This is going to take more than one post, but I'll start with a few I would have thought every American who didn't live in a hole in the ground would have seen. However, in talking to some of my friends they haven't seen all of these, so here they are, in no particular order.
A Christmas Story - This is the story of a little boy named Raphie, who wants a BB gun for Christmas. It follows his machinations geared towards manipulating his parents into getting it for him. The plot starts on Thanksgiving when he tries to lobby Santa, and continues through Christmas day. Well written and well told, it's a very 1960s cynical yet heartwarming look at Christmas through the eyes of a child. Darren McGavin steals the show with his portrayal of Ralphie's dad. I loved this movie when I first saw it, and even though it is played pretty much non-stop throughout the Christmas season year after year, it still is enjoyable.
A Charlie Brown Christmas - OK, it's a cartoon feature, not a movie, but it still brings me back to my youth, picking out a Christmas tree with my family and decorating it in the living room. Charlie Brown is distressed by the commercialization of Christmas, and needs help finding the true meaning. With all the wonderful wit of Charles Schultz and music by Vince Guaraldi, I think this will be a favorite all my life.
Miracle on 34th Street - No, not the crappy remake (which I would not advise seeing), but the 1947 original, with Natalie Wood as little Susan Walker. In this movie, Kris Kringle (aka Santa Claus) is disgusted by the commercialization of Christmas and decides to try his hand as a department store Santa. Things get escalated to the point where the city locks him up as insane. Up-and-coming attorney Fred Gailey has to prove he's not insane. This is a powerful tale of good vs. evil, innocents vs. arrogance. An old family favorite! Who wouldn't enjoy seeing Judge Harper and Mr Sawyer outflanked by the naivety and honesty of Kris Kringle?
It's a Wonderful Life - Frank Capra's 1946 tale of family and friendship, and God's love for us all still has the power to bring a tear to my eye. Jimmy Stewart is George Bailey, a man who has had all his dreams broken repeatedly by fate. He's about to lose what little he has left, and decides to take his life. But God has other plans for George. He sends a kind-hearted guardian angle, Clarence, to teach George that life is worth living.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) - Yes, another cartoon, but a classic, produced by Chuck Jones (of Bugs Bunny fame). The Grinch hates Christmas, and only decides to steal all the material good associated with it. But when it happens anyway he realizes Christmas is not about "stuff". Boris Karloff is narrator and Grinch, making a perfectly evil sounding character. Trivia fans - that famous grinch-y song was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, who made his name saying "They're GRRRRRREAT!" as Tony the Tiger, and whose head is one of the singing busts on Disney's famous Haunted Mansion ride.
Hopefully you have all seen these movies. If not, get down to the nearest video rental store and get a copy this Christmas season. Next up, some less known Christmas favorites!