The older you get as a married couple, the harder it is to find good Christmas gifts for each other. We have more money now than we did our first dozen Christmases, but money has never been the problem. My wife would still be happy with cheap-but-thoughtful gifts – or pure nostalgia gifts.

The problem is thinking of anything I haven’t already given her. It’s not that she needs anything. Like me, her needs have decreased with time. And the things she does need, I can’t buy for her.

Can’t buy clothes, because no matter what the official size is, you can’t guess what something will actually look like till she tries it on. That goes triple for shoes. I have a pretty good idea of her “look,” but having a 50-percent chance of getting something that she’ll like just isn’t good enough.

Books? Yeah, right. Most of her free-time reading comes from her local book group, so those titles are already decided. When I’ve read something I think she’d like, I tell her about it … and even if she wants to read it, any hope of making it a surprise gift is gone.

Gift certificates? Oh, get real. She keeps the checkbook. Me giving her a gift certificate is like taking money out of her purse to give her as a present. Could I possibly feel more like a 9-year-old?

Which means I’m mostly limited to finding really nice pieces of art. Except that after nearly 40 years of marriage (wow, that’s the anniversary coming up this May!), we already have so many art pieces (mostly prints with zero resale value but lots of sentiment attached) that we have to rotate them in and out of the house to make the most of limited wall space.

I’m reduced to looking seriously at nice keychain flashlights and convenient reversible phone-charging cables. You know, the kind of gift that can get lost at the bottom of a Christmas stocking.

Now, don’t misunderstand. My wife is not hard to please. In fact, she’s ridiculously easy to please. You know what she wanted for her birthday? For me to sort through the books stacked up around the family room to determine which I’m going to read and which we’re going to give away or put out in our curbside neighborhood “library.” That’s right. It was a household project.

Of course I did it. But to me, it didn’t count as a gift. It was a marker of just how annoying my book-stacking habits had become. It should have been done months before, long before it could rise to the level of “please, do it for my birthday.”

Being a slightly less bad husband isn’t a “gift,” it’s “repentance.”

Now, let’s multiply all that by 12, because yes, that’s right, I give her Twelve Days of Christmas. Not the partridge in a pear tree – though I do know how to order a partridge or two from D’Artagnan online.

No, it began when I was first courting her back in 1973, and I decided to make her a cake. A spice cake with penuche icing, both from scratch, my favorite. But in trying to make it into a symmetrical stacked shape, I didn’t realize that my lack of proper tools would doom the project.

Then somebody at home pointed out that it was Dec. 14, and if I gave her one gift a day for 12 days, the 12th day would be Christmas Day itself. That cake became a playful Day One: “A Lopsided Tumble-down Cake.”

Thus began 43 years of giving her 12 days of Christmas. At first it was truly silly stuff. Eight bananas on the eighth day. Twelve baskets on Christmas itself. Mostly my creativity consisted of what to call a gift – you have to be able to sing the names of all the gifts to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

More than 500 gifts in 43 years means that I’m running out of ideas. Sure, I can repeat some of the earlier ones for nostalgia’s sake. But tying eight ripe bananas to the banister is tedious to do and to take down again, and it’s old.

After the first year, I started the 12 days on Dec. 13, so that the 12th day was Christmas Eve and my main Christmas gift was not part of the 12 days.

This year, though, the 12th day is by far the nicest gift I’ve found this year – so it’s going to have to do double duty as the main gift on Christmas Day as well. That means that for the first time since 1973, the “first day” was the 14th instead of the 13th.

Here’s the kind of woman I married. She lives by the calendar the way I live by the map. You think that she didn’t notice that there wasn’t a gift on the 13th? Ha ha – you don’t know her if you think that’s even possible. But she said nothing.

I watch all those sitcoms where the husband forgets the anniversary or birthday or whatever, and then gets punished for it by the wife. How is that even a marriage, to punish somebody for being incapable of remembering any appointment, date, anniversary or birthday? As long as I can still write novels, she’s not complaining that I often don’t know what month it is.

And yet … I am never happier than when I can make her happy. So as I’m writing this (in the wee hours of the morning of the 14th), I’m anticipating how she’ll feel when she sees the first-day gift waiting for her under the tree when she goes into our living room to teach the 6 a.m. scripture class she provides to our congregation’s high school students.

I hope I’ll be asleep by then, but I can imagine her smile of relief: The idiot husband didn’t screw it up this year after all.

Which brings me, oddly enough, to one of my favorite Hallmark Christmas movies this year. (Actually, 12 Gifts of Christmas came out in 2015, but somehow I missed it, so it was new to me this year.)

It’s got more story than most TV Christmas movies. Anna Parisi (Katrina Law) is a struggling young artist living in her sister’s basement. The sister (Melanie Nelson) is a successful Manhattan restaurateur, and since Anna babysits her two middle-grade daughters, Bella (Laiya White) and Sophia (Alyssa Buckner), nobody minds the arrangement.

Except that Anna wants to have a life and a career and support herself. She feels like a mooch. But getting started as an artist is hard. The movie opens with her arriving at a gallery, only to be informed that they aren’t interested in artists “on their way up – if that’s the direction you’re going, no offense.” Newcomers need not apply.

When she’s out shopping with her sister and nieces, we also see that she has a knack for thinking of the perfect gift – personal, meaningful gifts of the kind I’m having a harder time thinking of every year. So at her sister’s suggestion, she starts a business as a gift consultant.

Through a series of plausible meet-cute coincidences, her first client is Marc Rehnquist (Aaron O’Connell, who is so good-looking that it’s hard to cast him as anything but a villain, except in Christmas rom-coms). Marc is an advertising exec who is about to lose one of his company’s biggest accounts, a laptop maker, because he and his team can’t seem to please the woman who owns it.

Marc first hires Anna to buy 12 gifts that he has already specified. But the smartphone he wants to buy for a longtime friend is sold out everywhere. So she comes up with an alternative that is obviously (to the audience) better than the smartphone. Marc fires her because she failed; then his friend responds to the gift that accidentally got messengered to him, and Marc realizes Anna is a gifting genius.

She then buys the rest of the gifts on his list – but brings him along for an hour of her shopping, so he can see what she does. Naturally, they’re falling in love, though they’re both too stupid to admit it for a while. And a lot of other interesting, funny and heartwarming things happen, and witty lines are spoken, because this Hallmark Christmas movie is better written than most.

Gift-giving is hard, if you actually want to do it well, and this movie does a good job of showing what it takes to give a good present. It doesn’t tell you what to do when you’ve already thought of adequate-to-great gifts for the same person for 40 years, but it can’t fix everything.

So have I sold you on watching 12 Gifts of Christmas? I hope so, because it’s quite cheerful, better written than it needed to be, and the actors are good (especially the kids!)

But now I have to warn you about a couple of things that are truly awful about 12 Gifts. First, Marc’s mother, Joyce, is played by Donna Mills, who had a great run as Abby on Knots Landing from 1980 to 1993. When you consider that her earliest credits were in forgotten TV series from 1970, by 2015 she was 45 years into her career.

In other words, she’s not young. And that’s great, because she’s playing the mother of a guy who’s supposed to be at the peak of his career.

Here’s what’s awful: Her makeup seems to be meant for the stage, where the audience is mostly 50 feet away. But the camera is tight on her face most of the time, and we can see the absolute hideous mascara work on her lower eyelashes, which are astonishingly clumpy and fake.

No woman who actually owned a mirror would ever go out in daylight with that makeup on. So every time she’s onscreen, despite her very good acting, you just want to look away from the train-wreck of her makeup.

But that is easy to forgive, compared to the deep, horrible, stupid and completely avoidable flaw at the heart of this TV movie.

Anna is supposed to be an artist. A good artist. An artist whose work becomes the salvation of an advertising campaign (not a surprise to anyone except Anna).

But the actual art that is shown as if it were her work is not just bad, it’s wretchedly bad. People who think Elvis-on-velvet is great art would shudder at this stuff.

Remember, this movie plays to an audience of people who have seen hundreds of painted pictures of Santa Claus on hundreds of products and advertisements. There are the Norman Rockwell Santas, the Dean Morrissey Santas, the Scott Gustafson Santas, the Haddon Sundblom (Coca-Cola) Santas. We all know what well-drawn and well-colored Santa paintings are supposed to look like.

What they put on the screen makes paint-by-number Santas look like fine art.

It gets worse. It’s a key plot point that Marc’s mother treasures a 15-year-old portrait of her family that hangs over the mantel in the family mansion on Long Island.

This family is supposed to be rich. The costume designers know how to dress people rich (in fact, that’s a plot point), but nobody cared enough to commission an actual artist to create the kind of portrait that rich people would actually pay for.

What hangs over the fireplace is appallingly bad. It doesn’t take an art expert to detect its badness. It is bad in a junior-high-art-show way, and I apologize to junior-high artists because that comparison really isn’t fair to them. Few street caricaturists are this bad.

The badness of the art completely undercuts the premise of the movie: that Anna’s artwork is actually good.

OK, reality check here: The movie Titanic was also about an artist, and when we actually saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s supposed artwork, it was also laughably bad – especially considering we were supposed to think of him as a brilliant young artist whose work might have transformed the art world.

Really? By the time the Titanic sank, Pablo Picasso was already through his “blue period,” which some of us think was his finest work. Who would care about Jack Dawson’s (Leonardo DiCaprio’s) childish artwork in that world?

Yet despite the laughability of the idea that Jack was an artist whose loss was a great tragedy to the art world, Titanic still grossed more than $2 billion.

But 12 Gifts doesn’t have a splendid ship-sinking that plays so brilliantly you don’t actually care about anything else in the movie. This movie climaxes with the display of Anna’s new portrait of the family, done from memory in a few days (yeah, right). And any family, let alone a rich, sophisticated one, would certainly thank the friend who painted the portrait and then, after the artist went away, cover it in burlap and hide it behind everything else in the attic.

Or burn it. Burning it would be a mercy, in case the artist someday learned how to paint and would be humiliated if such a wretched early work surfaced.

Of course, a low-budget Hallmark movie couldn’t afford to pay for really good art. Could they?

I own and operate an online science fiction and fantasy magazine, The InterGalactic Medicine Show {}, and we made the commitment, from the start, to include illustrations for every story, with full-color art on the “cover” of every issue.

There is not one of the dozens of cover artists we have worked with for 53 issues (so far) who is capable of producing anything as ugly and unskilled as the art they used in 12 Gifts. All of them produced our cover illustrations for prices that wouldn’t even be noticed in the budget of a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Not that I’m privy to the budget given to each Hallmark Christmas movie, but they build sets and flood the screen with extras in fake Christmas villages. They have a budget, and since the Christmas movies make up a huge proportion of Hallmark’s revenue, they could have spent $3,000 to show us three believable works of art.

I mean, Hallmark Cards employ hundreds of artists, many of them very good, and yet somehow nobody could figure out how to hire one of Hallmark’s card illustrators to do the art for this movie!

There’s no evidence that anyone involved with the production had the slightest idea of how bad this art was. For instance, when we catch a fleeting glimpse of Anna’s “serious” art – which she calls “contemporary realism,” a real-world genre, which I study and collect myself – it is most definitely not contemporary realism.

Instead, it looks like photographs smeared up and “artified” by Photoshop or some such digital art program.

Look, the bottom line is that 12 Gifts is quite enjoyable as long as you kind of squint or look away whenever art is shown on the screen. But no amount of good writing can overcome bad visuals in a movie. If it were a radio or audio play, we’d never have to see the art, and so the story would have worked perfectly with the existing script and cast. But it’s on the screen, we see the art, and we can’t unsee it.


A few weeks before our church’s annual chili cook-off, I bought a couple of books about working with hot peppers. Hot Sauce Nation: America’s Burning Obsession, by Denver Nicks, is an overview of the history, science and cultural effects of the chili in particular and culinary hotness in general. It makes for a good read, and settles the “hottest chili” question – at least for a few weeks.

Hot Sauce!: Techniques for Making Signature Hot Sauces, by the “Queen of Hot,” Jennifer Trainer Thompson, seemed to be just what I was looking for. I have often grown jalapeños and habaneros in my garden, and they’re easy to buy locally – but I know from experience that if you get habanero on your hands, you can’t wash it off sufficiently to be safe. This is hot stuff.

But I have keen memories of the great habanero sauce at Dona Flor, a Brazilian restaurant in Washington, DC, (it closed many years ago), and I wanted to make a sauce that had both the fire and the flavor that you got when you dipped Dona Flor’s risolles in their habanero sauce.

Here’s the problem. I followed the recipes for jalapeño and habanero sauces in the book, and deliberately included the seeds – the hottest part of most peppers. But since the biggest single ingredient in each of them was vinegar, I had to wonder: How can these be all that spicy, since acids like vinegar and lemon neutralize the alkaline capsaicin, which is the substance that makes peppers hot?

The answer is: They aren’t all that hot. Their virtue is that because the capsaicin is nearly neutralized, you can actually taste the pepper’s natural flavor, which is great when it comes to jalapeño, but not so thrilling with habanero.

Now I’ve learned my lesson – if I want these sauces hot, I’m cutting way back on the vinegar. In fact, I may add some olive oil in order to spread the capsaicin and make it cling to the inside of the mouth, so you get a real burn.

At least the recipes in the book have edible results, even if they aren’t hot enough to make anybody cry – the gold standard for hot sauces.

When I was making these sauces, I wanted to bottle them in reusable and pourable containers. I had good luck when I went to Sur La Table and found they had an excellent selection of bottles and jars that sealed tightly and yet poured or dipped easily.


Just for fun, please notice that I have spelled both jalapeño and habanero correctly. The n in jalapeño has a tilde, which means it is pronounced “nyo.” But habanero has no tilde, and so the n is exactly like the n in English words. The j in jalapeño is pronounced as “h” but the h in habanero is silent.

Thus: “ha-la-PEN-yo” but “ah-ba-NEH-ro.” Never “ah-ba-NYEH-ro.”

But I realize this helpful guide is as useless as explaining, over and over, that in standard Italian, the word bruschetta is pronounced “bru-SKET-tah,” not “bru-SHET-tah.” In other words, the sch is pronounced like the sch in school or the American version of schedule.

This is because bruschetta is an Italian word, and except in a few very southern regions, if you want people to say the sound we normally spell as sh, you write it “sci” or “sce.” If you want to write the sound we often spell as sk in a word where that sound is followed by an i or an e, you put an h after the c, precisely so that it will be pronounced like our k.

But in a world where generations of choir singers have been taught to mispronounce church Latin when singing “in excelsis deo,” how can I hope to help anybody treat Italian pronunciation with respect? (No, it isn’t correct as “eggshell-sis.”)

In fact, I recently saw a TV show where one character ridiculed another for saying “bru-SKET-tah” (i.e., the correct pronunciation) because “most people say ‘bru-SHET-tah,” and it was clear the scriptwriter actually thought he was right. Aaaargh!

Now, we who speak Portuguese expect people to mispronounce Brazilian place names, because few people have any idea how Portuguese is pronounced. So even though we wince at the American version of Rio de Janeiro (“REE-oh deh ja-NAIR-o”), we would be shocked to hear an American say, correctly, something more like “REE-oh jee zha-NAY-rue”).

If there’s one thing Americans are proud of, it’s being completely ignorant of the pronunciation of foreign languages.

We got that attitude from the Brits, who pronounce foreign place names however they want. Thus we say “Paris” instead of “pah-REE.”

And while I’m ranting, it’s true that Castilian Spanish makes a th sound out of z, initial s, and c when followed by e or i, this does not mean that the name of the city Barcelona is pronounced “bar-theh-LO-na.” That’s because Castilian is not the language of Catalonia (ancient Aragon, now spelled and pronounced Catalunya). In the Catalan language (Catalá), that th replacement does not exist. So Barcelona is pronounced exactly as it looks to most Americans.

Pronouncing it “Barthelona” is an insult to patriotic Catalonians. Say it that way, and you’re likely to get a long scolding from your Barcelona taxi driver.


One of the best, most enjoyable books I’ve read this year is How to Read Water: Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea, by Tristan Gooley. Gooley is an expert in the theory and practice of natural navigation – all the methods of finding your way across open water that were in use before GPS was available.

Not that he sneers at GPS – it saves lives, and he’s in favor of that. But he has learned how to pilot sailing ships and small boats without even a sextant – his “sextant” consists of extending your arm fully toward the north star (at night) or toward the sun (in daytime), and counting how many fists it is above the horizon. If you also know the date, you can make a rough guess at your latitude.

How to Read Water is not about navigation, however. It’s mostly about water as we experience it on land: rivers, puddles, lakes, waterfalls or at the seashore.

There was so much fascinating information that I found myself dog-earing the pages I especially wanted to talk about here. But when you dog-ear every╩page, it no longer serves as much of a guide to the best bits.

Let me give you a sample. For instance, when waves approach shore, they break when the water starts to get shallow – well back from the shore, usually. Where they break, the falling water digs a wide and sometimes deep trench in the sand or shingle of the shore. Where tides are fairly extreme, you can often sea this trench at low tide – we might call the water that collects in it a “tidepool.”

When the tide is high, however, that trench becomes a kind of moat, and the sand built up on the seaward side of it becomes a dam. Eventually, that dam will break, and the water collected in that trench will build up a strong flow toward and through that break in the dam. This is the phenomenon called “riptide” or “rip current,” which carries you straight out to sea, often without your even being aware that you’re moving relative to land.

“Undertow,” on the other hand, is the water that surged onto the shore when the wave broke. When that surge maxes out, it flows rapidly back toward the sea, and it can catch unwary walkers in the sand or water and topple them over and drag them under the next wave.

However, the power of the undertow ceases immediately when the water has returned to the main body of water, so you can usually just stand up and walk back to shore. Only small children or otherwise enfeebled people are at any serious risk.

I remember well the first time we visited the Outer Banks, back in 1983. We had not yet learned about the custom of renting a beach house for a week. We were simply driving down the coast to see some lighthouses and look at the water.

We parked at a public beach entrance, took off our shoes and walked along the shore in that early spring sunshine. My (pregnant) wife was holding the hand of our 5-year-old son, and I had our 2-year-old daughter. Until the backrushing water of the undertow caught her, pulled her feet out from under her, and dragged her out of my hand.

All in a panic, I caught up with her and dragged her out of the water well before she plunged under the breaking waves. But she had rolled over and over, completely helpless in the power of the undertow, and she was not calm about the experience.

Then, for the next few years, my kids complained copiously about my rule that they were not going into the ocean without a lifejacket. The sea is powerful! Who cares whether you “can swim”? The ocean doesn’t. It’s going to do to you whatever it wants.

But How to Read Water is about so much more than that. It teaches you how to “read” the behavior of insects over a river, stream or lake; how to see where fish are moving under the water; why hurricanes and other storms affect waves far from where the high winds whipped them up; what a “glitter path” is and what you can learn from watching it; how water behaves in a “rapids” and where the danger points are.

And, yes, you get a full course in reading puddles – how they form, and how the surface of the puddle gives you information.

I have long known that spring tides happen when the Sun and Moon are lined up with the Earth, and neap tides – unusually weak high tides – occur when the Moon and Sun are perpendicular to each other, relative to Earth. (That is, they form an L, with Earth at the angle.)

But I had never reached the obvious conclusion that even if the moon did not exist, there would still be tides on Earth, because the Sun creates tides twice a day, just as the Moon does. We only fail to notice suntides because the Moon, though much less massive than the Sun, is so much closer to Earth that its gravitational pull is exaggerated.

So even without the Moon, the sealife that flourishes best where tides carry water in and out could still exist and evolve over time.

Every page of How to Read Water was fascinating to me, because I had been almost completely ignorant of anything Gooley had to say. For him, watching water was endlessly fascinating, and because he’s a good, clear writer, it became just as fascinating to me.

I’m not a fisherman or a sailor and have no plan to become either (I suspect I would quickly become a “sinker” or a “drowner”). But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t cool to know some of the things that real sailors and fishermen learn from experience and practical necessity.

I’ve already given copies of the book to friends that I believed would find it fascinating – you know, the kind of person that our culture calls “geek” or “nerd,” which is a way of insulting people who love to learn. If you’re lucky enough to have such a person in your life, you may find that their favorite Christmas gift from you is How to Read Water.


When the Vince Vaughn comedy Delivery Man was being promoted back in 2013, it looked to be unwatchable to me, so I didn’t see it.

That’s because the premise is this: David (Vince Vaughn) finds out that during his younger years, when he made thousands of dollars by donating sperm at a fertility clinic, there was a huge unintended consequence: Many would-be moms liked his profile enough to choose him, under the pseudonym Starbuck, to be the father of their child.

Now, just when his longtime girlfriend becomes pregnant with his child, he learns that he already has 553 biological children, of whom about a third are now suing the fertility clinic to reveal the identity of “Starbuck.” Since David has an ironclad promise of anonymity, this should not be a problem – except that the situation hits the media and results in a firestorm of ridicule and anger toward Starbuck.

From the promotions and trailers, this movie seemed to be one long dirty joke about a guy who makes a living by self-stimulation in a clinic. Ha ha. What a dumb movie.

Except … not. Because David is trying to prove to his girlfriend, Emma (Cobie Smulders, who played Robin in How I Met Your Mother), that he’s a responsible guy, he starts to visit and get acquainted with some of his now-adult children. He doesn’t tell them that he’s their father, but he tries to look out for them and make their lives better.

Each of these encounters is emotionally affecting and we can see David growing up by getting to know his kids – even the one who figures out who he is and pretty much blackmails him for a while. Through it all, he is supported by his second-rate lawyer, played wonderfully by a pre-buff Chris Pratt.

Of course, when David visits his wheelchair-bound, nonverbal son with cerebral palsy and takes him out on expeditions and experiences, I pretty much fell apart, thinking of my beloved boy whose whole life was similarly limited. There’s a part of me that reflexively loves anyone who is kind to a crippled child, while at the same time I mourn my boy, because even now, almost 17 years since his death, I miss him keenly.

But even without that very private response, I would have loved this movie, because it is not just one long smarmy sperm joke. It’s a story about love and family, about growing up, becoming a father and a responsible human being. It’s funny, yes, but it’s also emotional and thoughtful and rewarding to watch.


I don’t like most movies about angels because they rarely have anything to do with my theology, cosmology or angelology, but there are movies with angel-driven plots that do work, not because of the angel (because who cares about a “character” who has little at stake and can’t be harmed?), but because the story shows us people who are being taught and changed by whatever the angel is doing.

Such a movie is the Christmas flick Three Days from 2001. Kristin Davis, in the midst of her long run as Charlotte in Sex and the City, plays Beth Farmer, a lovely young woman who is going to be hit by a car on a street in New York, and die. And, as the angel Lionel (Tim Meadows) tells her husband, Andrew (Reed Diamond), there is nothing he can do to change it.

What Lionel does give Andrew is the chance to relive the last three days of his life with Beth. He has been a distant husband, concentrating on making money, which he’s good at. He also had a lot of issues stemming from his father’s abandonment of his mother, so he had no good role model of husbandly behavior.

During those precious three days, Andrew tries to give Beth the kind of attention he had denied her through most of their marriage. Where to you want to go? What do you want to do? She chooses to return to the town where they grew up – and we soon learn that she chose that place, of all the places in the world where they might have gone, because that’s also where Andrew’s father lives in failing health in a retirement home.

Of course Andrew will reconcile with his father, at least to a degree; of course he will learn a lot about what it means to prove his love to his wife. And gradually it emerges that, if he can only figure it out, there might be a way he can save his wife from her inevitable death.

Through this all, Kristin David and Reed Diamond give superb performances. Tim Meadows is also delightfully low-key and deliberately not-cute as the angel Lionel.

The secret of all the great Christmas movies is how very dark they are. It’s a Wonderful Life spends the bulk of its time showing us George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) experiencing the hellish world that would have prevailed if he had never lived. One Magic Christmas likewise shows us the dark future that Ginny Grainger (Mary Steenburgen) is given a chance to prevent through acts of kindness and love.

Even romantic comedies like The Shop around the Corner and its remake, You’ve Got Mail, are dark. In the first, true to its Hungarian original, people lose their jobs, there is a suicide attempt and there’s a lot of (entertaining) nastiness before the characters finally find their way to truth and love.

And in the second, Meg Ryan loses the bookstore that is tied to all her memories of her mother – because Tom Hanks’s bookstore chain has driven it out of business. Yet somehow they end up together. And along the way, they both shed their relationships with profoundly selfish people. So much darkness.

Christmas movies mean most when they are built on a foundation of loss, grief and loneliness. While “Christmas spirit” is what the Hallmark Christmas movies talk about people “losing,” what it really means in almost every case is that in their loneliness they’ve lost the hope of happiness. Whether it was death, divorce, loss or grief, they live in a dark place that manifests as hostility toward Christmas.

There are Christmas movies that aren’t all that dark, usually because all the jeopardy comes from silly or trivial things. But they also aren’t the movies that earn a place in our hearts – they aren’t the Christmas movies that make us cry as we rewatch them year after year.

So to center Three Days around a troubled couple in which only the husband knows that the wife is going to die in three days is not a mistake – it’s the reason why, even with an angel in it, this movie feels important and true. It’s not so much a “Christmas” movie as it is a movie about marriage and love and family and parenthood.

I recommend it, even if you miss it on the schedule and have to stream it from … somewhere. Amazon lists it as “currently unavailable,” but maybe you can find it somewhere else.