... fill in the blank.
What we're talking about here are movies or TV shows; the visual presentation of some aspect or another of Christmas that you have to see every year in order to get into that "just right" mood for the holidays.
I have my favorites. I'll tell you about them. Then I hope you'll tell me about yours, either in the comments or over at your place.
It's A Wonderful Life
With this one, I don't suppose I'll be turning anybody on to something they don't already know about. This one is deeply engrained in the American psyche. And you either love it or hate it.
(If you love it, you probably find it hard to believe that anyone would hate it. And, personally, I have a little bit of me that says anybody who hates this movie is probably a few twists short of having his screws tight. I do, however, know of at least one family member of mine who is far from fond of it, and he's a right guy in most other ways, so... well, anyway, it does tend to engender strong feelings.)
What some people don't know is that the movie was a flop when it was first released. It was so much of one, as a matter of fact, that the original copyright holders let the copyright expire rather than renewing it. And that's the main reason it became so popular. After the copyright had expired, every TV station with time to fill (and no storehouse of money with which to buy something else to fill it) dragged it out of the mothballs and put it on the air. As it turned out, it had aged well. People enjoyed it. The showings increased as program directors saw that it pulled good ratings.
Finally, after many years of saturation showings which built an enormous base of rabid fans, the original copyright holders filed to regain their copyright. They won, then sold the rights to NBC. Ever since, it has aired ONCE a year (which somehow doesn't seem in the spirit of the film, but if it was my story, and I wasn't getting a penny for it, maybe I'd feel differently.)
(No, I wouldn't.)
It's a warm slice of Americana, but with almost universal appeal. How can you not root for George Bailey? He's a moral, loving, intelligent guy who gets into hot water through no fault of his own. His main nemesis in the film is a rotter (who, by the way, against all motion picture codes of that day, gets away with theft. Next time you watch the movie, note that he never does return the cash.) There is good comic relief here and there, the other characters are mostly loveable types (except for those who aren't intended to be), and I always, without fail, cry during the final scene (and I'm not in any way ashamed to admit it, either.)
If you've somehow missed seeing it? I'd recommend that you buy it or rent it, so you can enjoy it without commercial interruptions. The film is somewhat long, but the story will carry you along without you noticing because you aren't annoyed every ten minutes or so by ads for the sorts of commercial concerns Potter (the rotter) might have had a hand in.
A Christmas Story
While Wonderful Life is my favorite drama, here we have what I consider to be the funniest Christmas-themed movie ever made. And, as with Wonderful Life, it was pretty much a bomb when first released.
I would have supposed this one had been seen on TV by everybody, too, but I've come across comments on various blogs that would indicate some folks still haven't had the pleasure. By all means, if you haven't seen it, see it. If you don't have at least one huge belly laugh, I'll personally come to your house and do you the favor of killing you (because your life couldn't possibly be worth living without a sense of humor.)
This is Jean Shepherd's masterpiece (Trivia: He has a cameo, as the man with the beard who is waiting in line to see Santa.)
"You'll shoot your eye out, kid."
The Great Rupert
Now here's one it's quite possible none of you have seen.
First off, it stars Jimmy Durante. That in itself makes it worth seeing. In addition, there is one of my favorite character actors - Jimmy Conlin - in a small role.
And if the above isn't enough, there's a dancing squirrel.
Very cute story about down-on-his-luck Durante and his family becoming recipients of the squirrel's misdirected largesse around the holidays.
I know. That's not telling you much that makes sense. But it will if you see it. So see it.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
The only television Christmas show, outside of the obviously religious (shows about The Nativity, The Three Kings, etc.), that specifically mentions Jesus Christ by name.
Even if you don't have a nephew who can imitate Shermy, the show is a gem. If you've somehow managed to live on this planet without having watched it yet, I... well, heck, I don't even have a punch line. Just watch it. And listen to it, for that matter. The musical score is phenomenal. I highly recommend buying the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack album.
(One other irrational thought: Every year, when it gets to the scene where Linus gives his soliloquy, I expect the network to bleep out the mention of Christ. So far, it remains intact. I suppose it has to, really, being integral to the change of attitude Charlie Brown has, but since it IS the only overt mention of Christ in any of the traditional CHRISTMAS specials on TV, I think I'm entitled to a small bit of paranoia.)
(Actually, I found out, while reading the Wikipedia article on the show, that my paranoia isn't all that irrational. Before it aired the first time, in 1965, network executives wanted to excise that scene. Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez took a stand and insisted it remain. And, so far, it has. But I still get scared every year when it comes time for Linus to recite from The Gospel of Luke. Now that both men are dead, you never know what idiotic idea from a network "brain" might wreak havoc upon perfection.)
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
The entire show is about being a misfit but finding the courage to go on. I can't think of another show that teaches such solid lessons to children concerning the pain that bullying causes or how miserable it feels to be unloved because of one major fault (or what someone else sees as a fault, but may actually be a strength.)
Rudolph and an elf named Hermie are the main protagonists, but the scene for which I always found myself on the verge of tears when I was a child was the Island Of Misfit Toys. And it appears quite a few children felt the same. Kids across the country were saddened by a lack of denouement when the first showing of the special, in 1964, didn't show Santa keeping his promise to Rudolph to rescue the toys and give them to children. Parents lit up the CBS switchboard. From the second showing, until the present day, a new scene was added at the end showing Santa landing on the island and picking up the toys for Christmas Eve delivery.