A meaningful holiday season is more about spending time with loved ones and creating meaningful memories than about shiny new toys and presents. Research shows focusing on gratitude regularly and mindfully can improve physical and emotional health, strengthen immune systems, and increase overall well-being and happiness.
But, how do we get our children to cultivate a habit for gratitude amidst a season of wish lists and gift exchanges? In addition to dinnertime or bedtime rituals to encourage thankfulness for daily blessings, curling up with classic movies and culturally diverse media can help reinforce positive messages and kick off a conversation about gratitude.
Get started with the 16 movies, books, and apps highlighted below.
Gratitude-Themed Holiday Movies/Shows:
First airing in 1965, this Peanuts animated television classic is a humorous and endearing reminder of how love and friendship can wash away the holiday blues (Charlie Brown’s initial reaction to the cheery holiday season). It weaves in a number of religious references.
A great adaptation of a well-known holiday classic. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is great story for emphasizing that Christmas is about love and connectedness, not material possessions.
Emmet and Ma work hard just to get by. They both secretly enter a talent show hoping to win the money to buy Christmas presents for each other. Neither wins, but in the end they are grateful for each other and their friends.
This show covers a wide range of celebrations, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and St. Lucia Day. Many of the characters don’t receive everything they were hoping for out of the holidays, but learn to be grateful for what they do get.
Nominated for Best Picture, Babe is the journey of a talking pig who discovers he can be anything (even a sheepdog) thanks to his perseverance and the support of friends on the farm. One Christmas, the friendship of the farmer saves Babe from being killed. Through ups and downs, Babe appreciates and rewards his good friends, including the farmer, with his devotion and grit.
The classic story of George Bailey being shown he is “the richest man in town” due to the love and respect he has in the community is an inspiring pick for the whole family.
This documentary is the perfect introduction to the history and practice of Kwanzaa. The holiday’s focus on community and faith in oneself are great starting points for a discussion on what we are grateful for.
This modern remake of a 1947 romantic comedy introduces an angel (Denzel Washington) into the lives of a preacher, his wife (Whitney Houston), and son when the financial pressures of the church start to overshadow their relationship and appreciation for each other and for the joy of life. The angel reminds the pastor that his family is the most important thing in this life.
9. Little Women
The touching 1994 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel features several heartwarming Christmas scenes, including the March family reconnecting with family and appreciating the joy of being together for the holidays. They express their gratitude by sharing their Christmas dinner with a neighboring hungry family.
Gratitude-Themed Holiday Books:
Oskar arrives in New York, where he has been sent to escape Nazi Germany, on the seventh night of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve. He encounters kind people who help him and give him gifts; a beautiful story about the blessings people can offer others, even in dark circumstances.
Seven brothers in an African village fight constantly. When their father dies, his will tasks them with making gold from seven spools of thread. In the course of accomplishing this, they learn to value each other and their community.
A Parisian homeless man named Armand is generally happy with his life until some children and their mother take up residence under his bridge close to Christmas. With time, he appreciates and embraces them as family, and he works to get them a home.
The classic O. Henry story, with lovely illustrations by P.J. Lynch. A husband and wife sacrifice their most prized possessions in order to buy presents for each other, demonstrating the power of love and the true meaning of Christmas.
Gratitude-Themed Holiday Apps:
1. My Menorah
A fully featured Hanukkah app with a menorah to light, a dreidel game, songs, and some foundational Hebrew. Included are “Eight Days of Happiness” tips for parents on teaching children about the meaning and traditions behind the holiday and expressing appreciation for the miracle of the oil lasting 8 nights.
The familiar tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption that illustrates the joy found in love, not in material possessions, beautifully retold by pop-up book illustrator Chuck Fischer.
This app makes it easy to establish a daily gratitude practice; just take five minutes a day to record what you are thankful for.