I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it hard to get into the Christmas spirit this year.
Why? I think we’re all a little on edge. Will Queensland shut its borders just as we are about to go on holiday? Will Omicron turn into Delta? Will this affect the Christmas services our churches are hosting all over the country? All this has the potential to diminish our Christmas cheer. So the other day, I took responsibility for my cheer and went to see the new festive film, ‘A Boy Called Christmas’.
A Boy Called Christmas is adapted from a book of the same title by prolific author Matt Haig. It’s about an ordinary young boy called Nikolas who sets out on an extraordinary adventure into the snowy north in search of his father, who is on a quest to discover the fabled village of the elves, Elfhelm.
Taking with him a headstrong reindeer called Blitzen and a loyal pet mouse, Nikolas soon meets his destiny in this magical, comic and endearing story that proves nothing is impossible. It’s fun, magical and full of Christmas cheer, but it has immense depth for a Christmas movie, and I don’t recall seeing a festive film aimed at children that is quite this deep.
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I was first introduced to Matt Haig via a podcast. This led to me reading one of his best-selling novels, The Midnight Library, released late last year. I read the book in one day – such is Haig’s ability to suck in his reader – so I was intrigued by his first movie adaptation.
Despite the stinging pain of grief and loss it opens with, the film goes on to burst with colourful Christmas cheer.
Haig has a certain ‘knowing’ in his writing. What do I mean by that? Well, you can tell from the topics he tackles head-on in his children and adult fiction that he has known darkness and has known light.
I have gotten to know Haig over the last year via his Instagram and learnt that he manages depression and several years ago struggled with suicidal ideation to the point where he nearly took his own life. Except he didn’t. And he often shares about the other side of “staying”.
Why on earth am I telling you this? Well, Haig knows pain. And he writes about what he knows.
So, is there pain in A Boy Called Christmas – this movie I’m encouraging you to watch that revitalised my deflated Christmas cheer?
The answer is “yep” – there is pain. But within the cracks of pain, there is also deep goodness and radiant beauty.
Take, for instance, the opening scene. Aunt Ruth, played by Dame Maggie Smith, narrates the entire story. One night, she babysits her niece and nephews after their dad is called into work. We learn that the children have lost their mother in this scene – a revelation that packs a punch.
“You look heartbroken,” Aunt Ruth says.
“I’m not,” the oldest replies defiantly.
“I’m not,” the middle child agrees.
“I am. But I still love mummy with all the broken pieces,” says the youngest.
At that, my heart broke too.
Yet despite the stinging pain of grief and loss it opens with, the film goes on to burst with colourful Christmas cheer. Virtually every scene points to the goodness within all of us and to hope. Haig shared his thinking behind the book in an Instagram post.
“Seven years ago I had just finished writing ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and I didn’t want to write another book about depression. Then my son asked me one night, as I was putting him to bed, “What was Father Christmas like as a boy?” And it was a lightbulb moment. I wanted to see if it was possible to write a Children’s story about real things like grief and loss and flawed parents but that was also about hope and magic and elves and reindeer. I wrote this story to cheer myself up. A story of hope in the dark.”
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This film emanates hope in darkness in a wonderful manner. One day, the king of Nikolas’s town summons his people together and says, “I can’t remember the last time I smiled. We are missing something. We all need a hope, a spark of magic to keep us going. Go to the edges of our kingdom, go beyond and bring back something to give us hope again.”
This sets the wheels in motion for Nikolas’s dad to go in search of hope, leaving him with his mean aunt. Then, (and I won’t spoil the film, here) Nikolas embarks on a grand, Christmassy adventure full of possibility and impossibility – to find his dad and the hope his town needs.
One fleeting moment that got my heart was when Nikolas encounters his first elves. He describes his mission as being impossible, only to be rebuked.
“Impossibility is just a possibility you don’t understand yet,” he is told.
So, with all the uncertainty that is going on right now, let me encourage you to sneak yourself away to the cinema with your favourite people and indulge in the Christmas feast that is A boy called Christmas. It has all the trimmings! The whole movie is a thing of wonder.
Oh – and pay close attention in the last scene of the film! There’s a little bit of Christmas magic waiting for you there.
Let me leave you with one of the film’s closing lines about giving gifts: “Maybe we give what we have to show we care, and then we share in the joy, and that joy can grow into hope.”
Doesn’t that sound like the magnificent gift of Jesus? The very gift God gave out of care and love that birthed joy and grew into hope for all the world?