Disconnecting the Light of Christmas: ‘Elf’

ElfIn our home, Thanksgiving celebrations have always included the official opening of Christmas Movie-Watching Season, with multiple family favorites being viewed every year.

My memory may be a bit sketchy here, but it seems as though every single Thanksgiving weekend at our home since 2004 has featured at least one showing of the 2003 film Elf, an amusing piece of work directed by Jon Favreau. Favreau also appears in a cameo role as the unnamed doctor who performs a paternity test on Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) at the request of Buddy’s biological father Walter (James Caan).

Everyone at our house absolutely loves this film; we not only look forward to it every holiday season, but we sometimes watch it at other times during the year. The number of times a member of our family quotes the film throughout the calendar year probably numbers somewhere in the hundreds. We even have a small version of Buddy the Elf “guarding” the paper towel dispenser in our kitchen. You get the idea…we are crazy about this film, and we respond in shock and dismay whenever a hapless visitor to our home confesses that he or she, 1) has not seen the film, or 2) doesn’t like it all that much. (These latter horribly-misguided folks are promptly shown their way to our front door.)

Buddy the Elf Doll

“Gosh, there’s always help available for messy spills!”


Prior to 2003, I became an instant fan of Favreau’s with the 1996 release of Swingers, directed by Doug Liman and costarring Vince Vaughn. While most people gravitate to the patented outrageousness of the Vaughn character – which I totally get – I immediately was impressed by how well Favreau set up the comedy with his quiet, exasperated take on the Straight Man role. I’ve kept track of Favreau ever since, so it’s safe to say that his name has grabbed my attention for the better part of 20 years now.

So you can only imagine my delight when my crazy wife returned to our home on the morning of Black Friday with a much-coveted copy of the Elf soundtrack in her hands. “Pennies From Heaven” as sung by Louis Prima?! Y.E.S. We wasted no time zipping that CD open and dropping it into our living room player. As I often do when listening to a new CD, I began thumbing my way through the liner notes. Here’s what I found on the inside front cover:

Dedication of Elf Audio CDCongratulations!

You have just purchased the soundtrack of the movie Elf! That means you either enjoyed the film or you just thought the songs were cool. Either way, you have done a very good thing. These songs will no doubt bring you much enjoyment for years to come.

I recommend you either play this CD in your car, load it into your home changers, download it into your iPod, or use it as a coaster. Whatever you decide to do with it, I hope it brings you and those around you holiday cheer.

Growing up in New York, I’ve always viewed Christmas as a holiday for everyone. Though rooted in religion, it has grown into a holiday that has come to represent the coming together of all mankind. It represents the best of people. I tried to capture that spirit in the songs of this album. Hopefully it will put a smile on your face.

Jon Favreau

So, with all that, just a few quick observations:

  1. I’m reasonably sure Favreau intends zero in the way of offense. The cheery tone of his dedication seems to signal a bright, well-meaning disposition consistent with the warm, feel-good message of his film. I detect absolutely nothing in the way of ill will toward Christians of faith, and yes, his effort does indeed bring a smile to the faces of our family members as we listen to the soundtrack….over and over again.
  2. Favreau’s dedication is nonetheless a tribute to the unplugging of Jesus from Christmas. “Rooted in religion” is one thing, whereas “a celebration of an historical event that split human history in half” is something else altogether. Coming as it does in a year that seems to be ending with a marked increase in hatred, violence and divisiveness, Favreau’s warm words about “the coming together of all mankind” ring pretty hollow, whereas “Wow, we sure do need a Savior!” would more likely spark an intense reason to celebrate the fact that we have already been given one in the life and ministry of Jesus.
  3. Why does anyone think that he or she has the right to define (or re-define) Christmas? Can you just imagine the response had someone outside of the respective faith traditions penned a line such as, “For me, a non-Muslim, the holiday of Ramadan has actually come to mean such-and-such,” or “For me, a non-Jew, the holiday of Rosh Hashanah has come to mean so-and-so.”? Christmas is (demonstrably) “a Christian holiday that is celebrated on December 25 in honor of the birth of Jesus Christ.” The clue is in the name itself:
    • “Middle English Christemasse, from Old English Cristes maesse, literally, Christ’s mass. First Known Use: Before 12th century.”
Soundtrack to Elf

Don’t think. Buy.

So, despite my dismay at Favreau’s willingness to play fast-and-loose with a High Holy Day of the historic Christian faith – and keeping my only-slightly-dampened enthusiasm for his film career in mind – I would still recommend to anyone who will listen that he or she go out and buy both a copy of the Elf film on DVD or Blu-ray and secure a copy of the soundtrack as well. Maybe you should watch the film once before you commit to DVD ownership, but you don’t even need to hesitate on the soundtrack. Just buy a copy, already.

Be warned, though…you might end up with the Louis Prima number stuck in your head for days. I sure did.

John 1:9-13 (ESV)
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Luke 2:1-14
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

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