9 Witchy Alternatives to Traditional Holiday Movies

Holiday movies — which is basically to say, Christmas movies — almost uniformly traffic in the values of white heteronormativity predicated on nostalgia for nuclear families and, inexplicably, romance. Unclear how “romance” and “meeting the parents” go together, but last year’s fucking frightful Happiest Season is a demonstration of what it looks like when you try to slap LGBTQ+ characters onto an incredibly straight genre. Horror show. (Yes, I know it was based on Clea DuVal’s real life experience. Like I said!)

For me, an ideal December release would be a queer/wlw, distinctly witchy romantic comedy set around Yule. Glinda the Good Witch falls for the Wicked Witch of the West type shit without the dramatic monkeys, you know? But that film hasn’t been made, and I sincerely love to avoid overtly hetero, Christian-inflected or otherwise Christmas-themed movies at this time of year, so I tend to go for more witchy, fantastical, and otherwise supernatural fare around this time of year. If you’re similarly inclined, here are some alternatives to watch with your chosen fam, roommates, or simply on your own with a healthy pour of your favorite beverage.


Brandy’s Cinderella

Whitney and Brandy in Cinderella

Fairy tales are perfect holiday fare. Personally, I make a point to watch such films on Yule — particularly ones that feel magical, hopeful, and the best kind of nostalgic, the kind of story that lets me refract my childhood hopes, so formed by conservative Christianity, through a distinctly pagan adult queer lens. I grew up on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella; the 1997 version starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, which came out when I was 10 years old, was one story that helped me change how I understood myself. (It’s possible!)

We deserve that sense of possibility that Whitney sings about, and we deserve to keep the stories of our childhoods that helped us first imagine them.


A Christmas Carol

Scrooge holding a candle in A Christmas Carol

Yes, I am including one actual bona fide Christmas movie. But listen. Ghost visitations and subsequent prophetic visions on Christmas Eve prompts a spontaneous life crisis (that does not result in marriage)? Honestly sounds like an extremely witchy and queer holiday breakdown! Also I remain obsessed with the question of who cast the spell to summon Scrooge’s ghosts. Please put all applicable fanfic recs in the comments.


Practical Magic

Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock in Practical Magic

Any movie in which sisters reunite to kill bad boyfriends feels like Christmas to me, okay? Also, it’s about a family curse, and what holiday is that not appropriate for, I ask you!


The Wiz

The cast of The Wiz

Ease on down the road with the 1978 cult classic, which reimagines the Wizard of Oz with an all-Black cast in an Oz that is, in fact, a fantastical New York City. The original cast is legendary: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, Lena Horne. Or try the 2015 made-for-TV special, which sets the story in the more traditional Oz setting and stars folks like Uzo Aduba, Mary J. Blige, Amber Riley, and queer icon Queen Latifah as The Wiz. Give me gender-swapped wizards all day every day. As in all Oz stories, the themes of friendship, trust, and found family are strong.


A Wrinkle in Time

Meg in A Wrinkle in Time standing in front of a mountain and lake

If you want some time-bending sci-fi, stunning visuals, and a compelling story of a daughter trying to save her father, look no further. Hits the nostalgia button hard as we root for the brilliant heroine so many of us loved as kids and fall for a triad of fairy godmother-type figures who are… less “good” than they are “oh you didn’t die, cool cool cool” chaotic neutral.

This one features timeless themes around finding yourself as well as some more traditional family storylines, but without the religious or holiday stuffing you may be surrounded by this month — if you need a movie to recommend to the folks you’re stuck in a house with.


Hocus Pocus

The three witches of Hocus Pocus

Travel to Salem. Light the virgin candle. Protect your little sister like the cat-boy couldn’t! Sing along to “I Put a Spell On You”! Ugh, a classic. Technically a holiday movie, just not this one.


Coco

Miguel looks at a candle in Coco

Also an out-of-season holiday movie, in that it takes place on the Mexican Día de los Muertos — and so we travel to the realm of the dead following one little boy’s journey to receive his family’s blessing for the career path he wants to pursue, which goes against every living family member’s wishes. This one is all about memory and connection and legacy and healing ruptures in the natal family, which means you might want to have a therapy session booked for soon after. What do we pass down to each other? How is trauma inherited? This visually, musically stunning film tackles some enormous questions which, honestly, get me in the gut every time. If you would like a cathartic cry, I heartily recommend it.


Into the Woods

Bernadette Peters and the cast of Into the Woods from Playbill

By which I mean, a recorded video of the original Broadway cast that’s on YouTube with Bernadette and Joanna Gleason, not the 2014 film with that awful late night guy. Unless you’re with people who don’t do Broadway recordings. In which case, I understand and also, I’m sorry.

Good for both solo viewings and folks who are interested in introducing their loved ones to some truly exquisite satire and also tragedy. Sometimes people leave you halfway through the wood! Careful the things you say, CHILDREN WILL LISTEN! (RIP Sondheim, we love you.)


Anastasia

Anastasia and Dimitri dance in the sunset

Feels Christmasy without being Christmasy, by virtue of being mostly set in Russia. (Lots of animated snow.) Iconic music, iconic voices (Meg Ryan, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters). Also, the love interest Dimitri, voiced by John Cusack, is right up there with Leo’s Jack Dawson as a ‘90s queer butch icon; a not insignificant number of my exes look exactly like him and I’m not mad about it.

Thematically, this is all about feeling lost in the world without family only to learn that the family you were missing was the one you found along the way, because it turns out being a secret lost princess is overrated when you could be dancing on a boat with Leo. Dimitri. Whatever his name is. Also, she defeats the sorcerer who has killed off her entire family which means she is probably a witch. 10/10, v. gay.


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Jeanna

Jeanna Kadlec is the author of the forthcoming memoir-in-essays This I Know: A Memoir of Heresy (HarperCollins, 2022). Her writing has appeared in Longreads, ELLE, Glamour, NYLON, O the Oprah Magazine, Allure, LitHub, and more. You can subscribe to her newsletter, Astrology for Writers, and find her on Twitter here.

Jeanna has written 11 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. though it required ignoring heteropatriarchy reinforcement, i think some of us were into the hallmark genre for other reasons than just the dopamine/oxytocin hit – largely strong female characters as leads/support, older protagonists, community dedication above commercialism… i realize they undo some of that by having the protagonists chuck things they’ve worked for to stay with a dude – i’m not saying that it was good for women in sum, just that for a while, of all the media that was problematic for female representation, at least that flavor let women be the story center, not always skinny, not always younger. and, for me, the part where the mores were about trying to be nice to people, caring about your neighbors, helping out & pulling together when people need it, that was engaging. also, it was one of the places that started including themes around sustainability, small agriculture, etc… i did get tired of all the straights, though, so i can’t say i’ve watched much in the past few years.

    really happy to see A Wrinkle in Time here, & loving that someone else liked that movie :)

  2. Looking forward to celebrating Yule/Solstice with rice pudding, a mountain sunrise and a dinner with my Druid neighbor with a Yule log in the fire and Yule log cake. The only serious pagan seasonal festivals I’ve seen on screen are the Beltane ceremony for Motherland and the Mabon family celebration in The Last Keepers. Maybe one day we’ll get a Hallmark Yule movie! When my daughter is old enough to watch it

  3. This is a great list ! Lots of titles I haven’t seen and can look forward to.

    I’m such a Christmas Carol fan, I try to see at least one iteration every year. I’m also a Carol fan, but that movie is now bittersweet, being the root of my divorce. Oh well. Holidays will be trying.

  4. The FX version of A Christmas Carol deals directly with who cast the spell to send the ghosts to Scrooge. (Also, it is much, much darker than I’ve ever seen A Christmas Carol presented, dealing with the societal and personal consequences of Scrooge’s abuse of wealth and power, as well as his own complicated and painful backstory. So be prepared for that. It’s a good movie, but it’s not a “feel good” movie.) It’s on Hulu.

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