Movie theaters have been closed here in New York, and in many cities across the country, since March. I walked past one of my go-to theaters, the place where I shuddered through No Country for Old Men and suffered through Sex and the City despite the highest of hopes, all boarded up. Others still display posters for eight-month-old releases like Onward and Mulan. It’s leaving a gaping cultural hole this winter, when blockbusters and prestige awards-season contenders typically roll out.
This strange holiday season, I miss sequins. I miss drinking Baileys on ice—my late Nani’s favorite—with my crazy extended family. And I miss going to the movies, alone, in the middle of the day.
It’s an uncharacteristically antisocial tradition (“very Don Draper of you,” noted my colleague, Emma Specter), one hatched in recent years, when I became a mom and realized that what was once a holiday “break” with both of my children home all day, every day, for weeks, was the furthest thing from relaxing. Clawing, as ever, for Me Time, I scaled back my freelance work the week before Christmas to create a true vacation, when my kids were still in daycare, and started Googling movie times.
My idea of a perfect day off was luxuriating over the Fandango app, with nothing but time to trek anywhere in the city to see my preferred awards-season picks. A 45-minute sojourn to the (now-shuttered) Angelika for I, Tonya? Sure. I took in a mid-day viewing of La La Land while uncomfortably pregnant with my son, yet otherwise blissfully alone, watching Ryan Gosling dance through the stars at Griffith Observatory.
But the solo-Christmas-season film jaunt that makes me the most nostalgic now was a 9:40 a.m. showing of Call Me By Your Name at the (now-shuttered) Paris Theater, next to the Plaza, in 2017. I sprung for post-breakfast popcorn—I was already watching a sensual romance before 10 a.m. while my kids were in daycare; what was one more indulgence?—and got completely swept up in the magic of the movie, of the landmark theater, of Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer’s aching love.
Below, four Vogue editors share their memories of going to the movies at Christmastime. Here’s hoping we’ll all be able to do it again some day.
“In the U.K., mostly everything is closed on Christmas Day—at least that’s how it was when I was growing up. Same goes for Boxing Day, the British holiday that comes the day after Christmas, though I do remember movie theaters being a rare exception. (To be honest, it is still unclear to me what the significance of Boxing Day really is. As a child, I imagined this was the day that boxing champions got to unwrap their presents—but, really, who knows!) Sometime around the turn of the millennium, when the Lord of the Rings franchise first kicked off, it became a family tradition for me and my two brothers to go to the movies on Boxing Day. There’s an 11-year age gap between my younger brother and older brother–I sit in the middle—so there was rarely much common ground between us as kids. Somehow, though, we all agreed that blockbuster Christmas movies were absolutely made to be watched on the big screen. Plus, it was a foolproof escape from post-Christmas chores. So each year on Boxing Day, we’d roll up to the movies together for the matinee showing. This was how we bonded as siblings: each quietly cradling our own box of popcorn (because these boys wouldn’t share), immersed in a J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy land in a near-empty movie theater.” —Chioma Nnadi, editor, Vogue.com
“In 2014, I was alone for Christmas. Friends were out of town. Work prevented me from flying down to see my family in Florida. And I decided not to accept an invitation for dinner I had gotten from a couple of casual acquaintances. I would spend the day by myself, I decided, maybe trying to perfect a lasagna recipe that had eluded me several times in the past. But there was one thing I looked forward to that day: the opening of Into the Woods, the film version of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical, starring Meryl Streep, James Corden, and Emily Blunt. It was a show I had seen in previews during its original Broadway production in 1987, and perhaps a dozen times since in various productions in multiple cities. The original cast album, featuring Bernadette Peters, Joanna Gleason, and Chip Zien, was something I still played once a week in my Manhattan apartment.
The first showing on Christmas Day, at the now-shuttered Ziegfield Theater, was at noon. And I was determined to be there early, as I was worried about getting a good seat. (Movies that open on Christmas are typically blockbusters that sell out well in advance.) So I headed across town at roughly 10:30 and got there a little past 11 — to find an almost completely empty theater. I took a seat as a few other people began to straggle in, and decided to text a friend who had gone away for the holiday season, but who had seen Into the Woods with me a few times. About 15 minutes later, she texted me back, and said that she had seen on Facebook that an old friend of hers, someone she had gone to high school with in Minnesota and hadn’t seen in years, was also at the Ziegfield.
My curiosity piqued, I went up and down the aisles, iPhone in hand, trying to match the Facebook profile photo with the face of someone in the audience. (It was not that daunting a task; there still wasn’t much of a crowd.) Sure enough, about 10 rows behind me was a woman sitting with two friends. ‘Are you Betsy?’ I asked, as she looked up, startled. I quickly explained that I was a friend of an old high school classmate of hers, who had seen on Facebook that she was also about to see Into the Woods. We chatted amiably, if somewhat awkwardly, until the lights dimmed, the movie began, and I raced back to my seat.
Afterward, feeling totally blissed out, I felt a tap on my shoulder. ‘Hey, do you want to come have a drink with us?’ Betsy said. And so she and her two friends and I went outside, found a nearby bar and spent the next two hours talking about every Sondheim musical we had ever seen. It was not the Christmas I had planned, but it was one I will never forget.” —Stuart Emmrich, contributing editor
“My dad loved Kevin Costner—loved him through his career ups (The Untouchables) and downs (Waterworld). And there was no down quite like The Postman, a three-hour dystopian epic produced and directed by Costner himself, and released on Christmas Day, 1997. The Postman was a disastrous bomb that derailed the actor’s career, but the Antrim family dutifully contributed to its box office receipts, the four of us assembling at the multiplex—my dad, my stepmother, my sister and me—because what else are you going to do after opening presents? Anything but this.” —Taylor Antrim, deputy editor
“The week before Christmas in 2017, the Metrograph showed the 1958 classic comedy Auntie Mame. It’s a film I committed to memory as a child, raised by devotees of midcentury musicals and comedies. And what better reason to duck out of a frigid, dark December day than to be plunged into the lush, Technicolor world of the upper crust 1920s and ’30s?
Golden Age comic legend Rosalind Russell plays an eccentric, single bon vivant who unexpectedly finds herself the custodian of her earnest, 10-year-old nephew, Patrick, and must endure a number of hilarious jobs and suitors. She swans around decadent locations like her palatial Beekman Place apartment in sumptuous robes, furs, and diamonds, gliding long cigarette holders, serving up “fish-berry jam” (caviar), and, in one crucial scene, jangling a cacophonous charm bracelet. A fast-talking ball of frivolousness, she, more importantly, has a big heart and a mind open to, shall we say, unconventional ideas and trends that make the blue-bloods boil.
The film covers a number of Christmases across the Great Depression and after, ultimately emphasizing that life is less about material possessions than about the richness of connections to family, both chosen and blood related. (Granted, it’s not free of unfortunate caricatures, but they’re made slightly more palatable by the over-the-top feel of the entire movie.) Plunged into the crisp evening after the film, we repaired around the corner to the cozy confines of Forgetmenot for deliciously boozy hot chocolates; Mame surely would have approved of such decadence. And is there any more potent message to shout from the top of a sweeping staircase during any year—and this one in particular—than ‘Live, live, live!’?” —Lisa Macabasco, research manager, senior digital line editor