By Mike De Felice
Special to the Review
Writing Christmas cards, decorating the tree and house with colored lights, and getting together with family and friends are all important parts of the holiday season.
Another key holiday habit for many is settling down in front of the TV to enjoy Christmas movies. There is nothing like watching a Christmas classic movie — be it a made-for-television Lifetime or Hallmark feel-good movie or a holiday classic — to get you into the holiday spirit.
Here, some Kitsap County leaders shared some of their favorite Christmas classics
Kitsap County Sheriff John Gese:
A movie not widely distributed, and only infrequently shown on television, is a holiday favorite of the county’s recently appointed sheriff. “It’s called ‘The Gathering’ and stars Ed Asner,” Gese said.
“It’s a story of a guy who is pretty much at the end of his career. He finds he doesn’t have much time left because of a medical diagnosis. He realizes that he’s become estranged from a lot of his family, so he tries to engineer a gathering at Christmas,” Gese explained.
Asner’s efforts pay off in the end as the family comes together to enjoy Christmas as they did in the past. The sheriff’s favorite scene in the 1977 release is when the final family member — with whom Asner had the most-troubled relationship — shows up to complete the family gathering.
The sheriff admits the movie has caused him to shed a few sentimental tears. “To me, it’s a great story about the value of family and friends and reconciliation — key things for the holidays.”
Gese, who first saw the movie when he was in his 20s, estimates he has watched it at least 30 times since then. Because the movie is hard to come across on television, Gese purchased a DVD of it. “I try to make a point of watching it every Christmas.”
Kitsap News Group executive editor Bob Smith:
When Smith remembers his own Christmas Past, he points to repeated viewings of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
“It’s a movie I actually didn’t watch until I was in my teens,” Smith said of the classic film starring Jimmy Stewart. “I was so impressed by his performance, I sent him a fan letter. And he mailed me a really nice note thanking me for my letter.”
But as a child, Smith said he and his twin sister always looked forward to watching the slew of TV Christmas cartoons.
“Topping the list is ‘Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.’ I can still sing the lyrics to most of the tunes on that cartoon. For some reason, that show seemed to be a favorite of kids of my generation. Then there was ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ with the Isle of Misfits, and ‘Frosty the Snowman.’ And I can’t forget ‘A Garfield Christmas’ and his hip grandma.
“When I had little kids, we’d pop some popcorn and gather in front of the television to watch them on DVD,” he remembered. “Great memories, for sure.”
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer:
“I love Christmas movies. I’m a fan of all of them,” Kilmer said.
“During the holidays our home has a constant stream of ‘Elf,’ ‘Love Actually,’ ‘A Christmas Story,’ … and ‘Die Hard.’ But I most look forward to watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ every year. Just love it,” he admitted.
The Democratic legislator has fond memories of enjoying the black and white classic starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, which came out in 1946. “I loved watching it the first time when I was a kid — but enjoyed showing it to my kids a few years ago, too. It’s a story about generosity and kindness and the fact that people can make a difference to one another.”
Kathleen Wilson, Kitsap Regional Library manager:
“‘Elf’ is our family’s Christmas movie,” Wilson said. “It’s hilarious.” Wilson estimates her family, which includes two sons, has watched and enjoyed the movie nearly 20 times. “[When the kids were growing up] we would drive our minivan to visit my sister for Christmas. Our young boys were in the backseat and would watch ‘Elf’ over and over again. At one point, I think I knew most of the dialogue from listening to it so many times,” she laughed.
Elf brings back warm holiday memories for Wilson. “Even talking about the movie now makes me really happy. I think I’ll watch the movie tonight,” she said with a smile.
Bobbie Stewart, Old Central Antique Mall owner:
“When I was a kid, we didn’t have a TV,” the 85-year-old said. “We would go to the theater and see ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ and ‘White Christmas’ with Bing Crosby, but it wasn’t a tradition.”
Instead, Bobbie’s Christmas tradition was showing family movies that she put together. The homemade programs center on family activities from the previous year’s Christmas. “It’s funny, we have such a technical world. Now, you can see pictures and movies on your phone but to this day, my kids love watching those movies on an old, old 8mm projector,” she beamed.
That the Stewart family still has those beloved movies is a bit of a miracle. A few years back, her daughter’s home in Bellevue, where the films were stored, burned to the ground. The only things pulled from the ashes after the tragedy were small metal containers that contained and protected the precious family movies.