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December 6, 2012

Karen Kingsbury on the Christmas Films that Inspire Her Most

Posted by tom

Karen Kingsbury, bestselling inspirational novelist and most recently the author of the heartwarming Christmas story THE BRIDGE, talks about the classic holiday films that she and her family hold dearest to their hearts. Among them are Scrooge, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Preacher’s Wife and While You Were Sleeping.

It was 1970, and we were a one-station-wagon Michigan family. I was the oldest of five kids, a kindergartner consumed with the sheer magic of snow and Santa Claus and Christmas. Times were tight, the cupboard rarely full. My dad worked three jobs to keep food on the table, and as December drew near, he talked often of the meaning of Christmas.

The real meaning.

During Thanksgiving weekend, he had an idea. A new movie musical was playing at the local theater. Scrooge starring Albert Finney.

“Let’s all go,” he announced. The chill of November air painted a pale red on his cheeks and his smile stretched across his face. “I have a feeling it’ll be a classic.”

My mom mentioned something about the cost, but my dad waved off any worry. “This is Scrooge. Some things are worth the money.”

And so it was.

I remember partway through the movie catching a glimpse of my dad, quiet tears falling down his face. The depth of emotion from the movie mirrored that in my father, and the moment etched itself in the cement places of my soul.

When it became possible --- with the advent of VHS --- to own a copy of Scrooge, I bought it for my dad. One of his most special gifts ever. The whole family gathered to watch it at home that Christmas.

After that, every December we watched Scrooge together. Part of our holiday traditions. And each time I would steal a look at my dad much like when I was a little girl, and I would connect with him again, with his deep heart and his love for all that was good and right and true about Christmas.

As my dad grew older, his health declined. But still we watched Scrooge. I can see him still, his cane hooked to the edge of his favorite chair, tears in his eyes as Scrooge finally gets it. Five years ago this fall, my dad went home to heaven. We haven’t missed seeing Scrooge once since then.

This year will be the same. We will pile into the living room and watch Albert Finney bring life and song to the meaning of Christmas, to the importance of kindness and love, faith and family. Halfway through the movie, my eyes will wander to the empty chair, the one my dad loved, and I will smile through my tears. This is where my father would want us at Christmastime.

Gathered together and watching Scrooge.

Watching Scrooge each year led to the possibility of other movies, film favorites that might help illustrate the Bible story of the Christ child and His importance here on earth. Even now in 2012.

In that light, It’s A Wonderful Life is another movie we can’t miss. The clip below makes me cry every time I watch it. Can you see the famous last scene? Harry Bailey returning from war, making his way through the crowded living room and raising his glass, “To my big brother, George. The richest man in town.” Any man is rich who has friends and family. Ahh, dear Clarence. Thank you for that message.

It’s A Wonderful Life holds a message that rings truer at Christmastime. When critics compare my newest novel THE BRIDGE to this all-time classic, I can only smile. That’s what a lifetime of watching George Bailey will do to this writer’s heart.

Of course, there are other Christmas movies we watch every year. No one does a better job of summing up the meaning of Christmas than Linus in the famous cartoon classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” If Charles Schultz were just starting out today, I wonder whether a network would allow such a Christian message on TV. Either way, we had it then.

And because of that, we appreciate it more today.

Another decade-long favorite for our family is Whitney Houston’s The Preacher’s Wife. Every time we watch it, our kids feel compelled to sit a little longer around the TV when it’s over, talking about the mysterious ways of God and angels and miracles --- especially in December. I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.

We also love Christmas movies that make us smile and laugh and feel good about being together. Movies like Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Elf and the cartoon Grinch. But one of our all-time favorites in this category will always be While You Were Sleeping. We have always been close, which is maybe why we all tear up when we realize Lucy doesn’t have family.

The way things work out for Sandra Bullock in this modern Christmas classic makes us hold hands a little longer during the prayer before dinner. Because the greatest gifts of all cannot be wrapped and placed beneath the tree. Faith and family, time together, moments that will light our way years from now --- this is what matters.

These Christmas movies help us remember the fact year after year after year.