Holiday Movie Mediation

How to avoid familial strife when choosing a seasonal film.

A man and a woman both tug at a remote control.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Richman21/Thinkstock and iStock/Thinkstock.

So you made it home for the holidays—well done! Later this week, millions of families around the world will start another difficult journey: picking the right Christmas movie to watch. This might appear to be an extraordinarily simple proposition: You flip through the channels or the Netflix offerings until you find something good. Let the merriment commence! 

Not so fast. As anyone with a real-world family knows, holiday movie selection is fraught with difficulty. There are potholes of sensitivity to dodge and chasms of taste to overcome. There are passive-aggressive sulkers and cheer-controlling bullies. It may seem impossible to avoid some amount of strife before the holiday hearth—but fear not! Here’s a little advice on how to sidestep a few likely landmines:

If you cannot imagine the holiday without Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas but you know that your brother will say that it is just too lowbrow to bear, make it interactive. Challenge your brother to put his highly trained mind to use in creating a drinking game that involves imbibing every time a joke fails to land. He’ll get to express his scorn, you’ll get to see your movie, and you’ll both get toasty together.

If your sister says she can’t even with those old movies because patriarchy is real but you’ve got a hankering to watch an oldie-but-goodie, try pointing out the beauty of allegory. Sure, there are loads of sexist white dudes in those old films, but let’s be honest, it’s not that a stretch to say that A Christmas Story is a portrait of the dwindling middle class that the Democrats are trying so desperately to save, and It’s a Wonderful Life is about what happens when corporate America doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. The sad, little tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas seems like a mild concern in 2015, but what if you see it as a metaphor for America and the Syrian refugee crisis? Offer sis a critical interpretation of whichever movie you choose, and she’s sure to get into the spirit of things.

If your father cannot handle the idea of you, his child, as a sexual being (or if, conversely, you don’t want anyone in your family to think about that side of you ever) and someone chooses a steamy Christmas flick, never underestimate the power of not being in the room. You don’t have to automatically skip over all rom-coms; just wrack your brain to remember when the porn star stand-ins will be on set in Love Actually, when anyone gets anywhere near a car in Bad Santa, or when Zooey Deschanel gets into the shower in Elf. And keep your eyes peeled! When you know someone’s about to be squirming in their seat, “spontaneously” get up and volunteer to refresh everyone’s drinks, or say that you’ve got to grab a quick phone call from a friend, and hide until it’s over.

If your mother resists watching anything with any violence because there’s just too much violence in the world already, and it’s Christmas for Christ’s sakebut you and grandpa want an action movie, suggest a cheerful compromise! Luckily for all of us, there were a solid two decades where Christmas had a heavy hand in the design of American action plots. Die Hard just wouldn’t be the same without the yuletide patter, and Lethal Weapon’s credits are in fact set to “Jingle Bell Rock.” If you’re feeling especially bold, Iron Man 3 and the first Bourne movie are at least partially set around Christmastime.

And finally, if your cousin really wants to watch his favorite foreign movie with subtitles that’s only available on an obscure streaming service, recall that everyone thinks he’s pompous, and focus on making yourself look good in comparison. Quickly busy yourself with pretending to figure out how to watch, and when it doesn’t work out, suggest something equally inaccessible and then feign regret. You’ll look sweet while everyone else scrambles for something more appealing in the family DVD collection.