Warm thoughts of home include holiday traditions, so why not create one that’s all about laughter, nostalgia and food? A family movie night with classic holiday films offers a non-commercial, invaluable commodity: a chance to chill, away from the season’s flurry of activity.
The menu for the watch-fest can be as simple as great pizza and the candy you remember from your childhood. The kids will approve.
We said great pizza, so put Edwardo’s Natural Pizza in Munster on your list of possible sources. Owner Joe Samara explains everything’s made from scratch—from sauces to crust, from prepping veggies to blending cheeses. “Nothing frozen,” says Samara, who’s been popping pizzas in and out of the oven for nearly 30 years. “Pizza is great for a movie night, because you can pick it up and eat it, and you can snack on it for the whole movie. It’s good even when it’s not hot!”
Other hot local pizza spots include John’s Pizzeria in Griffith and Dyer, and Langel’s Pizza, which serves up delicious slices in multiple locations. John’s Pizzeria has earned its bragging rights as a family tradition in the Region for more than 20 years, and Langel’s Pizza is conveniently located in Highland, Crown Point and Schererville.
Dessert is simple, too: Just break out the candies recalling your childhood faves. Albanese Candy Factory Outlet in Merrillville carries all sweets—retro and current—including gummies made on-site, says owner Bethany Albanese. Debbie Olson, one of the store’s retail managers, says sweet blasts from the past include Chuckles, Mary Janes, Necco wafers, candy buttons, Bit-O-Honey, and Sugar Daddy candy bars on a stick. Olson adds that’s hardly a complete list, so browse and bag your own combos.
Armed with both salty and sweet reinforcements, it’s time to gather everyone in front of the TV, pass out the beverages, and settle in for a holiday-perfect film. (You might even want to enforce a “jammies only” dress code for ultimate comfort!)
Here are a few recommendations for family viewing:
Prancer (1989). This locally filmed movie become a classic! Oscar-nominated director John Hancock gathered big stars, including Sam Elliott and Cloris Leachman, and local talent for this tale of a little girl (Rebecca Harrell) who discovers an injured reindeer (guess which one?) and shelters it in her dad’s barn. Her dad’s not happy about it, but a little magic reminds him of what’s important. “It’s a great film for families, because it’s a fantasy story grounded in reality,” Hancock told us recently. “Rebecca is so good, and Sam is warm and fierce. He’s kind of hard on his daughter, but the love comes through.” So does the magic.
A Christmas Story (1983). The late Jean Shepherd, a Hammond native who shared stories of his childhood in his mellow, folksy voice, narrates this hilarious retro version of family life at the holidays. Ralphie (Peter Billingsly) desperately wants a BB gun for Christmas and remains optimistic despite setbacks, but Mom (Melinda Dillon) worries he’ll put his eye out. Dad (Darrin McGavin) has his own concerns (that blankety-blank furnace!) and joys (a major prize!). Ralphie’s optimism finally fades—until the thrilling reveal.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). Dad Clark Griswold (funnyman Chevy Chase) tries to make up for a couple of lame family vacations by inviting relatives for a Griswold Christmas. Not so fast. Even 20,000-plus Christmas lights on the house can’t make up for unexpected, socially backward visitors, an iffy bonus check, and numerous mishaps, including an exploding turkey (and does that visual ever get old?). Clark goes a little haywire, but his good-natured self struggles to the surface again. Yay! We watch this film again and again, because a little slapstick makes those visions of mall traffic fade like…the aroma of a doomed roast turkey.
Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). Let’s not be confused here. If the kids are looking for animation, explain that was the 1966 made-for-TV movie. The full-length film made in 2000 has Jim Carrey, though, so how can it not be fun? With names like Whoville and Cindy Lou Who, plus the famous rhymes from the Seuss book, even the littlest tots will watch, and nostalgia will grab the adults. The Grinch has issues, which explains why he hates Christmas (another sure-fire kid attention-getter). Little Cindy investigates his past and finally befriends the Grinch. The fanciful tale ends with a good lesson for everyone.
A Christmas Carol (1938, 1951, 1984). That’s right: The Charles Dickens classic is so well loved that three movies were made through the years. The 1951 black-and-white remake just doesn’t quite evoke the same you-are-there feeling of the 1938 original. And sure, George C. Scott as Scrooge is great in the 1984 version, but his hellish nightmare may be a bit frightening for little ones and strays from the original movie’s charm. Miserly, mean Scrooge gets a reality check from a chain-rattling ghost and astounds friends and family with sudden generosity. So satisfying.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947). What says the holidays like a come-to-Earth Christmas angel—and a handsome one, at that? Cary Grant and Loretta Young star in this film rich with delightful touches of magic, a Christmas choir, and “divine” skating. David Niven is the husband and minister who rediscovers the meaning of the holiday. When the kids ask why the film is in black and white, explain that makes it special. Because it does.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Don’t believe attempts to explain why the 1994 remake of this fun film is better. Yes, the remake has a flashier parade and adorable Mara Wilson, but we’ll bet you a box of Milk Duds the original black-and-white is more authentic and charming. After all, it stars Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood. A little girl’s matter-of-fact dismissal of Santa Claus and her mom’s cynical view are at the heart of this story—until a convincing Santa Claus befuddles a judge in giggle-worthy court scenes. Break out some Junior Mints and have your own mini-marathon: Watch both versions and let everyone vote for his or her fave.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore. The run on the good old savings and loan. The newel post. Clarence the angel. The bell on the Christmas tree. Director Frank Capra’s iconic black-and-white film (try to forget you ever heard the word “colorized”) is a holiday must-watch. George Bailey’s wrestling with the course his life has taken comes to a heartwarming conclusion, with a final surprise thrown in for good measure. If the kids see you mouthing the script right along with the actors, be prepared for some teasing. Just pass them more candy.