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7 festive flicks: A theology of Netflix Christmas movies

Dr Phoebe Hill

10 Dec, 2020

 

It’s time for a theological analysis of the Netflix Christmas movies. Do these guilty pleasures have anything to say about God and the meaning of life? Maybe...

 

[Image credit: Netflix]

Here at Youthscape, we are passionate about research. And research comes in all shapes and sizes. One particular *research passion* of mine is watching Netflix’s Christmas films (solely for research purposes, OF COURSE). In order to legitimise (ahem) my extended viewing hours of what can only be described as Christmas turkeys, I thought I’d blog about the theological themes of all the best chintzy glitzy festive specials. So, buckle your seat belts and get ready for a festive ride…

Disclaimer: Before beginning, it is important to acknowledge that – as far as I am aware – not a single one of these films mentions Jesus being born at any point (if you spot any references – let me know!). Given that theology is the study of God, and the fact that Christmas being in any way connected to Jesus is staggeringly absent from every single one, it’s hard to really give them anything but a zero rating on my theology-o-meter. However, in the spirit of generosity (it’s Christmas guys!) I will explore what might be described as ‘theological’ themes. It’s also worth acknowledging that in the very absence of a mention of God these films are actually making a theological statement, or perhaps offering what might be described as secular liturgies. Overall though, this blog is really just a bit of fun (it’s Christmas guys!).

 

1. A Christmas Prince (+ the Royal wedding + the Baby one)

Number of times watched: 2 (each)

Christmas turkey rating: 2 turkeys

Ok, so it’s only right to start at the very beginning – or at least where the Netflix Christmas franchise (not really a thing) began. This film has everything you could want from a trashy Christmas film, including stock footage of castles (several different ones may I add…), a made up place ending in –ovia, a journalist who becomes a princess and some terrible New York accents. To be honest, I can’t even remember what happens in the second two instalments – but it DOESN’T MATTER. The trilogy is satisfyingly terrible and that’s all that counts in this Christmas film game.

Theological themes: These films are all about honour, sacrifice, justice and love. They also heavily feature doing the ‘right thing’, and having integrity at the key moment. I don’t know if that’s particularly theological, but maybe it tells us something about living for a cause and purpose beyond ourselves. Maybe…

 

2. Klaus

Number of times watched: 1

Christmas turkey rating: 0 – it’s genuinely good!

This is my favourite Christmas film of last year. And it won an Oscar! Who knew Netflix films were eligible for Oscars? But I am pleased, as it is beautifully animated and tells a surprisingly compelling story. At the start we meet the spoiled and lazy son of the rich Postal Service owner, who decides to send him to Smeerenburg (a bit like the North Pole) to teach him a lesson about hard work. His mission is to establish a post office, but when he arrives he finds a warring community that never sends any letters. Driven by his selfish desire to reach 6,000 letters in the year in order to return home, he encourages the children to post letters to a mysterious man named Klaus who he meets in the woods. I’ll let you guess the rest…

Theological themes: The main takeaway from this film is that even though his intentions are bad, the son has a hugely positive effect on the lives of all of those he meets in the community of Smeerenburg. He – *spoiler alert!* – ends up establishing a school (because the children want to learn to write so that they can send letters), he heals the rifts in the community, and gives one grieving older man a new sense of purpose. It’s wonderfully encouraging that sometimes, even if our intentions aren’t good, good can come from our actions.

 

3. The Princess Switch (and switched again)

Number of times watched: 1

Christmas turkey rating: 3 turkeys

Think The Parent Trap meets The Great British Bake Off. In the first installment of these films we see now-regular-Christmas-presence Vanessa Hudgens – a cake shop owner – heading to a big Christmas baking competition (are these a thing?). She then meets some sort of princess who is also played by Vanessa and shock horror… they look exactly the same! They swap places and find fulfilment and true love. Lovely. Extra points if you can spot the Netflix Christmas film they watch within this film in this first one! (It’s just SO meta.) I’m not sure the first film merited a sequel, but this year Netflix have delighted us with another instalment, which involves ANOTHER Vanessa (does she need to take all the parts?), and another fairly poor British accent. But it’s kind of fun and fills up an hour or two of lockdown life. This one also features the Christmas Prince couple and their baby (see number 1), so another few points if you spotted that. I’m starting to think I’ve watched too many films.

Theological themes: I’m really struggling with this one… maybe something about learning to be yourself and not running away from your problems?

 

4. Holidate

Number of times watched: 1

Christmas turkey rating: 1 turkey

This might be the least Christmassy film of the lot. It’s not really about Christmas at all, but rather all of the holiday festivals in one. Giving us a Hallmark card sweep of the year, it features New Years, Valentines, Easter, St Patricks Day, Independence Day, Dia de los Muertos and Halloween (I may have missed a few). It’s a sad sort of tale where two young attractive people feel that they need to have a date for all of these different ‘holidays’ (hence the clever name).

Theological themes: Erm. Not really.

 

5. Christmas Made to Order

Number of times watched: 1

Christmas turkey rating: 2 turkeys

We are really scraping the barrel with this one, friends. If you’ve made it this far, and this deep into the dark boughs of Netflix, then I salute you. In this bizarre tale, the central character’s whole job is to decorate things for Christmas. It’s made me ponder whether that’s a real thing. Could it be? Do we live in a world where Christmas decorating is a vocation and profession? In the film, this lady is ‘hired’ (somewhat dodge) to decorate a man’s house over the Christmas season so he can impress his family. He’s a workaholic, and is running away from a previous heartache by throwing himself into work. Despite himself, he gets caught up in the festive activity and ultimately falls in love with Christmas-decorator-lady.

Theological themes: What we learn from this tale is that when the protagonist stops working so hard, and starts prioritising the right things (in his case, family), all becomes well and he actually does better at his job! Which may not always be the case… But I guess there’s something here about getting our priorities straight. What are we living for? What are we running away from?

 

6. The Christmas Chronicles 1 & 2

Number of times watched: 1

Christmas turkey rating: 1 turkey

The Christmas Chronicles films feature real-life couple Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn as Mr and Mrs Claus, and revolve around the central character Kate. They also feature lots of elves, various perils facing Christmas and life in the North Pole, and some complicated family dynamics. They are not quite as ridiculous as some of the other films on this list, but also not quite as good.

Theological themes: Yes! There are vaguely accurate references! In a surprising turn of events, the second film tells the actual story of the original Saint Nicholas in Asia Minor, and also mentions the Star of David! Sure, the star is given by the elves to Santa Claus to light up Christmas town, but STILL.

 

7. Jingle Jangle

Number of times watched: 1

Christmas turkey rating: 0 – it is genuinely good!

This is the winning film of the year for me. An incredible mainly black cast lead this all-singing all-dancing film, and it’s really quite magical. I *may*have shed a tear or two. I don’t want to spoil it, so there’s nothing left to say but watch it!

Theological themes: This film is all about wonder and belief. As soon as the wonder and belief goes, the magic leaves Jeronicus Jangle – the gifted inventor at the centre of the film. It takes his equally gifted granddaughter to arrive and reignite him with faith again. It is her childlike wonder which sparks hope in him, and enables him to create new things and dream new dreams. If that isn’t a theological theme we can get behind, I don’t know what is!

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