8-Bit Christmas (2021)
Directed by Michael Dowse Production Company: Warner Brothers/New Line
Starring Winslow Fegley, Neil Patrick Harris, Steve Zahn
A father tells his daughter the story of his boyhood Christmas quest for a Nintendo gaming system.
I was actually first introduced to 8-Bit Christmas through the book by Kevin Jakubowski, which I enjoyed vastly and highly recommend. When I heard they were making this into a movie I was pleasantly surprised, and when I actually SAW the movie, I completely fell in love with it. It’s like an 80s version of A Christmas Story, and it was hitting all my nostalgia buttons. The acting is great (young Jake is played by Winslow Fegley, who I enjoyed for a while in the nostalgia TV show set in the 70s, The Kids Are Alright), the humor is fun, and the ending is surprisingly sweet. I really hope this movie turns out to be a new Christmas classic!
Spoilers For 8-Bit Christmas here!
The movie begins in the present day with an adult Jake showing his cell-phone obsessed daughter his Nintendo gaming system. He then proceeds to share the story of a boyhood Christmas when all he and his friends wanted was a Nintendo. Timmy, the richest, most spoiled kid in town taunts his peers (including Jake) with not only his Nintendo but the accompanying Power Glove, until his antics backfire, causing all the adults in town to “outlaw” Nintendos.
With his parents refusing his Christmas wish request, Jake and his friends switch tactics, including trying to win one in a Christmas wreath selling contest, and sneaking off a school field trip to buy one with money made by selling baseball cards. As Christmas draws closer, Jake becomes more desperate, until he finally comes to the point where he realizes there is nothing more he can do. A toy scalper gives him a gentle reminder that getting what we want isn’t what Christmas is all about, and asks him if he’s even wished anyone a Merry Christmas yet. Jake realizes that perhaps his obsession has caused him to neglect his loved ones and the holiday.
Jake receives many Christmas presents on Christmas morning, but no Nintendo. However, he is surprised later that day when he discovers his father has built him a treehouse as a Christmas present, and had even involved an oblivious Jake in the construction of it. Jake’s desire for a Nintendo is put aside in the glory of the treehouse and his plans for all the adventures he will have in it. The gift strengthens his relationship with his father and allows them to discover a mutual love for woodworking together.
The movie ends with Jake telling his daughter he did eventually get a Nintendo, using money he earned caddying at the country club. The family gathers together for dinner at the table, with an empty chair to mark the recent passing of Jake’s father. Jake shows his daughter how all over the house, small carved double “Js” mark the work he and his father did together.
So What Did God Show Me?
-As I watched these scenes with the kids playing video games, I tried to remember if I ever got CRAZY into the games like Jake and his friends did. I definitely remember playing for extended periods of time, and trying to beat the game bosses over and over. But I think since the system was in my brother’s room, and I didn’t have access to it all the time, I probably wasn’t crazy obsessed to the level they were. I also wasn’t as much of a gamer back in the day (that was my brother’s department), but I did partake of his gaming systems, first Atari, then Nintendo, then Super Nintendo. My favorite game still to this day is Legend of Zelda, although I did enjoy Super Mario Brothers and Mega Man 2 quite a bit.
The movie makes an interesting parallel with his daughter wanting a cell phone, showing how technology can cause us to lose ourselves in it, to be shut off from “real life” and those around us. I say this next thought with extreme humbleness (I’m preaching to myself because these days I’m a Skyrim fanatic!): it’s troubling to see how much of our time and ourselves we lose to technology. I’m not saying entertainment is wrong, but when we’re losing whole days sitting in one place, unmoving, that’s a problem. That’s not what God made us for. He made us to be in community, and as useful as Zoom is, I feel like technology, in the end, really just forces us further apart.
-The scene where Jake’s dad is standing in the backyard with him and tells him to “take a deep breath”. This scene is short, but telling. Jake’s dad is calling him away from the distractions of his life, calling him to come out and breathe the free air, to enjoy the outdoors, to have adventures! But Jake is only interested in the simulations of adventures that Nintendo can give him. God is like this! God invites us to stop, take a minute, take a breath, and just be with Him and listen. God created us to be with Him, to spend time with Him, to partner with Him, to create things together with Him, to find and satisfy our passions in Him, and we waste so much of our time, our effort, and our creativity on trying to get things we think will fill that hole that only God can fill, to give us a joy that won’t last when the whole time God offers it for free. God also may have us do things that will have unseen results (until later), like Jake varnishing hockey sticks that will someday be a ladder for his treehouse.
-The scene when Jake is playing the Nintendo in the store and it’s talking to him, telling him how awesome he is and what an amazing player of games he is, is funny but man, did I find it creepy as well. This is how the enemy can sound as he speaks to us! Like the Nintendo telling Jake to “forget about his sister, she’s gone”, when we let our desires take over we forget everything else, especially what’s really important. Temptation speaks seductively to us, convinces us that what we want is the most important thing in the world, and balloons even small desires into monstrous “lusts”.
-Jake has taken his final shot at snaring a Nintendo and failed, and this is where the toy scalper finds him. The man, who despite gouging people with jacked up prices on hard to find toys, isn’t a bad guy, and takes the opportunity to tell Jake some of the hard truths about life…sometimes you don’t get what you want. I’ve seen this happen many times in my life, and guess what…I survived. Sometimes even when we do everything we can think of, to the best of our ability, we still fall short. Sometimes we aren’t meant to have what we desire. Sometimes we don’t get our desires met in our own timing, but rather in God’s. It’s in those moments that we have to trust God in our disappointment and believe that He knows best. We can go to Him with our disappointment, and He understands. He wants to satisfy those unsatisfied areas in our lives.
Another point the scalper made was when he pointed out to Jake he’d been so worried about what he was getting for Christmas he’d completely missed out on Christmas itself. Jake hadn’t even told anyone Merry Christmas at all! Jake had been so involved in his schemes to get a Nintendo he’d completely forgotten how wonderful the Christmas season is! The only thought he’d given Christmas at all was that the holiday was a good excuse to score a Nintendo. This reminded me of how sometimes our desires (or holiday chores and stresses) can consume us so badly we forget everything else and don’t appreciate what we already have. Christmas for example…desires aside, people stress so much over shopping, decorating, wrapping, everything we’re “supposed” to do or get done, and we forget the true joy and fun of the season!
-At first I was surprised that Jake didn’t get his Nintendo for Christmas. After all, that’s usually the Hollywood formula, right? But what happened instead was, I think, even better! Not only did Jake get a treehouse, which was an incredible gift that he didn’t even know he wanted, but it was a personal gift handmade for him by his father. This gift wasn’t something that was just picked up off a store shelf, this was a gift that was crafted with love, effort, time…a gift that really showed Jake how much his father cared about him and wanted to delight him.
This also gave Jake a valuable lesson about delayed gratification (which, unfortunately, is almost unheard of, in these days of Amazon Prime and Door Dash.) Jake didn’t get the gift he’d been agonizing for, he got something else which gave him great joy. Eventually the movie tells us he DID get the Nintendo, but later, when he worked to earn the money for it. What can we learn from putting our desires aside, and seeing if they last, and realizing what we truly wanted in the first place before the world told us what we needed. Then if the desire is still there, are you willing to work for what you want? How hard? How bad do you want it? Are you willing to wait for what you want if you need to? Or, in the end, are you willing to let go of what you want because God promises something better?
-One of my favorite things at the end was how Jake and his dad, John, “found their thing” and how “their thing” became Jake and his daughter’s “thing” too. They “left their mark” on projects all over the house. “Every good craftsman leaves their mark.” What wonderful projects does God want to partner with you and leave your mark on the world?
I was sharing with my friend Paul over at Men at the Movies how the past few years have been so crazy, I would start cringing around the end of October whenever anyone brought up Christmas. The thought of how busy and just psycho crazy the season gets was giving me anxiety just thinking about it. Even the “fun” things, like parties or spending time with friends felt stressful because it was just more “stuff” to do. So, I decided I needed a reset this year, and pulled out a book I picked up a couple of years ago that I highly, HIGHLY recommend, called “Shadows & Light” by Tsh Oxenreider. It’s sort of a guided devotional for Advent, but it’s MUCH more than that. It gives weekly and daily readings for Advent, plus suggested music and artwork to accompany each reading. The author even includes a Spotify playlist with all the songs on it for the reader. But she also encourages everyone to just use the book as a jumping off point and to do whatever they like and works best for them.
I was so looking forward to implementing this that I started early and did a “pre-Advent” the week before the actual first Sunday of Advent. I lit some candles in my room, shut off all the lights, put on a Christmas fireplace ambient video on the TV, and read the Messianic prophecies from Isaiah. It was…magical. I spent at least an hour and a half soaking with God in that sanctuary of just Him and me, enjoying His strong tangible presence.
I came out of it remembering why I loved Christmas so much as a child…I mean, sure, the presents were great, but what I really loved (and was able to carry into my adult years, even) was the magic and the mystery of Christmas. The way the snow softly falls outside, silent and peaceful. White lights in darkness. Soft music played in worship. The taste of homemade gingerbread and peppermint sticks. Smells of balsam and cedarwood. I even have a name for all of that…I call it “colors dull and candles dim”. It’s from a John Denver Christmas song called “A Baby Just Like You” and that phrase always stuck with me.
Using the devo and taking the time (even if it was five minutes before I went to bed) to light the candles on the Advent wreath, read the daily entry, and listen to the music made all the difference this year. I stuck with it, I didn’t miss one day, and as a result, this is the first year in a while that I was able to ease into Christmas and then, like setting a paper boat into a stream, let the old year carry it away. Usually by like noon on Christmas Day I’m like, “Thank GOD Christmas is OVER!” as I remove all the Christmas song playlists from my Spotify, the Christmas movies from my Netflix queue, and throw all my Christmas t-shirts in the wash before packing them away for another year. I’m usually so relieved Christmas is over I’m practically kicking the holiday out and slamming the door shut behind it.
I still had some stressful times, but I felt I was able to take joy in the season and keep peace in my heart so much more than I have in the past years. It was precious, and I encourage you as well to abandon the crazy and get back to the joy, even just a little. After all, like the scalper guy said, “You only get so many Christmases, kid. You gotta make them count.”
Links I Like
Links I like:
- The Advent devotional Shadows and Light website by Tsh Oxenreiner
- Shadows and Light Advent Spotify playlist
- Kevin Jakubowski’s website, the author of the original 8-Bit Christmas book that the movie is based on
- Play original Nintendo games online!
- Or, play on a Nintendo Classic with the games pre-loaded (no need to blow in the cartridges!)
- Enjoy full episodes of Treehouse Masters here
- Just a little peek into Cabbage Patch Mania back in the day
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Drop your favorite part of the movie or your Christmas stories in the comments!
- Poster https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11540284/mediaviewer/rm3072715265?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_pos_3
- Nintendo glove https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11540284/mediaviewer/rm2098454785?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_8
- Jake and Daughter https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11540284/mediaviewer/rm1913905409?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_9
- Treehouse https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11540284/mediaviewer/rm1709174273?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_11
- Nintendo https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11540284/mediaviewer/rm1406987777?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_50
- Scalper and Jake https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11540284/mediaviewer/rm1440542209/