Favorites: Most Heartwarming and Tear-Jerking Holiday Moments

cartoon boys in a Christmas tree lot

Favorites takes a lighter approach to the material we normally cover. Each week, we will take you through a list of favorites—whether it’s moments, scenes, episodes, characters, lines of dialogue, whatever!—in bite-sized articles perfect for your lunch break, a dull commute, or anywhere you need to take a Moment of Zen. So, sit back and enjoy this week’s offering: Lindsay Stamhuis’s favorite heartwarming/tear-jerking holiday moments from film and TV.

Winter is my favourite season. Those long, cold nights produce so many warm feelings—cozy fireside cocoa, snuggling under soft blankets, and the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree or the menorah in the window. These winter holidays mean so much to me, and I’m sure they do for you as well. Here is a list of the most heartfelt and tear-jerking moments from holiday films and TV episodes!

Meredith’s Gift in The Family Stone

The Family Stone is one of those modern Christmas films from the mid-00s that people either love or hate. It’s a staple in my Christmas film repertoire, not because it’s full of amazing acting (it isn’t) or because the characters are particularly likable (they really, really aren’t) but because it reminds me of how desperately dysfunctional our families can be, and how in spite of that there is still so much love to be found. When Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) delivers her heartfelt gifts to the Stone family on Christmas morning, after we all learn that family matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton) has had a cancer relapse, there is no way I can keep the tears from flowing…

Linus’s Speech in A Charlie Brown Christmas

Whether you’re a religious person or not, Linus’s speech in A Charlie Brown Christmas is one that absolutely sums up the reason for the season. These precocious youngsters railing against the absurd commercialism of the holiday season is one thing, but to hear Linus recite the story of the first Christmas on stage under the lights in the auditorium still gets me every time. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” You said it, Linus.

Calvin Finds His Voice in Scrooged

The modern retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a classic, to be sure, and 95% of the reason why is that Bill Murray as the Scroogeriffic Frank Cross is simply a delight to behold. But just as in the original, when Tiny Tim says the famous line—“God bless us, everyone!”—to Ebeneezer Scrooge, there isn’t a dry eye in the house when Frank’s secretary’s son Calvin (who hasn’t spoken a word since he saw his father murdered some years before) walks up to Frank during his unscripted live television address and utters the same lines in front of a global TV audience. “Niagara Falls” indeed!

Toby and His Father in The West Wing

The West Wing offered a handful of Christmas-themed episodes in its seven-season run, and while it was hard to choose just one moment out of them all to feature here, what ultimately won me over was the fact that—in the Season 4 episode “Holy Night”—even ornery Toby Ziegler gets in on the holiday spirit, mending relations with his father, who we learn was a member of the Jewish mob in Brooklyn in the 1950s. The part that always gets me the ending. “O Holy Night” is being performed in the lobby of the West Wing, and Papa Ziegler hears it. He has the strongest memory, he says in Yiddish, that brings him back to the night little Tobias was born, when he first mentioned hearing about this American university singing group, whose name he can’t pronounce…the same group which is now singing in the lobby of the West Wing, where his eldest son is the Communications Director for the President. It’s lovely stuff.

Vermont Snowfall in White Christmas

When a down-on-his-luck former WWII General and current Vermont ski lodge owner is reunited with two ex-servicemen-turned-entertainment-superstars (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye), of course you know that they’re going to step in and help their C.O. get back on his feet the only way they know how: by putting on a great big show right there in Pine Tree! But Mother Nature is the one who really steps in at the end, delivering the long-awaited snowfall that will keep General Waverly in business through the winter ahead. As the finale song “White Christmas” plays and the snow falls over the mountains, you can’t help but get the feeling that everything will work out exactly as it ought to.

“Every time a bell rings…” in It’s A Wonderful Life

While not considered a holiday film at the time of its release, Frank Capra’s 1946 fantasy film It’s A Wonderful Life has certainly earned its place in the canon of Christmas classics. After making it through a harrowing ordeal—finding out exactly what life would be like in Bedford Falls if he had never been born—George Bailey (James Stewart) reunites with his family and discovers just what it means to be beloved by an entire town. Zuzu’s exclamation at the very end of the film, when the assembled crowd has emptied its pockets to pay George’s debt in a triumphant moment of community, is the stuff of teary-eyed magic.

“Dear friend…” from The Shop Around the Corner

Christmas Eve is a time for magical things to happen. In the 1940 romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner (starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) the magic is this: two pen pals who have never met but who have fallen in love through their letters to one another discover that they are, in fact, warring coworkers in real life. It’s a clever premise, and one that was well-updated for the 21st century in the 1998 remake You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. But, for me, nothing beats the moment when Klara discovers that Alfred is the man behind “Dear Friend”…

Heathrow Airport in Love Actually

It’s not everyone’s favourite holiday film, that’s for sure; in recent years, it’s even attracted its fair share of haters (maybe deservedly so…just don’t tell my husband that; this is his favourite Christmas film!) I will say this: I can’t stop myself from crying when, at the end of the film, we return to the arrivals gate at London’s Heathrow airport and to the theme that has underpinned the film from its opening scene. Seeing real people reuniting with their loved ones in an airport, soundtracked by The Beach Boys, is a perfect way to end this film with the reminder that love actually is all around us.

The Believer’s Bell in The Polar Express

It’s more famous these days for its “uncanny valley” motion capture animation than it is anything else, but I literally don’t care and will watch the dead-eyed Tom Hanks conductor and all the similarly-zombied children for 90 minutes to get to the end of the film, where we discover the truth of the Believer’s Bell. Our protagonist remains skeptical of Santa’s existence throughout the film, only to meet him at the end. His ability to hear the tinkling of that bell well into his old age is a beautiful lesson about the power of imagination and implores us to hold on to our child-like sense of wonder about this most magical of seasons.

Honourable mention: The Story of Festivus from Seinfeld

What kind of list would this be if we didn’t acknowledge that most amazing secular holiday of all—Festivus. Set up your Festivus Pole (no tinsel—it’s distracting)! Gather around for the Airing of Grievances! We hope you ate all of your Festivus Dinner—you’ll need your wits to survive the Feats of Strength! And don’t forget about the Festivus Miracles! It’s a Festivus for the rest of us!!!

Written by Lindsay Stamhuis

Lindsay Stamhuis is a writer and English teacher. In addition to editing and writing about TV and Film, she is the co-host of The Bicks Pod, a podcast currently deep-diving into the collected works of William Shakespeare. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner Aidan, their three cats, and a potted pothos that refuses to grow more than one vine.

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