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So what makes a film a 'Christmas film'?

Is there a specific recipe that makes a Christmas film? Or must our characters simply be cold?

By Chezelle Bingham, Film & Television Subeditor

The lead-up to Christmas: full of carols, mistletoe and, unless you have a little Scrooge in you, Christmas movies. Over the last few years, a crucial debate has arisen over what makes a Christmas movie: for if Die Hard (1988) is set on Christmas Eve, is it not just as festive as Love Actually (2003), and if Regina, Cady, Gretchen and Karen all dance the Jingle Bell Rock in Mean Girls (2004) then what separates it from the glitz and glam of the musical White Christmas (1954)?

Right now, you may be reading this thinking ‘What are you talking about; obviously all a Christmas movie needs is to be set around Christmas’, but do they? What about Frozen (2013), which is broadcast almost constantly around the Christmas season, but which actually takes place in the Norwegian summer. If Frozen is not a Christmas movie, why does my television want me to believe it is? Is it only the appearance of material considered ‘festive’ that make a film a Christmas film, or is it the snow that Elsa can magically conjure?

Courtesy of Madeleine Ellis/Epigram

Maybe what really makes a Christmas film is the celebration of family and friends, but then what about Home Alone (1990)? Is 8-year-old Kevin not accidentally abandoned by his family for the entire Christmas period and and forced to fend off dangerous criminals? That doesn't sound very Christmasssy to me - and surely if Kevin’s family left him for summer break, the plot of the movie would barely differ. How, therefore, do we decide if Christmas movies are really Christmas movies or just Christmas-oriented movies?

My Christmas viewing always includes my personal favourite The Family Stone (2005), a film that perfectly encapsulates the ‘Christmas movie’ genre. Following the festive celebrations of the mischievous members of the Stone family (including Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker and Rachel McAdams in leading roles) The Family Stone is not only inclusive in its diversity but is also an enjoyably festive movie with poignant moments of heartache and romance. The movie combines family fun, comedy, and yuletide joy to generate a picture that wonderfully evokes the Christmas spirit.

No matter which one is your favourite, all movies considered ‘Christmassy’ generate a meaningful warmth for us that brings us all together. Though there is likely no true answer to the question of ‘what makes a Christmas movie?’, perhaps it's this mystery that makes us adore the genre and keeps us returning to these movies every December.

Featured Image: BFI

What do you think makes a Christmas film?