Why My Family’s Favorite Tradition is Going to the Movies on Christmas

by Abby Montanez
going to the movies on christmas

I can’t remember exactly when my family broke tradition, but I do know it all started when my mom asked me to Google “restaurants open on Christmas.” That year, we found ourselves at a nearby Houlihan’s passing around pitchers of red sangria and shoveling overcooked fettuccine Alfredo into our mouths. This chain restaurant weirdly felt like home, even though we were metaphorically far from it. For us, the tradition of dining out on Christmas began on a whim and has since merged itself alongside my favorite activity of all—going to the movies.

To me, this pastime epitomizes the true spirit of the season. People either want something to do with their families or manage to get away from them for at least 90 minutes. When the five of us sat down in a dark theater on Christmas Day to watch a buffed up Bradley Cooper (circa 2014) take on the role of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, we remained present yet blissfully adrift.

It’s a way to switch things up

If you’re questioning the festive nature of this all, well, there are still aromas of butter wafting through the air. Although, it’s not freshly baked pie you’re smelling. Loose upholstery strings from the scratchy theater seats continue to tickle at the backs of your arms, akin to your aunt’s couch. The reason I believe my immediate family started to stray from tradition in the first place is because Christmas had simply lost its luster. So much had disrupted what used to be.

What happens when there aren’t any grandparents left to visit? Or everyone rolls their eyes at the thought of attending Midnight Mass? You don’t have to play by the rules. The idea of going totally giftless has even been tossed around. Instead, we talked about putting the money towards a group safari in Africa. Although, traveling now seems like a distant memory.

And everybody is doing it

When left to our own devices, my family’s quest for a cinematic Christmas began, and I’ve come to find out that we’re not alone on this journey either. Far from it actually. In a 2018 study conducted by Marcus Theatres, the fourth largest movie theater circuit in the country, 72 percent of their 4,500 members reported that they’ve made going to the movies with either friends or family a yearly holiday tradition.

One could conclude this all started back in 1947 when Paramount made the decision to debut “Road to Rio,” the first-ever movie to come out on Christmas Day. There were murmurs from the studio about whether or not audiences would show, and if releasing a film on a religious holiday would be interpreted as disrespectful. Turns out, even though the movie was far from Christmassy in tone, the charm of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope was enough to win over movie-goers, and the film turned out to be a huge success.

Plus, the best movies open on Christmas Day

Hollywood has made it a point to capitalize on the month of December, and the eight-day stretch between Christmas Eve and New Year’s has been reported as one of the busiest times at the box office. Granted, things might look a bit different in 2020.

Christmas just so happens to be the perfect affair for award contenders. In fact, from 1986 to 2005, it was estimated that half of all the Best Picture winners from the Oscars were released on December 15 or later. In other years, titles including “Titanic” and “Avatar” were among the biggest holiday season box office hits of all time. When I went to see “Fences” on Christmas Day in 2016, Viola Davis later took home the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.

That’s not to say this time of year is all business. Walt Disney Studios is known for sparking joy among audiences of all ages—regardless of where you stand on the “Mulan” remake—with major pre-Christmas releases from the “Star Wars” franchise. According to U.S. box office figures from 2019, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” brought in $32 million, the second-highest showing numbers ever earned on Christmas Day. The top spot belongs to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which pulled in $49.3 million on December 25, 2015.  For some, the saga has become just another part of the festive build-up—like watching “Miracle on 34th Street” or “Home Alone.”

But what will happen this year?

There won’t be any Disney family blockbusters at the theater this year, since Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” reboot lost its original holiday release date. Instead, Warner Bros. has announced the premiere of “Wonder Woman 1984” is scheduled for Christmas Day, and you can stream it comfortably from home if you have HBO Max.

Which reminds me, tradition doesn’t preserve itself. If all attempts at leaving the house this holiday season are canceled, does that mean my tradition of going to the movies ends in 2020? Not necessarily. Traditions were meant to evolve (or even skip a year). Which is how I originally went from sitting down at the dining room table, to waiting in line at a crowded Houlihan’s.

That being said, what’s made going to the movies on Christmas so special for me, aside from getting to avoid the emotional turmoil brought on by relatives, is the notion of being all in one place at one time. Together, but separate. Whether we’re inside of a physical theater or not. The moments in between well-choreographed car chases, Denzel Washington monologues or Kevin Hart antics are the ones where we as a family share belly laughs, rushes of adrenaline or sometimes even a cathartic cry.

10 Famous Movies You Didn’t Know Were Released On Christmas

1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
Opening Day: $35 million

2. American Sniper (2014)
Opening Day: $30.5 million

3. Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Opening Day: $24.6 million

4. Les Misérables (2012)
Opening Day: $18.1 million

5. Django Unchained (2012)
Opening Day: $15 million

6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Opening Day: $11.8 million

7. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Opening Day: $9.8 million

8. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Opening Day: $9.1 million

9. Fences (2016)
Opening Day: $6.7 million

10. Little Women (2019)
Opening Day: $6.4 million

Does your family’s Christmas tradition include going to the movies? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author/s

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Abby is The Digest's Managing Editor. She spends her time looking at dogs on Instagram and eating her way around Jersey City.

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