Christmas movies have been around almost as long as motion pictures themselves.  

As early as 1901, the five-minute, silent short “A Holiday Pageant at Home” chronicled children performing for their parents, followed by “The Night Before Christmas.”  

In 1905, there was the first screen adaptation of the classic poem by Clement Moore and “A Winter Straw Ride” in 1906, directed by film pioneer Edwin S. Porter, best known for his ground-breaking “The Great Train Robbery” (1913).

Sounds of season

Wonderful Life
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) Newscom photo

Many of these one-reelers followed simple plots, including “A Christmas Accident” (1912) and “The Adventures of the Wrong Santa Claus” (1914). 

Six years before his seminal “Birth of a Nation,” D.W. Griffith directed “A Trap for Santa Claus” in 1909, a 16-minute short documenting two children’s plot to trap St. Nick. 

Other early films depicted the holiday’s religious roots, including “The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ” (1905) from France’s Pathé, “From the Manger to the Cross” (1912) and Fred Niblo’s silent 1925 epic “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” — all which had Nativity scenes. 

With the advent of sound, music could be added to the mix, making it hard to now imagine the holiday-film canon without Hal Roach’s “Babes in Toyland” (1934), starring Laurel and Hardy and based on Victor Herbert’s beloved 1903 operetta, or the Irving Berlin-scored “White Christmas” (1954). 

From the 1930s through 1950s, Hollywood churned out seasonal films with regularity, including “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945), “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940; remade by Nora Ephron in 1998 as “You’ve Got Mail”), starring James Stewart, and “Holiday Inn” (1942). 

Secular influences

The steady stream dried up to a trickle during the 1960s — perhaps the film of biggest note being the infamously bad cult classic “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (1964). However, the tumultuous decade marked a “golden era” for Christmas on the small screen, with the debut of such perennial staples as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965), “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964), “Frosty the Snowman” (1969), “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” (1970) and “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966; remade in 2000 as an abysmal live-action comedy staring Jim Carrey). 

Christmas, or at least Hollywood’s secular, politically correct version of it, rebounded at the movies in recent years, with releases such as “Home Alone” (1990), “The Santa Clause” (1994), “Jingle All the Way” (1996), “Christmas with the Kranks” (2004) and the amiable “Elf” (2003), starring Will Ferrell. 

The 1970s, ’80s and ’90s also saw the rise of a new genre, the “anti-Christmas movie,” a toxic trend which metastasized in the new century with lumps of coal like “Bad Santa” (2003), “The Ice Harvest” (2005) and “The Ref” (1994), reaching its raunchy nadir with last year’s “A Very Harold and Kumar (3D) Christmas,” which included a blasphemous depiction of Christ as a boozing playboy. It says a lot about our culture when such offensive fare does better at the box-office than the flawed but well-intentioned animated tale “Arthur Christmas,” both released within weeks of each other in November 2011. 

Another ugly offshoot are oxymoronic “Christmas slasher” movies like “Black Christmas” (1974), “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” (1984) and “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” (2010) from Finland. 

Holiday classics

Nativity Story
“The Nativity Story” (2006) Newscom photo