How Do Many Christmas Movies Get the Meaning of Christmas Wrong?

Woman reaching for popcorn watching a Christmas movie

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Charlie Brown asks in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Linus answers his friend’s question and conveys the true meaning of Christmas by quoting Luke 2:8-14 about Jesus’ coming to the world. While this Peanuts special accurately portrays the reason for the season, many Christmas movies and specials sadly get the meaning of Christmas wrong.

Films and TV shows about Jesus’ first coming are not as widely popular as other holiday entertainment that features Santa Claus, elves, or flying reindeer. From watching popular and classic Christmas movies, most people would come away with the idea that the season is about Santa, presents, charity, family, or finding true love.

Even though these things are not wrong in and of themselves, Christmas is and should be about Jesus. Thankfully, however, Christmas movies and specials that get the meaning of Christmas wrong can still be used to point to all people’s need for Jesus.

No Christmas Without Santa?

Multiple well-known Christmas specials feature the plot of someone “saving” Christmas by providing a solution to a dilemma in Santa’s delivery of presents.

Through the hero’s bravery and ability to overcome obstacles, Santa is then able to make his famous trip around the world and deliver presents to all the boys and girls eagerly awaiting Christmas day.

Such a plot is familiar to fans of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Elf. These movies present the message that there can be no Christmas without Santa, which is specifically mentioned in The Year Without a Santa Claus.

Watching movies or specials with the idea of heroes saving Christmas can be entertaining and part of holiday traditions, but it does cause a person to wonder. Would Christmas be ruined if Santa didn’t deliver toys to children? Is Christmas only about Santa and receiving presents? Is there really no Christmas without Santa?

Truly, Santa has become an iconic and beloved figure of the holiday season. St. Nicholas was a real, historical person who followed Christ and helped others. However, movies that emphasize the jolly man who delivers presents do not portray the true and important focus of Christmas.

Even if there were not carefully wrapped presents under the tree or tales of Santa and his reindeer, Christmas would still come and does not need to be “saved.” Instead, the exact opposite is true since Jesus came to the world to save all people (John 12:44-47; 1 Timothy 1:15).

The greatest gift of Christmas is the good news that the Savior was born, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Luke 2:8-14). No gifts needed to be delivered to people around the world on that first Christmas because the most wonderful present in the world was given to humankind: Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:21).

Thus, unlike popular depictions in holiday movies, Christmas is not dependent on Santa or gifts under the tree.

The Gospel According to A Christmas Carol

Just as Santa Claus is often the focus of Christmas movies, so also is the theme of doing good deeds. A Christmas Carol is a classic work of literature by Charles Dickens that has been repeatedly made into movies and TV specials for Christmas.

In the story and film depictions, Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly old man who is bitter about his past. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former business partner and the three spirits of Christmas past, present, and future.

Being changed by this experience and fearful he will die without anyone caring about him, Scrooge experiences a change of heart and begins to practice love and charity to others when he wakes up on Christmas day. Bringing food and help to Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family, Scrooge shows signs of a radical transformation of character.

While some literary critics view Scrooge’s transformation as a symbol of his salvation, there is no indication in the book or movie adaptations that he understood the biblical message of the gospel.

Instead, the gospel according to A Christmas Carol shows that people are saved by doing charitable deeds. This directly contradicts Scripture since God’s Word teaches that people are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Ebenezer Scrooge never places faith in Jesus, who came into the world on the first Christmas to save people from their sins. Fear and the desire to be remembered, in contrast to trusting in Christ as Savior, seems to be the explanation behind Scrooge’s change of heart.

However, fear as a motivating factor for change is not lasting. Real and lasting transformation only happens when a person trusts in Jesus for salvation, which changes a person from the inside out (2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5).

Thus, doing good works to earn favor is not the message of Christmas. Rather, Jesus came to bring salvation through His finished work on the cross and resurrection, which is the only way people can be transformed (1 Corinthians 6:11; 15:1-4).

Falling in Love During the Holidays

In addition to Santa Claus and good deeds, Christmas movies and shows often depict people finding love for the holiday season. Some characters find the love of family, as portrayed in Miracle on 34th Street.

However, a large majority of popular Christmas movies present romantic love as the ultimate present a person could receive during the holiday season. In fact, entire channels, such as Hallmark, are dedicated to mostly romantic-themed holiday specials. Based on these movies, finding romance and falling in love is the meaning of Christmas.

In a way, Christmas is about love, but not as depicted by modern romantic dramas. God the Father lovingly sent His Son to earth to bring salvation to all who believe (John 3:16). He did this even though humans do not deserve such love or mercy.

As is written in Romans 5:8, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (NLT). The Lord did not leave sinful mankind in darkness and despair, but rather added humanity to His divinity in order to free people from bondage to sin (John 1:14; Philippians 2:7).

The wonderful message of the holiday season is that Immanuel has come, He is God with us (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). Jesus, the Light of the world (John 1:4-5; 8:12), is the meaning and reason for Christmas.

Finding Christ in Christmas Movies

There is nothing wrong with watching and enjoying holiday movies that depict Santa, reindeer, Scrooge, or people finding love. However, remembering the true meaning of Christmas is vitally important.

Many holiday movies miss the mark of depicting the reason behind the season because the people who produced these works were not focused on conveying the story of Jesus.

Despite this, the needs and desires these films portray can point to Christ and all people’s need for Him. Little children enjoy watching films about Santa bringing gifts, but one day they will learn of the ultimate gift that brings true fulfillment.

Jesus Christ did not come wrapped in paper or bows, but He provides the best gift a person will ever receive. Likewise, many people are enthralled by the story of Scrooge and his transformation.

However, gaining knowledge of the true meaning of the holiday season can cause an even greater impact than Scrooge experienced, since those who believe are given a new life in Christ.

Finally, numerous people eagerly anticipate movies about love during the Christmas season. Although the love of a family or romantic love can bring happiness, eternal satisfaction is found only in Jesus.

The baby-king who was born in a manger as the Savior of the world will never leave or stop loving His followers (Romans 8:38-39). No greater love can compare to the God of the universe taking on human flesh to provide salvation and a fulfilling relationship with Himself that never ends (John 3:36; 17:3). Human love is good, but nothing can compare to the love of God.

Thus, Christmas movies that get the meaning of the season wrong do have the potential to point to Christ by revealing common human desires and needs that can only be fulfilled in Him.

Such movies and specials can spark personal reflection and life-changing discussions with others. Christians do not have to throw out these movies but can still enjoy them while keeping in mind that Jesus is the reason for Christmas.

For further reading:

Why Do We Say ‘Good Tidings of Great Joy’ at Christmas? 

What Happened on the First Christmas? 

What Is the Origin of Beloved Christmas Traditions?

What Is the Meaning of Christmas?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/FTiare

Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Ministry, she is passionate about the Bible and her faith in Jesus. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.