When Beth Barrett was a girl, she and her mother had a Christmas ritual.
"My mom and I would watch 'The Sound of Music,'" says Barrett, now director of programming for SIFF, the organization that produces the annual Seattle International Film Festival. For her, the holidays weren't complete with this familiar cinematic ritual.
That's true for many Americans. Movies are as much a part of our annual holiday gatherings as egg nog and latkes. Hollywood brings out some of its biggest productions on Christmas Day, but Barrett says most of those movies have nothing to do with the holiday.
"A lot of commercial distributors are looking at Oscar nominations," Barrett says. "They're looking at huge box office smash hits kind of thing."
Millions of us will head to movie theaters to see those potential blockbusters.
But we'll also search out classic films, on screens large and small. Films like "White Christmas," with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, or Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," starring Jimmy Stewart as a man in search of the true meaning of his life.
Barrett believes many of these classics center on ideas of family. "It's a lot about where do I stand in the family? Where do I stand in the world?"
Those messages can come in traditional packages. Or they can arrive in more contemporary guises, like Will Ferrell's comedy "Elf," or one of Barrett's favorites, "Die Hard," starring Bruce Willis as a New York cop estranged from his corporate executive wife.
"It's 'It's a Wonderful Life' for 16-year olds who want to watch things blow up," she says. True, the film features a bevy of explosions and shoot-em-up scenes. But Willis' character John McClane seeks the same sort of redemption as Stewart's George Bailey, according to Barrett.
"Die Hard" may not be your idea of a holiday film. Barrett says that's the point. Everybody has a personal ritual. "One of the things I love about holiday traditions is they don't necessarily have to be holiday films to become traditions."
It's all about coming together with friends and family, about creating personal rituals. Maybe you gather with loved ones for the annual opportunity to watch George Bailey decide to live again in the Frank Capra classic. Or perhaps your idea of the perfect Christmas movie is "Natural Born Killers." The content is less important than the chance to convene in a group.
"Film is all about connecting," Barrett says. "It's all about the communication and connection you have around this film."
And ultimately, isn't that at the heart of the holiday season?