S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate

A Washington Post article reviewing the explosive growth of Christmas-themed movies includes Visiting Associate Professor of Religious Studies S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate’s observations on the phenomenon.  “We have reached Peak Christmas Movie,” published on Dec. 23, notes, “Anyone who has turned on the TV and seen the all-day, all-month spirit of the season on display might get the sense that Christmas movies are having a wildly popular moment right now.

 “There were no more than five movies with ‘Christmas’ in their IMDb description in any year until 1992, when eight were made … We hit an all-time high in 2015 and 2017, when our IMDb search found 32 Christmas movies in each year,” the Post reports.

In addressing the possibility of religious messaging via movies, Rodriguez-Plate counters, “Movies aren’t always a path to observance but are themselves the ritual.” The article notes that, “In an increasingly nonreligious culture — 26 percent of Americans identify with no religion and just 65 percent identify as Christian in the Pew Research Center’s latest survey, by far the smallest number of Americans who have ever called themselves Christian — movies are a modern form of worship in Rodriguez-Plate’s view.”

“A winter ritual has been around for tens of thousands of years — the movies are the latest iteration,” Plate says. “It’s cold outside. It’s nice and warm inside by the fire, or by the glow of the TV screen. So we gather together … and watch a world unfold on-screen, the retelling of stories on a seasonal basis.”

Much like religion, movies provide stories to inspire and space to reflect. “Some of these films, you watch year after year. You come back to them. You remember yourself by watching them,” Rodriguez-Plate says. “The repetition of it allows us to think about our own places and where we’ve been. … We humans need rituals. Atheists need them as much as fundamentalist Christians.”

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