How My Jewish Family Really Spends Christmas

Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX Shutterstock.
For the first few years of my life, I grew up in kind of a bubble. I went to preschool at my family’s synagogue, so I was only educated about Jewish holidays, and all of my friends and relatives were Jewish. This meant that I didn’t actually learn about things like Christmas and Santa Claus until I started going to public school in kindergarten. It also meant that my brother and I were very confused every year when the entire world seemed to come to a standstill at the end of December, specifically on December 25.

Our parents were definitely at a loss as to what to do with two young children on that day. Since we didn’t have cable, and all of the network stations changed over to Christmas-themed programming like midnight mass and the Yule Log, watching TV was out. Stores were obviously closed, and even though that one prophetic song talks about a white Christmas, this magical dream rarely came to pass in our northern New Jersey town. Sledding, unfortunately, was out as well.

If you’ve ever seen Fiddler on the Roof, you know that we are a people steeped in tradition. And so we looked to our forefathers — here meaning other assimilated Americans Jews — to see how they pass the time on December 25. It should come to no surprise to anyone who’s watched SNL’s cheeky “Christmastime for the Jews” (or any TV show or movie that references how Jews spend Christmas, really) that the Le Vine family tradition closely follows that of our tribe: We see a movie and eat Chinese food — or Japanese…or even Turkish when my mom managed to twist my dad’s arm to try something new that one year.

This year, I decided to write down every single one of the movies my family has seen during this annual tradition, which I’m sure many R29 readers share. We generally try to see a movie that all of us — my dad, my mom, and my older brother — agree on, which is a lot harder than it sounds. Even though my brother and I have now grown up and moved out of our parents' house, we still try to make it home for Christmas. It's become an important annual tradition, a time when we catch up and talk about shared experiences, which become increasingly rare after you move away from home.

Looking back at the list of films (and our reactions to each one) provides an interesting biography of 25 years of Le Vine family history through a unique lens. I’ve never experienced what it’s like to gather around a tree on Christmas morning. But for me, sitting in a theater on December 25 with my parents and brother provides the same feeling of family communion I’m sure the holiday offers everyone. So without further ado, here they are: All of my family’s Jewish Christmas movies.
1 of 31
1990: Home Alone

I was 5 years old and thought that Home Alone was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I wanted to set booby traps all over my house. I desperately wanted to be friends with Macaulay Culkin. On the other hand, I was also terrified of being left home alone and the house being burgled. This was already a deeply ingrained fear because my brother and I loved watching Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 911, so a cheerful comedy about a kid beating two inept burglars at their own game turned a bit more sordid in my impressionable young mind. Still, my brother and I definitely spent the next month shouting, “KEEP THE CHANGE, YA FILTHY ANIMAL” to each other, much to my parents’ chagrin.
2 of 31
1991: Hook

Ask me how many nights I spent afterward sitting in the doorway of my bedroom, wearing the floor-length nightgown I was all about, belting out “When You’re Alone” like the girl in Hook. Better yet, ask my poor family.
3 of 31
1992: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Now that I live in New York City and know how much townhouses and renovations cost, I can’t help but rewatch Home Alone 2 in horror as I think about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and months of construction setbacks Kevin causes with his shenanigans. In conclusion, becoming an adult makes you FUN.
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1993: Mrs. Doubtfire

I’m pretty sure my whole family picked up everything Robin Williams is putting down here.
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1994: Little Women

This was definitely a major acquiescence on my sibling's part, because there’s no way in hell my 13-year-old brother agreed to watch the film adaptation of one of my favorite books without some major coercion. Actually, my mom probably twisted his arm under the guise of the fact that he’d just had his bar mitzvah (Presents! Party! “Becoming a man!”), and I was probably feeling a little left out. I’m going to ask her if this was the guilt card she played, because I’m 100% sure it was. Whatever; I got to see Little Women.
6 of 31
1995: Toy Story

We definitely all cried, except for my brother, the too-cool-for-school-or-sentimentality 14-year-old.
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1996: Jerry Maguire

I have absolutely no recollection of this being our 1996 Christmas movie, but a family email chain insists it was. The entire movie was definitely lost on me at the time, but I did learn that the human head weighs 8 pounds.
8 of 31
1997: Titanic

Why yes, I did see the biggest, most romantic movie of 1997 — the one that caused all of my female friends to lose their collective shit over Leonardo DiCaprio — with my parents and brother on Christmas Day.
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1999: The Green Mile

I remember this movie being really long, slow-moving, and tear-inducing.
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1998: You’ve Got Mail (morning movie)

I assume my brother hated this. My mom and I loved it. My dad was probably hungry and indifferent.
11 of 31
1998: Shakespeare in Love (evening movie)

This year launched a new trend of my mom and I going to see a second movie in the evening that my dad and brother vehemently refused to attend. Whatever; we adored Shakespeare in Love. I recently rewatched it, and it totally holds up.
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2000: Cast Away

All I remember about this movie is WILSONNNNNNNNNNN.
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2001: Ocean’s Eleven

I know that everyone needed a little levity in December 2001, and my entire family was on board with this George Clooney-and-the-gang heist flick. I still want to know why Rusty (Brad Pitt) is eating in every single scene (I could probably solve this great mystery with a quick Google search). I love how "Clair de Lune" plays when they all meet to stare at the Bellagio fountains before going their separate ways at the end of the movie. Of course, we had a discussion at dinner about how much money they spent planning and executing the casino heist, and if they really made that much money after splitting the pot 11 ways. Did I mention that we’re a super-practical family that has a bit of trouble suspending disbelief?
14 of 31
2002: Catch Me If You Can

A solid movie — that’s really all there is to say.
15 of 31
2003: Cold Mountain

When I texted my brother to ask which movies he remembers seeing on Christmas and really disliking, he wrote back, “Cold Mountain…” I think everyone in the family emerged from the theater after seeing this post-Civil War slog rather bleary-eyed and depressed, wondering why it had seemed like the best option that year.
16 of 31
2004: Meet the Fockers

We loved Meet the Parents. The sequel wasn’t quite as funny, but it was a solid, enjoyable Christmas Day pick.
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2006: Casino Royale

My brother and I went through a major James Bond phase growing up, and my dad loves Goldfinger (ask him about Slazenger 7’s and Pussy Galore the next time you see him), so Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007 was an obvious Le Vine family December 25 must-see. My dad and brother liked the action. My mom and I very much enjoyed Craig coming out of the ocean in that blue Speedo. The boys got tired of us discussing it at dinner, so we brought up the testicle-torturing scene instead. Let it never be said that Sylvia and Lauren don't know how to steer a conversation to their advantage.
18 of 31
2005: Memoirs of a Geisha

My mom and I both read the book and loved it, so we couldn’t wait to see the movie. My dad and brother have never let us live down how much they hated having to sit through this one. Ever since the 2005 Memoirs of a Geisha DEBACLE (I don’t know if you know any tri-state area Jews, but we are very prone to exaggeration), Christmas movie options — including title, plot line, and most identifiable stars — must be presented to my father starting in early December, lest we have another disaster of this nature. I should note, however, that my mother and I greatly enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha. We now go see movies like it without the boys.
19 of 31
2007: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

I very much enjoyed Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Tim Burton’s interpretation of Stephen Sondheim’s dark musical, save for one thing: My dad insisted we go to the first showing, because it was a bargain matinee. This meant a lot of blood, gore, and pies made of human flesh at 10 a.m. on a chilly Christmas morn. Enjoyable movie — just not the most enjoyable time of day at which to watch it. I prefer my bloodbaths in the afternoon, thank you very much.
20 of 31
2008: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (morning show)

I’m sorry, but this movie is just too long. It asks way too much of audiences, and by audiences, I mean me, sitting there desperately waiting for the money shot of Brad Pitt looking hot AF on that motorcycle. I think the rest of the family felt the same way, but probably didn’t even care about the Brad Pitt money-shot part. Well, my mom probably did. She gets it.
21 of 31
2008: Slumdog Millionaire (evening show)

Everyone loves Slumdog Millionaire, right? Save for the usual Danny Boyle toilet-of-terror scene, it’s the touching story of a street rat from Mumbai, who calls upon various incidents from his life to win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and reunite with Latika, his long-lost love. My mom and I emerged from the theater in a feel-good daze. My brother was probably on his BlackBerry, emailing with work. My dad waited roughly five minutes before saying, “Did you like that movie? I hated it. It was just terrible.” So no, not everyone fell under Slumdog’s spell.
22 of 31
2009: Sherlock Holmes

No one would even humor my request to see Me and Orson Welles, because sometimes it's like my family doesn't even support my support of Zac Efron's career. Anyway, Sherlock Holmes was fine. The girl sitting in front of us was using BlackBerry Messenger the entire time. Remember BBM? LOL and RIP, BBM.
23 of 31
2010: True Grit (morning movie)

The Coen brother’s adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel was met with no complaints from the fam.
24 of 31
2010: Black Swan (evening movie)

True Grit
was the morning show upon which everyone could agree. My dad refused to see Black Swan, so my mom and I went to an evening screening after we visited my grandparents and had the requisite Chinese meal. Shortly after we sat down, a row of senior citizens filtered in behind us. After the movie ended, one of the men loudly proclaimed, “I don’t know what just happened, but I remember a lot of ballet and a bunch of lesbians.” I mean, that does all happen in Black Swan, so he’s not wrong.
25 of 31
2011: Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (morning movie)

We saw the first Mission: Impossible movie together in 1996, so it only made sense to make the latest installment our 2011 Christmas movie. Verdict: “Entertaining,” my dad offered (this is some of the highest praise he gives to films that aren't The Guns of Navarone or The French Connection).
26 of 31
2011: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (evening movie)

For the second year in a row, my dad kept asking why my mom and I wanted to go see “a lesbian movie,” as this was basically all he’d heard about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Black Swan from various news reports and reviews. He refused to hear our protestations that the films were about lot more than two women having same-sex encounters, but I was more than glad to see the American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo without my father. We watched Titanic together, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
27 of 31
2012: Les Misérables

One Christmas, we trekked into New York City for a production of Into the Woods starring Vanessa Williams, despite the fact that there had been a blizzard earlier that week, and the roads were still terrible. That is how deep my mother’s — and by extension, the whole family’s — love of musicals runs. So if there’s a movie adaptation of one of our favorite shows, you can bet we’re going to see it. When it came to Tom Hooper’s 2012 remake of Les Mis, we heard the people sing, singing a song of angry men. It was the music of a people whose movie was just too long for me to make it all the way through without a bathroom break. My sincere apologies to Hugh Jackman’s emotional performance of “Bring Him Home,” which I had to catch on YouTube later.
28 of 31
2013: American Hustle

My brother found this movie completely implausible. He railed against the plot line with such vitriol that I found myself taking a strong counter stance just because of how annoying he was being. What can I say; old habits die hard when you’ve got an older brother. I didn’t even like the film that much, either, since it’s kind of like Ocean’s Eleven in that most of the movie involves setting up the heist and allowing all of the actors to really get into character (here’s looking at you, Bradley Cooper’s perm), and then the actual execution of it takes relatively little time, with even less excitement. I just can’t let my brother get away with insulting filmmakers when he’s never made a critically acclaimed feature-length film, you know? Little sisters of the world, I know you’re with me on this.
29 of 31
2014: The Imitation Game

Beloved by the entire family, but my brother couldn’t believe how long it took Turing’s team to realize that they should be using “Heil Hitler” to crack the Nazi’s code. A real Monday morning quarterback, that one.
30 of 31
2015: The Big Short

"Now that was a great movie." — my dad
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