December 24, 2009
A Pop Culture Christmas Top 10

It's that time of year. Festive lights cover windows and lawns. People buy trees to put in their living rooms and unpack fake versions from boxes in their basements. Holiday specials are on TV. Lists are made for Santa. Family visits and travel plans start to take shape.

Popular culture often provides a secular interpretation of the meaning and celebration of Christmas, emphasizing its significance as a time of peace, goodwill, friends and consumption. Whether in the form of movies or malls, these interpretations have made Christmas more accessible to people by not requiring a connection to Christianity.

In that spirit, I've compiled my top 10 list of representations of Christmas in popular culture. Read on, then leave a comment and tell us what's on your pop culture Christmas Top 10.

10. Coca-cola's Santa
Coke's advertising reated the image of Santa Claus that children in the US, Canada, and beyond know and love today. Before Coke's ads, Santa had a range of looks, from big man in a hunting outfit to gaunt elf. Maybe the choice of red and white for the outfit was a little self-serving, but it stuck.

9. John Lennon's Happy Christmas
So this is Christmas, and what have you done? A bit of a downer, but a potent reminder of those less fortunate that's a fixture in commercials for charities and mall playlists alike

8. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
One of the great Christmas movies that also happens to be a and superb product placement for Macy's. It brought Santa and the Christmas miracle down to earth: not only does to work in a department store, but has to contend with a mother and daughter who don't believe in him, and prove his existence in court. He also pioneers the idea of caring about your customers enough to send them to a competitor who has the right product for them. Watch the trailer here.

7. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Although most of this movie isn't set at Christmas time, like many of the other movies and TV shows on this list, it is a fixture on television each December. Echoing the "discovering the meaning of Christmas" theme, George Bailey has a revelation about his place in the world thanks to an angel who shows him what Bedford Falls would be like if he'd never been born. See the trailer here.

6. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964)
This stop-motion special, where Rudolph and an elf named Woody go on a North Pole adventure, has been a fixture on holiday TV for more than four decades. It spawned two other TV specials and many parodies. Watch the trailer here.

5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
In Dr. Seuss' book, the Grinch is a recluse who, in his attempt to ruin Christmas for the Whos by playing a sort of reverse Santa Claus. His discovery that the Whos' are still happy without the presents, and maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store leads his heart to a whopping increase in his heart size. In addition to the book, the animated TV special, made in 1966) is a holiday staple. See it here.

4. White Christmas
Although most people didn't grow up listening for sleigh bells in the snow , Irving Berlin's White Christmas is one of those songs that creates an experience for you, a sort of nostalgic proxy for your memories. It also made having snow on Christmas suddenly important. See Bing Crosby sing it here.

3. A Christmas Carol
The Charles Dickens story, originally published in 1843, has seen hundreds of reincarnations geared to both adults and children in just about every medium. Many actors have played Scrooge (or a version of him) on film, including Alastair Sim, George C. Scott, Michael Caine, Bill Murray, Patrick Stewart, and most recently Jim Carrey. Even Disney took a turn with the story, introducing the character of Scrooge McDuck.

2. 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
Clement Moore's poem captures the excitement of Santa's visit in vivid detail. There have been dramatizations, none of them really caught on. It doesn't seem to matter though: the poem shows up everywhere in Christmas entertainment, and readings on Christmas eve are a tradition.

1. The Mall
You might think I'm cynical making this number one, but malls are a full-on holiday experience that is open to everyone between Thanksgiving and New Year's. It is immersive. Shoppers walk in from the cold to seasonal decorations and lights, Christmas music and Santa visits, Visiting the mall is a tradition, but the mall itself is a reflection of the most current (and sometimes fleeting) trends in the products we want to give and receive. Malls are also a venue for us to participate in that central ritual of the holidays: buying gifts that you aren't sure your loved ones will like, but you know they'll appreciate.

Happy holidays.