9+ family Christmas movies that won’t terrify your kids

My kids are super-sensitive to what they see on the screen: none of them, from the oldest to the youngest, are comfortable with much in the way of conflict or plot tension. I’m not sure if this is because of what we’ve done right as parents, what we’ve done wrong, or because that’s just the way they are. I suspect it’s the latter.

That takes many of the “classic” Christmas movies off the table. There’s no way we’re watching A Christmas Carol (ghosts!) or Rudolph (the abominable snowman!). Silas thinks the Grinch is a monster and Jack is baffled by the slapstick comedy in A Christmas Story.

I suspect we’re not the only ones who struggle with finding Christmas movies that actually work for our family. Here are the movies we can enjoy together–without tears or nightmares. (And a few that didn’t work at all.)

Our absolute favorite is The Snowman, based on the gorgeous Raymond Briggs picture book. This 27 minute film is completely charming (and features an introduction by David Bowie that’s fun for the grown-ups). It’s hard to find, but it’s worth tracking down a copy.

I just found out about The Snowman & the Snowdog, a Snowman sequel that just came out last year. We haven’t seen it yet, but based on our love for The Snowman and the excellent reviews, we just ordered a copy for Silas’s stocking.

We all like A Charlie Brown Christmas (although the kids are awfully mean to each other!) My kids prefer the flip side, It’s Christmas Time Again, Charlie Brown, and the mini-documentary on the making of the classic is also worth watching.)

I don’t know why The Sound of Music is a holiday movie, but we all love watching it this time of year. We can watch 95% of the film with no scared children, but we do keep one hand on the remote during the climax with the Nazis.

Elf delights three of our kids, but one child hates the ending and is really uncomfortable with Buddy’s over-the-top comedy.

Our oldest three love watching–and dancing to–The Nutcracker. This DVD version is by the New York City Ballet.

We found Samantha: An American Girl Holiday when browsing Christmas movies we could stream with Amazon Prime, and it was so much better than I expected. Silas didn’t care, but the older three loved it. (It’s not exactly a holiday movie, except that it ends on Christmas Day.)

We watch The Polar Express for the train parts (and the hot chocolate scene, our favorite) but do enough fast-forwarding though the scary-ish middle that we finish this 90-minute movie in 45.

I always thought of White Christmas as being for the adults, but my kids like them, too.

Christmas movies we tried that bombed: 

My kids eyes glazed over when we tried Miracle on 34th Street. Maybe next year?

I had high hopes for the animated short Yes Virginia: The Film, but my kids’ reaction was “all those people were really mean.”

Jim Henson’s 1977 special Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas wasn’t scary, but my kids thought it was boring.

Films we want to watch soon: 

(These got added to the list after you all recommended them over on the MMD facebook page. Thanks!)

I never would have found this on by own, but Eloise at Christmastime features Julie Andrews, has great reviews, and is just $5.

Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas might be sweet and silly for Silas and Lucy.

The older kids may like The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, the Walton family holiday special that led to the creation of the tv series.

9+ family Christmas movies that won't terrify your kids

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  1. ellen says:

    Thank you for this! I am so excited to try a few with our girls… they are like your kids about drama, etc. Do you have other non-Christmas recommendations that yournfamily enjoys? Finding good movies is always a challenge around here.

  2. Gina says:

    Mine just enjoyed ‘The Littlest Light on the Tree’, not a lot of conflict but lots of holiday spirit. They love the Santa Claus movies (so do I) but not sure how yours would do with Bad Santa or Jack Frost. My boy likes a lot of slapstick, so we are thinking about ‘Home Alone’ despite the fact it will make my eyes bleed and beg to be let off this one. Lol. We also watched Buddy the Christmas Hero, how can you go wrong with talking dogs and a Native American tradition a lot like Santa?

  3. SoCalLynn says:

    Thank you for reminding me about the Waltons Christmas movie. I just ordered it. Merry Christmas! May I suggest Little Women as a good family movie, the Winona Ryder version? I know it’s not perfect, but we have a tradition in our family of watching it at Christmas time.

    • Karlyne says:

      We actually went to see Little Women at the theater on Christmas afternoon the year it came out. It was a first (and haven’t done it since) for us, but it was a lot of fun considering the loud sniffling that went through the theater as Beth was leaving her family. And, although it’s not completely faithful to the book, nothing is jarring or overdone, so I do recommend it, too!

  4. Amy says:

    We recorded Curious George when it was on TV a week or two ago, and it’s been an extremely helpful reference point when my kids wake up every morning thinking that surely it must be Christmas by now. We also added the new Veggie Tales Christmas movie – Merry Larry something-or-other to our collection this year and have really enjoyed it.

  5. Breanne says:

    Fantastic list, Anne! I’ll be saving this for future reference as well. I appreciate your concise reviews as we have little girls and they are sensitive to the scary bits in movies. I forgot about Holiday Inn, it is so good and I love White Christmas.

  6. fun list. My boys are currently loving Charlie Brown. However, my 4 year old like to say “I’m gonna kill myself” every time he trips (Charlie Brown says this when he misses the football). I think I finally convinced him not to say it anymore before he got kicked out of preschool!

    • Laura says:

      Ha! Yes, My 4 yo learned the word “stupid” from the other Charlie Brown Christmas movie. Greeeeeeat. But she was going to learn it one way or another. At least it was from a classic!

      • Jackie says:

        Gotta watch out with those wonderful classics, especially 60’s and 70’s comedies. We love them for their mild content, but that’s where my boy learned most of his offensive words–idiot, shut up, stupid, imbecile. (and I was trying to avoid modern Disney sarcasm–oh well)

  7. Dawn says:

    We love “Homecoming : The Christmas story”. We think Eloise is naughty, but the kids like it ok. Our kids are scared to death of the Polar Express and can’t stand it. We only tried it once. We love Little Women and the Sound of Music.
    Blessings, Dawn

  8. Jackie says:

    My kids love Rudolph (the abominable snowman was only scary the first time when youngest was 4, not since). They also love Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Little Drummer Boy, all three from the old classics collection that we have. The Snowman is lovely (sadly, ours doesn’t have a David Bowie intro)

    The Polar Express scares my two, especially my almost 10yr old. We must skip over the breaking ice-lake scene. We also used to skip the part with the weird ghost-stowaway-guy on the train.

    My kids watched Charlie Brown Christmas yesterday for the first time, they found it boring.

    I think I might add the Little House on the Prairie (TV pilot) as a Christmas movie–so charming when Mr Edwards shows up covered in ice with the Christmas presents: tin cups, peppermint sticks, and a potato.

    Our younger child, though very sensitive, is clearly less so than the older one. I think it’s personality. We find pressing mute during scary parts really helps–seems it’s the intensity of the music that makes it worse.

  9. Hannah says:

    Oh, A Christmas Carol…My kids are older (12, 11, and 9) and they still find nearly every version of this classic Dickens novella terrifying. For years I insisted that we at least *try* to watch it but we’d have to fast-forward so many parts that it became not worth it. The Muppet one is the mildest, in my opinion, and we like that. The George C. Scott one is the best version, I think, but also the scariest. It’s a Wonderful Life is delightful if you can get your kids to stick with it. Maybe when they’re older…

  10. Dee says:

    The Curious George one is great for the younger kids. Nothing scary or mean, just people trying to figure out the best gifts for one another, and they always end up being something sweet and heartfelt. My son also really enjoys Elmo’s Christmas Countdown, which has songs and dancing. Yeah, The Grinch and Rudolph were both kind of scary for him, but he watches the Curious George and Sesame Street specials over and over again.

  11. Bri says:

    The polar express is quite terrifying though.. Sounds
    Like you guys fast forward through the scary parts though. Even I’m terrified
    Of the ghost!

  12. Anne says:

    Great list. So true that they get scared or bored by some of these. I love watching Home Alone (and still laugh at all the things he does to keep them out!), but I cringe every time they talk nastily to each other. I’m always chirping over my kid’s shoulder about how that ‘wasn’t very nice.’ My DS1 is a big fan of Christmas George. It’s very sweet. We were just talking about the whipping of Max during The Grinch last night. My SIL would get upset when she was a kid. I suppose your kids are too young for Little Women still? That is totally a holiday movie to me. Thanks for the recommendation of The Nutcracker DVD. I would like to find another one since the cartoon video I have is reeeeealllly strange. We need to throw it away.

    • Anne says:

      Oh my goodness, it’s been years since I’ve seen it and I have zero recollection of that! I’m planning on re-watching it this year and will definitely be paying attention to this. Yikes!

    • Karlyne says:

      Jessica, there is a “black-face” number in it – which celebrates Abraham Lincoln’s birthday! By today’s standards, that makes it a complete oxymoron! I think that it’s a great opportunity for showing our kids how cultures and perceptions change through the years. What is complimentary at one time can be offensive in another. And you can mention that, as I remember reading some time ago, Bing Crosby was influential in crossing the color-line in music. He and Louis Armstrong together were wonderful!

  13. You might take a peek at the Muppet Christmas Carol. My daughter (now 9) is easily frightened and will not even stay in the room with the rest of the family if she thinks that something scary will be in the movie. This is the only version that actually seems mild. Even the third ghost is toned down.

  14. Jillian Kay says:

    We loved the Curious George special hen it was on a few weeks ago. I’ll have to look for the Waltons. I used to love that show.

    I love Prancer and The Santa Clause but haven’t watched them with my kids yet because it hasn’t occured to them not to believe in Santa Clause and I don’t want to give them the idea.

  15. Emily says:

    My boys LOVE the Curious George Christmas movie! We also love both Mickey Mouse Christmas movies (Once upon a Christmas and Twice upon a Christmas) and all the Veggie Tales Christmas movies. My boys are 5 and 2 so we stick with animated movies as they keep their interest longer. 🙂

    • Pamela says:

      I agree about the Mickey movies. Fantastic!! My four, now teens, watched them over and over. Our whole family really enjoyed them. Veggie Tales, The Toy That Saved Christmas, is a much loved favorite as well.

  16. Lisa S says:

    i think your kids might really love “Small One” (an old Disney movie-Small One is the donkey who carried Mary). We also love “Annabelle’s Wish”!

  17. Sally Pyasta says:

    My son does not like the older, black and white holiday movies that I love. I just watched Holiday Inn and it does have a racist scene with black face. I prefer White Christmas. What about the remake of Miracle of 34th Street? My son likes Home Alone, Santa Clause, and Fred Claus. As a girl, I loved Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, the Muppet Christmas with John Denver, and Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas. I don’t think this is a traditional Christmas movie, but I like to watch Little Women with Winona Ryder.

  18. Sarah Ellzey says:

    I love this list! My older two are very sensitive about what they watch, too. We watched Samantha this summer, but my oldest was really bothered that the little girls were orphaned. I feel like there should be a a warning on the back of kids movies if one of the characters is going to lose a parent! That’s a big trigger for my daughter, even though she’s never been through it, and it cuts out a lot of movies. Our most recent attempt was Inside Out and my daughter is still talking about that imaginary friend that disappeared…

  19. Sarah Cope says:

    If you still have Emmet Otter, watch it with subtitles. This movie has always been one of my favorites and I never knew how funny it was until 2 years ago when we watched it with the subtitles. The opening song is the best!

  20. Samantha says:

    Thanks for this list. I had not heard of some of these movies. I’m looking foward to watching them. The Snowman and The Snowman and Snowdog are both on youtube. I have never watched the Polar Express because it looks creepy to me. I don’t care for the animation. One of my favorite Christmas movies is “The Night They Saved Christmas” with Jaclyn Smith and Art Carney. I have to admit though that when I watched it last year I felt a little uneasy at some parts but I’d have to watch it again to see if I still feel that way and to remember why. I just love Art Carney as Santa though. Merry Christmas!

  21. Allison says:

    We just watched The Snowy Day on Amazon Video. It’s free with Prime. It was a lovely, longer adaptation of the 1960’s children’s book. Might be more for the younger set, but my 8 year old certainly enjoyed it as well. We also just watched the Olive the Other Reindeer (another adaptation of the book by the same title). It was a bit sarcastic in it’s humor, but also pretty good.

    • Jessie says:

      The Snowy Day is so sweet! Really enjoyed it! I wasn’t as wild about Amazon’s If You Give a Mouse a Christmas Cookie, but my kids like it.

  22. Emily says:

    Oh my goodness Eloise at Christmastime is mine and my Mothers favourite Christmas movie! I don’t live at home anymore and she was devastated when I took my copy of the DVD with me, and up until now I haven’t been able to find it anywhere (for a reasonable price, anyways). Thank you SO much for sharing the link. I ordered it for her immediately and I’m so excited for her to get it! You will love it, it’s the perfect family Christmas movie.

  23. Jessie says:

    Great list! We love the Curious George Christmas special, too!

    My daughter is also very sensitive about what she watches. You might also like The Muppet Family Christmas–a childhood favorite that I still love. Now my kids love it, too! PBS Kids also has a sweet Arthur Christmas special that we all really like.

  24. Jamie says:

    I (er, my kids) LOVE the Curious George Christmas movie. Super sweet, funny, and engaging enough that adults don’t lose their minds watching it. Also, totally get you on the abominable snow monster from Rudolph. My youngest woke up two nights last week crying about it after we watched it together earlier in the week. We have a set of ornaments of all the characters from the movie, and she made me move the snow monster to the top of the tree so it was far away from her.

  25. Becca says:

    When December 1st hit, my friends and I wished each other a “very Monkey Christmas.” That Curious George movie is a constant favorite! My kids like Muppet Christmas Carol, although it is a little over their heads. There is so much slapstick humor in a lot of modern Christmas movies that they just won’t handle! So eye-opening to see these classics through their eyes.

  26. Jo Skidmore says:

    My friend and I were just having a holiday movie tolerance level discussion this evening. I am HIGHLY sensitive, but the one holiday story I can watch over and over in all versions is A Christmas Carol – the best and most entertaining and least disturbing is the Muppet Christmas Carol. I can only watch a couple other shows comfortably Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated).

  27. ann says:

    We have come to love “Mrs. Santa Claus” with Angela Lansbury. and for inexplicable reasons (i suspect it is because it was filmed in Niagara on the Lake?), we enjoy Trapped in Paradise each year.

  28. Laura says:

    The Curious George movie has been a favorite with my almost 2-year-old. We also have watched “The Small One” this year, which is the story of the donkey who winds up with Joseph and Mary on the way to Bethlehem. It’s a Disney movie from the ‘70s and felt like a good intro to start talking more about the Christmas Story.

  29. Kate Walsh says:

    We stumbled upon an animated version of “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats on Amazon Prime Originals. It’s seriously the BEST interpretation of a classic story I’ve ever seen – it’s so well done and narrated by Laurence Fishburne. Definitely a feel good movie that my boys have been watching over and over again since we saw it last holiday season!

  30. Julie says:

    My kids (and I) loved the muppet version of Mr. Willoughby’s Christmas Tree based on a classic rhyming picture book of the same name. The movie stars Robert Downey Jr. and it is delightful. We watched in real time and found it on you tube. I have not been able to track it down as a DVD but would buy a stack if I could.

  31. Holly l says:

    If you can find the movie “Nativity “ , give it a try. It takes place in an English grammar school where the children put on a little holiday show. Very charming and fun for adults and children I would think.

  32. One of my favorite kids Christmas movies is “Holly Hobbies.”. Odd but true. They have a lot positive themes including thinking of others. Plus they have great music including traditional Carol’s.

  33. Brigette says:

    I encourage other people to give Emmet Otter a try! My husband grew up watching it, and now we watch it with our kids every year. It is like “Gift of the Magi” crossed with a jug band!

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