Nature puts them in godlike territory and Mother Nature herself acts as a Zeus of sorts, bringing lightning bolts to remind the brothers that mother knows best.
07. The Showdown | Die Hard (1988)
For me, one of the most memorable (and best) scenes of the movie is the first time that John McClane first comes face to face with Hans Gruber. In a film full of action, this small scene between the two characters is full of suspense. Gruber puts on his best American accent and the audience is convinced that something bad is going to happen when McClane hands a gun to him. McClane is no fool, though. He’s got Gruber’s number, and he survives to ultimately watch Alan Rickman’s German thief plummet to his death.
06. Letters of Love | The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
In the inspiration for You’ve Got Mail, James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan play two employees in a Budapest boutique who clash. They begin an anonymous correspondence when Sullivan’s character places an ad, and fall in love through their letters. The classic scene from this Christmas film comes at the end, between Jimmy Stewart’s Kralik and Sullivan’s Klara. Kralik has found out that Klara is the woman he’s been exchanging letters with. He guides the conversation to reveal to Klara who he is. Of course, they end up together. It’s a tender moment, wonderfully acted by both stars.
05. Pocket Full of Petals | It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
There are several scenes in this movie that could qualify as classic Christmas movie scenes, but I’m going to go with the scene toward the end of the film. No, not the richest man in town scene, where George Bailey gets bailed out of his trouble by his friends. I’m talking about the scene where George returns to the bridge, full of regret and desperate to have his life back. Breaking down, he begs for his life back. He’s learned his lesson and the uncertain future is preferable to the alternate reality he’s been shown. He wants his family and friends. He wants his life. The swing from despair to laughter when he realizes his daughter’s flower petals in his pocket is Capra at his emotional best.
04. “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” | A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Is there a better moment than when the Peanuts gang takes off all the lights and ornaments from Snoopy’s dog house and puts them on the ‘Charlie Brown Christmas tree’ transforming it into a beautiful sight? The gang then breaks into a lovely rendition of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”. It’s a beautiful ending to the first Peanuts cartoon special. It shows that no matter how sad you might get, a little Christmas cheer will put a smile on your face.
03. Fra-Gee-Lay | A Christmas Story (1983)
One of the wonderful things about A Christmas Story is how many iconic scenes could be chosen for this list. Ralphie’s pink bunny suit (“He looks like a deranged Easter bunny”), poor Flick being triple dog dared to stick his tongue to a flagpole in the dead of winter, Scut Farkus getting his comeuppance, and of course, the Christmas Day feast at the Chop Suey Palace. But for me, the most memorable scene of this holiday classic is the arrival of the Old Man’s major award. It arrives in a large wooden crate with the word “FRAGILE” written across the front, to which the Old Man mistakenly believes it to be Italian: “Fra-gee-lay!” After furiously and gleefully digging through the crate, the Old Man pulls out a plastic woman’s leg wearing a black high heel and fishnet stockings, complete with a lampshade trimmed in fringe. It’s a lamp.
The Old Man is in love. Ralphie’s mother is not. The arrival of what Ralphie calls “electric sex” will trigger what is referred to later in Ralphie’s life as the Battle of the Lamp. I chose this scene because I think so many of us have these memories dating back to our childhood of our parents arguing over something so silly and insignificant, and yet it felt so monumental at the time that it grew into something akin to family lore, talked about for years to come. A Christmas Story is a classic, and there is a reason the leg lamp has become its infamous icon. The vignette of the Battle of the Lamp is truly one of the greatest scenes in Christmas movie history.
02. Richest Man in Town | It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Throughout the course of It’s A Wonderful Life we get to know George Bailey. From his childhood, to his travel and college aspirations, to his marriage and then fatherhood. We know that George dreams of getting out of Bedford Falls, seeing the world and making a name for himself. But he continually sacrifices his dreams and his plans for others. He is someone the people of Bedford Falls can count on, the antithesis of the evil Mr. Potter. But George has always seen the cup half full. While others may see his many accomplishments, George can’t help but feel the weight of what he perceives as his failures. When a financial scandal threatens to destroy the family business, and his life, George becomes suicidal, believing everyone would have been better off had he never been born at all.
Yes, along with George, we see what Bedford Falls would have become without him, and how the lack of his presence and life decisions would have even further reach into the world. But the most poignant moment of this revelation is when George returns home to his family, having finally been shown what a gift his life has been. That might have been enough, but then friends and family begin to pour into the home, having heard George was in trouble. He spent his entire life sacrificing for others, and now they’re there to return the favor. Money pours in, people emptying their pockets to help the man who has helped them all in one way or another. There is no hesitation, no questions. The impact that George has had on their lives absolutely shines in this moment. And when his brother Harry arrives, he lifts a cup to his big brother, who saved his life when they were children: “A toast to my big brother George: the richest man in town.” Of course, this has nothing to do with monetary value. Mr. Potter may pass someday with the biggest bank account, but it’s George Bailey who has real wealth in the form of friends and family who love him.
01. In God We Trust | Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Just how do you prove the existence of Santa Claus? Well, by using U.S. currency, of course! I have always admired this scene for drawing a comparison between the faith in God and the Christmas cheer of Santa. If the US Department of Treasury can put “In God We Trust” on its currency with no hard evidence, then that same logic can be applied to the existence of Santa. And, on a deeper note, the scene shows how everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, whether we may agree to them or not. In Santa We Believe.
What are some of your favorite Christmas scenes? Share them down below!