Why is it that that movies get annoyingly preachy at this time of year? Turn on Lifetime or The Hallmark Channel and you're bound to see a whole host of "soulless person/dysfunctional family meets some magical Christmas source and learns an important holiday lesson that changes their lives" movies.
Personally, we prefer our life lessons doled out in a less hit-you-over-the-head fashion — and with a running time closer to 2 minutes than 2 hours. With that in mind, we undertook the arduous task of scouring through hundreds of Christmas movies to serve up the 12 vital holiday lessons in bite-sized tidbits, leaving you more time for shopping ... or drinking.
Miracle on 34th St. (1947)
Story: A Macy's Santa claims to be the real deal, but the store's cynical events director and her equally cynical daughter think he's nuts. Institutionalized, Kris Kringle must go on trial to prove not only that Santa Claus exists, but that he is him.
Lesson: In a jaded society, sometimes we need to believe in a little magic. (NOT only Macy's can land the real Santa.)
Why to watch anyway: The court room scene alone is worth the time spent on this classic — if you watch the original, not the 1994 remake by John Hughes (may he rest in peace).
The Bishop's Wife (1947)
Story: As he tries to get a new church built, a bishop loses sight of his family. He prays for help from above and gets it in the form of the angel Dudley, then quickly grows suspicious as Dudley becomes more beloved by the community than him.
Lesson: The most important things in life are not the possessions we own, but the people we love. (This message not endorsed by The American Retailers Association.)
Why to watch anyway: The ice skating scene is one of the most romantic and beloved in movie history.
White Christmas (1954)
Story: Romance, misunderstanding, and humor abound as two World War II vets put on a Christmas Eve show for their old commanding general from the war.
Lesson: Any problem can be solved with a little song and dance. (Oh, and support the troops!)
Why to watch anyway: Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" never gets old. Bing Crosby singing with David Bowie, on the other hand...
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Story: It's the Charles Dickens classic as told by the Muppets. If you're not familiar with the most retold Christmas story next to the birth of Jesus, you may be beyond the help this list is trying to offer.
Lesson: It's never too late to become a better person. Or, if you prefer, rats make decent accountants.
Why to watch anyway: Proof that Michael Caine is a better singer than Pierce Brosnan, though not by much. To see if you can find the reference to reggae great Bob Marley.
Die Hard (1988)
Story: A tough guy must rescue his estranged wife and others taken hostage by German terrorists.
Lesson: Difficulties can help you realize how much you love someone. (Oh, and always have an extra pair of shoes in case you must walk across glass.)
Why to watch anyway: Alan Rickman in one of his earliest and best "bad guy" roles. Once upon a time, Bruce Willis had hair. And, most of all, one of the best '80s catch phrases: "Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho!"
Love Actually (2003)
Story: Multiple intertwining stories about love, loss, love, love, and love in the six weeks leading up to Christmas in London.
Lesson: When it comes to finding love there is no greater obstacle than ourselves. (Alternately: TSA employees aren't the only ones who can touch you deeply at the airport this holiday season.)
Why to watch anyway: An ensemble of British actors that rivals the Harry Potter movies. Future Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) getting a different type of action than what he'll see in The Hobbit.
Story: A human raised as an elf returns to New York to find his birth father. Hilarity ensues.
Lesson: You can't pick your family. (Also "Baby It's Cold Outside" is the Creepiest. Christmas. Song. EVER!)
Why to watch anyway: The Will Ferrell man-child character at its zenith. Bob Newhart is so cute you just want to carry him around all day in a Baby Bjorn.
Story: A young boy, who is fascinated with the Saints, comes across a bag of British pounds that had been stolen in the days before the UK switched to the Euro. He takes it upon himself to use the money to help the poor.
Lesson: Generosity is important. (Of course, it's easier to be generous when it's not your money to begin with...)
Why to watch anyway: The boys are so cute, you'll want to reach out and pinch their cheeks. Master storyteller Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire) can do no wrong.
Story: A young man's Christmas present wreaks havoc on a small town.
Lesson: Take your pick here — pets make terrible Christmas presents; ALWAYS follow the directions; or if you are going to eat after midnight, make sure you have a really good antacid.
Why to watch anyway: Phoebe Cates' rant about why she hates Christmas, sadly, hits home. Proof that Corey Feldman was once a cute child actor.
Story: See The Muppet Christmas Carol, but subtract the Muppets and add Bill Murray in a contemporary setting.
Lesson: Nobody puts Tiny Tim in the corner.
Why to watch anyway: Bill Murray + Carol Kane = Awesome! Some fantastic cameos during the "real" A Christmas Carol production.
In Bruges (2008)
Story: Two Irish hit-men flee to Belgium after a botched hit leaves a young boy dead.
Lesson: Again, take your pick here — even criminals have a code of honor; political incorrectness and swearing go over better with an Irish accent; or if you get upset, try not to take it out on an inanimate f–cking object.
Why to watch anyway: Normally serious, brooding actors Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes are absolutely hilarious.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Story: Worried about the happiness of the children on Mars, Martians come to earth and kidnap Santa. In the process, they wind up taking two earth children back with them.
Lesson: Inside each of us is the power to be Santa and... Oh, who are we kidding? This movie is a piece of crap that makes Ed Wood look like a genius and should be enjoyed as such.
Why to watch anyway: Features the big-screen debut of future Golden Globes punch line Pia Zadora. The chance to create your own Mystery Science Theater 3000–inspired Holiday tradition.