“Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.”—Kris Kringle, Miracle on 34th Street.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year—which means Christmas movies are everywhere. We all have our favorites, but every yuletide film has its own charms. So sit down by the fire, put up your feet, and read on for these 43 facts about our favorite childhood Christmas movies.
43. Ain’t No High Like a Sugar High
While filming Elf, Will Ferrell suffered numerous headaches from the amount of candy he had to eat.
42. Stuck on You
A Christmas Story is one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. I’ve always wondered, though: how does Flick get his tongue stuck to that pole? It’s not real, of course: it’s just an illusion. A suction tube was hidden during the scene to make it appear as though he really did get his tongue stuck. Don’t try that at home, kids.
41. Those Tiny Talking Tots
When the classic special A Charlie Brown Christmas needed voice actors, only three of them were actually already trained. Except for Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy (the main speaking parts), all the other characters were just your average kid.
40. Wash That Mouth Out!
When Ralphie says his famous “fudge” line in A Christmas Story, he is actually saying the real “F” word. Peter Billingsley, who portrayed little Ralphie, even admitted that it wasn’t the first time he’d heard the four-letter word, either.
39. A Creepy Crawly Christmas
When Daniel Stern, who plays the thief Marv, has the giant spider on his face during Home Alone, it’s a very real scene. Yes, Stern actually allowed for that thing to be on his face. However, he stipulated that it had to be a one-time take. His scream didn’t really happen in that moment, either. They didn’t want to frighten the tarantula, so he just pretended to scream, and the sound was added in after the fact.
38. Pinky and the Santa
Sometimes actors get a little more than they bargained for during filming. Take Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. He accidentally broke a pinky finger when he punched the Santa Claus figure in the scene where Clark Griswold gets frustrated trying to put up lights. What’s more, the cameras kept on rolling when Chase broke his finger, and that scene made the final film edit.
37. Checking in
Portions of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York were actually filmed at the famed Plaza Hotel, both in the lobby and in the suites. The phone number given for the hotel in the film was also even its real number.
36. Walking in a Candy Wonderland
If you’re like me, you probably wince during the scene in Home Alone where Daniel Stern walks barefoot on the Christmas ornaments. You can breathe a little easier now, though, because those ornaments were actually just candy, and he was even wearing rubber feet during all of his barefoot scenes.
35. Grinch’s Best Friend
The storybook version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas has a lot less Max the dog in it. After planning the animated special, animator Chuck Jones realized that the story was only going to fill about 12 minutes of time, so he added a whole lot more of Max. “That whole center section where Max is tied up to the sleigh, and goes down through the mountainside, and has all those problems getting down there, was good comic business as it turns out,” he said. Jones also admitted that Max is his favorite part of the story (mine too!).
34. Put on the Suit, He’s the Big Guy
In the original Miracle on 34th Street, Natalie Wood (who plays Susan Walker) actually believed that Edmund Gwenn was the real Santa Claus. In fact, it wasn’t until Wood saw Gwenn out of his Santa suit at the movie’s wrap party that she realized he was just an actor, not Santa. We bet she had great memories of working on the film.
33. The Magic of Film
Macaulay Culkin was never in any danger from being run over by Marv and Harry’s van in Home Alone. That sequence was filmed with Culkin walking backward, away from the van, and the van itself going backward. In editing, they just reversed it to look like he was almost hit.
32. Faces Without Any Names
In The Polar Express, we never actually hear Hero Boy’s name. However, it’s widely known that his name is Chris, after Chris Van Allsburg, the author of the book the film is based on. And actually, the only name we learn about any of the kids or crew on the train is that of Billy. Everyone else is nameless.
31. Happy Thanksgiving, We’re Shooting a Movie
In Miracle on 34th Street, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the real deal. The cast and crew all knew they only had one chance to get the shots they did, so many cameras were used along the parade route. That day in 1946 was also a very cold one. Maureen O’Hara said that she and Edmund Gwenn were jealous that Natalie Wood and John Payne were able to watch the parade from inside. Parade-goers didn’t even know that Gwenn was Santa that year. What a surprise it must have been to find that out after the fact.
30. Off With Its Head!
When the family of A Christmas Story goes to the Chinese restaurant after their botched Christmas dinner, Melinda Dillon, who plays Mother Parker, was actually given the wrong script—on purpose. Everyone else knew that the duck would still have its head, except for her. So next time you watch the film, check out her reaction. It’s entirely raw and in the moment.
29. Not Just a Santa Suit
The producers of Jingle All the Way found themselves the subject of a lawsuit in 2001, five years after the film’s release. A Detroit biology teacher claimed that he had written a script very similar to the film’s plot line. At first, the courts ruled that the studio owed this man $19 million, but the case was ultimately thrown out when the studio appealed.
28. Not the Typical Puppets We’re Used to
Some serious work went into the creation of the stop-motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It took 18 months and over 200 puppets to put together what we see on our screens now. There were only two people allowed to even touch the puppets in the studio: the puppet maker and the animator. Even then, they wore gloves when they touched them.
27. I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet
If you think there’s a scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where the camera looks like it’s shaking, you’ve got a good eye. A small earthquake hit right at the same time the cameras were rolling in the scene where Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany show up.
26. Buzz, That’s Your Girlfriend?
When Kevin finds a photo of Buzz’s ugly girlfriend in Home Alone, it’s actually a photo of the art director’s son. The film’s director Chris Columbus didn’t want to make fun of a girl in that manner, so he decided to make a boy look like a girl. Woof!
Joe Pesci was almost cast as Myron alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All the Way, but their height difference was just too much to handle, and would’ve messed up many of the film’s shots.
24. You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid
The famous Red Ryder BB Gun in A Christmas Story is actually something that had to be made specifically for the film, because it didn’t exist in real life. The film is based on a novel, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, and the author didn’t properly remember the gun he wanted in his own childhood. He had mixed up two guns in an almost hybrid version, and that’s where we get our gun from.
23. To the North Pole We Go
There’s a theory out there that the train in The Polar Express is a time machine. There’s one scene in particular where you can see a flux capacitor on the train. Fans of Back to the Future will no doubt recognize this, making it very likely that the time machine thought is an actuality. There’s even a nod to the third Back to the Future film, when Hero Boy says, “I’ve wanted to do that my whole life” after he pulls the train’s whistle. Doc Brown says the very same line in Back to the Future Part III when he also pulls a train’s whistle. Coincidence? I think not.
22. Two Actors, One Decade
Although Elf was released in 2003, the script first made the rounds back in 1993. At that time, Jim Carrey was the frontrunner to play Buddy, but the role would ultimately go to Will Ferrell when it resurfaced.
21. You’re a Green One, Mr. Grinch
Can you imagine the Grinch as being a black and white thing with pink eyes? That was originally how he looked in the storybook. Chuck Jones, who animated and directed the 1966 special, decided he wanted to go with a green Grinch instead. His specific shade of green came from a rental car, of all places.
20. Twisting His Arm
John Hughes had to be persuaded to make National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. He wasn’t a big fan of doing sequels, saying that he only did them “under duress.” He mainly agreed to do this one because, as he said, he “had a good story to base it on.”
19. To Approve or Disapprove, That Is the Question
Real-life rivals Macy’s and Gimbel’s both agreed to appear in Miracle on 34th Street under the conditions that they could approve the film before it got released. It would have spelled major trouble for the producers if either department store didn’t like it, since a lot of edits would have had to be made. Thankfully, both stores did like the final cut—and the rest is history.
18. Three Times the Breaks
The infamous leg lamp from A Christmas Story was actually three different lamps that were all used during production. Unfortunately, all three were broken during the filming of the movie.
17. An Elf About Town
Will Ferrell drove around the streets of New York dressed as Buddy the Elf alongside a cameraman and director Jon Favreau to get additional shots of Buddy in New York on one of the last days of filming. While doing so, they offered random people on the street cash just to be extras. I’d do it for free!
16. Reliving the Magic
If you’re so inclined, you can actually go and visit the house where A Christmas Story was made. The house was sold on eBay in 2005, with the buyer, Brian Jones, shelling out a mere $150,000 for it. After spending about half a million dollars restoring it to the film’s look, he opened it to the public in 2006. There’s even a gift shop across the street. And yes, take it from me, since I visited it myself: you can get your own leg lamp there.
15. A Nod to the Nose
Elf has several nods to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sprinkled throughout the film. Not only are the workshops based off of the ones we see in the classic special, but the costumes the elves wear are reminiscent too.
14. It’s Alive!
Originally, director Chris Columbus wanted the furnace in Home Alone to come alive and chase Kevin up into the main house. Since it would have cost too much, they stuck with a couple of guys, flashlights, and fishing wire to help portray a possessed, but unmoving, furnace.
13. The Tree Grew Three Sizes That Day
You aren’t imagining things if you think Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree grows in size, then shrinks again. The two animators must have imagined the tree a bit differently from each other, giving us the ever-changing tree. Even Charles Schulz himself hated the gaff, blaming it entirely on the animators.
12. From BB Guns to Elfwear
In a fun little six degrees of separation, the actor from one of our noted movies on this list also appears in another. Peter Billingsley, or Ralphie from A Christmas Story, shows up in Elf. He plays an elf named Ming Ming in a cameo appearance.
11. It All Started With a Bunch of Playboy Shorts
As we’ve said, the whole idea of A Christmas Story is based on In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, a book written by Jean Shepherd and released in 1966. But that book? It’s actually a number of short stories that were originally published in none other than Playboy.
10. A Happy Accident
Beverly D’Angelo, who plays the mother in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, took matters into her own hands (literally) during one improvised scene. She decided to grab Chevy Chase’s crotch when the SWAT team is in the family’s home. It was just one take, but hilariously enough it stayed in the film.
9. Go Big or Go Home
Neither Joe Pesci nor Daniel Stern, the two Wet Bandits in Home Alone, had high hopes for the film. Because of this, they both went overboard with their characters, which, in my opinion, makes things even better.
8. Three Times the Charm
Buddy the Baby Elf was played by not one, not two, but three baby girls. The triplets were brought in after the original twin boys had to be let go. Apparently, they just wouldn’t stop crying when they had to look cheery. The triplets were by far more playful and happier, giving the film exactly what it needed.
7. You’ll Be a Flop, Charlie Brown
Unbelievably, the studio didn’t think A Charlie Brown Christmas had any hope of being successful. They even wanted the famous speech Linus gives about the true meaning of Christmas cut altogether, thinking it was too religious. Apparently, one of the animators stood up in meeting and proclaimed that the special would “run for a hundred years,” but nobody believed him. Turns out, they were wrong and he was right: A Charlie Brown Christmas is the second-longest-running Christmas special, behind only Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in popularity.
6. All the Greats Get Passed up at First
The original, animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! almost never was. It needed sponsorship, and while Chuck Jones was shopping it around, almost two dozen companies turned down the opportunity to fund The Grinch. All sorts of companies said “no” before the Foundation for Commercial Banks said yes, giving $300,000 to the production. By today’s standards, that’s over $2 million.
5. Wanted: Santa Claus
It’s hard to imagine The Santa Clause with anyone but Tim Allen playing The Red One, but there were a lot of big actors considered for the part instead. Names like Bill Murray, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and Mel Gibson were all contenders, just to name a few.
4. The Mystery of the Voices
Frosty the Snowman first premiered in December 1969. But when those tuning in the following year watched it, pretty much all of the children’s voices had been dubbed over by completely new people. The reasoning is unknown, and every single airing since then has been with the dubbed version. No one even knows who those new voice actors were either, as they weren’t identified.
3. I Saw Daddy Killing Santa
The original premise of The Santa Clause had Tim Allen’s Scott Calvin character killing Santa after he mistakes him for a burglar and shoots him. The script was changed so Santa is only caught off-guard, and then falls from the roof instead. A little less horrifying that way.
2. It Ain’t Easy Being Green
In the live-action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Jim Carrey went through quite a lot to be the Grinch. It took hours to get him in his makeup every morning and another hour to take it all off at the end of the day. He even had to learn techniques from a Navy SEAL who specialized in preparing agents for the possibility of enduring torture because of how intolerable it was being in the prosthetics all day.
And those yellow eyes the Grinch has? Some of that was Carrey wearing contacts, but other times it was just edited in after the fact. The contacts were just too uncomfortable for the actor to be constantly wearing, so he needed those breaks.
1. Who You Gunna Call?
When The Santa Clause first came out, a line in the movie has Tim Allen mentioning a phone number 1-800-SPANK-ME. Well, turns out it was a real number. A grandmother called it at the request of her grandchildren and discovered it was a number for…intimate activities. It took three years for Disney to re-release the film without a mention of that phone line, at which point they also bought and then disconnected the number.
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