The Story of the Nativity

(2006)

Joseph: Man Closest to Christ

(2005)

It’s a Wonderful Life

(1946)

Miricle on 34th Street

(1947)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

(1966)

Coinciding with the theatrical release of The Nativity Story, Ignatius Press’s new documentary DVD The Story of the Nativity offers an in-depth, engaging overview of the theology, history and background of the birth of Jesus from a fully Catholic point of view. Blending images of the Holy Land and classic works of Catholic sacred art with interview commentary from Edward Sri (Dawn of the Messiah), Steve Ray, Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, Johnette Benkovic and others, this 60-minute feature delves into Old Testament prophecy, archaeology and Church history, illuminating the mystery of Christmas.

Viewers intrigued by The Nativity Story’s emphasis on St. Joseph may also be interested in another Ignatius Press documentary, Joseph: Man Closest to Christ. With commentary from Mark Miravalle, Sister Louis Marie DeMontfort and evangelist Jesse Romero, Joseph explores the place of this hidden saint in Catholic spirituality, and how the meaning of manhood and the roles of husband, father and worker are illuminated by his silent example.

This year, a number of Christmas classics are celebrating anniversaries (or near-anniversaries), and celebrating with new DVD releases or special editions. Among these, the most indispensable is the ultimate Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, now available in a new 60th anniversary edition. (No new features, alas, but the picture quality is enhanced over previous editions.)

Numbered on the Vatican film list in the Values category, It’s a Wonderful Life is often remembered for the schmaltzy platitudes plastered across the DVD packaging (“No one is born to be a failure; no one is poor who has friends”). Yet the film itself is leavened by darker themes and more rigorous morals about self-sacrifice, disappointment and the fragility of happiness.

Like most Christmas films, It’s a Wonderful Life doesn’t really have much to do with the real meaning of Christmas, apart from St. Joseph in heaven appearing in voiceover. Even so, the movie’s milieu is more recognizably spiritual than A Christmas Carol and most of its ilk. The film is set in motion by the prayers of men and women all over town offered for George Bailey. And while George confesses to God that he is “not a praying man,” what he does in its own way reflects the Christmas story: He empties himself out of love, becoming poor for the sake of his people, the citizens of Bedford Falls.

One year shy of its own 60th anniverary, Miracle on 34th Street also has a new DVD special edition, with a commentary track by Maureen O’Hara and other special features. Almost as beloved as It’s a Wonderful Life, the film’s sentimental story about a department-store Santa Claus who turns out to be the real thing still tugs heartstrings. If you really love film, skip the colorized version on Disc 1 and treat yourself to the original black-and-white version in all its glistening splendor.

Finally, in honor of the Grinch’s 50th birthday (the book came out in 1957; the cartoon followed nine years later), the delightful animated Chuck Jones TV adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! not to be confused with the dreadful live-action feature film directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey — is available in a deluxe remastered edition with special features including “Horton Hears a Who.”