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The Heart of Christmas

Intense faith-based tearjerker based on a true story.
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 89 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

This is a faith-based movie in which a community rallies around a family whose young child has been diagnosed with cancer. There are many scenes in which the parents of cancer-stricken children -- as well as the children themselves -- rely on each other for the strength to get through a difficult time.

Positive role models

Austin and Julie Locke are kind and loving parents doing everything they can to help their son Dax when they learn that he has been diagnosed with cancer. Julie keeps an online journal in which she shares her experiences at St. Jude Hospital, as well as the day-to-day moments of courage and kindness in the face of tremendous difficulty. Austin does his best to remain positive and optimistic and to find moments of levity in the midst of the sadness.

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Much of the movie is set in St. Jude Children's Hospital; frequent reference is made to the hospital being the best in the country for treating very ill children, and the kindness of the staff is shown through discussion and action.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Heart of Christmas is a 2012 movie based on a true story about a family who decides to celebrate Christmas in October when they learn that their son has terminal cancer and has only weeks to live. Parents looking for more lighthearted holiday fare -- as well as those parents looking for something less faith-based -- should seek other options, as this movie is primarily set in the children's cancer ward of St. Jude's Hospital and makes frequent references to prayer, God, and Jesus. It also is, unsurprisingly, a tearjerker of a movie but a movie that also shows bravery, courage, and resiliency in characters going through incredibly difficult circumstances.

Kids say

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What's the story?

When Megan Walsh (Candace Cameron Bure) takes her children trick-or-treating on Halloween, she is surprised to see a house decorated for Christmas. When she asks the woman who lives there about it, Megan is told to follow the live journal of Julie Locke (Jeanne Neilson), who has been blogging about her day-to-day experiences with her husband, Austin, and their young son, Dax, who has been undergoing treatment for leukemia for several months. Through voice-overs, Julie shares the frustrations, difficulties, and moments of resiliency and compassion she experiences, while parents, as well as Dax and the other kids in the cancer ward, hope and pray for a miracle. When even the most promising of treatments don't work on Dax, the doctor sadly informs the Lockes that Dax has only weeks to live, and Julie realizes that Dax won't get to experience another Christmas. Undaunted, the Lockes and their community decide it's up to them to move Christmas up to October and to come together during this difficult time to cherish life's fleeting moments and to learn about what is truly important in life.

Is it any good?


The scenes involving prayer often feel forced and heavy-handed, and the acting and dialogue aren't always the best. But THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS does not try to sugarcoat the day-to-day difficulties of parents hoping for miracles in the midst of their children being treated in a cancer ward in St. Jude Children's Hospital. Resiliency, courage, and faith are continually on display in this movie, and, although it's a tearjerker, it's also the story of parents and a community coming together to make the best of an incredibly difficult situation.

Although not directly about Christmas per se, the movie does directly promote the traditional Christmas values of selfless giving, faith, and cherishing each moment shared among family members. Families looking for more lighthearted Christmas fare should definitely look elsewhere, as this movie does attempt to honestly portray life in a children's cancer ward.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the film's heavy themes. How does this "Christmas movie" differ from more standard holiday fare?

  • In the movie, we follow a suburban mom who learns about Dax and his family's plans to celebrate Christmas in October. Why do you think the movie focuses on this family instead of Dax's family?

  • What would be the challenges in making a movie that is based on a true story?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 4, 2011
DVD/Streaming release date:October 16, 2012
Cast:Candace Cameron Bure, Erin Bethea, Jeanne Neilson
Director:Gary Wheeler
Studio:Image Entertainment
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Great boy role models
Run time:89 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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Parent Written byelsa_kass December 29, 2013

An honest review from a skeptic

Definitely not your typical Hallmark/abc family christmas movie, but nonetheless fills your heart and soul with warmth and relief. As mentioned by the author of this page, The Heart of Christmas might be a little too intense for younger children as the subject per se is very tragic. I admit that even I wanted to skip this movie, thinking the subject was too sad for a Christmas movie. "Let's watch feel-good kind of movie today," I thought. I'm so glad I didn't listen to myself and sat through this heavy-hearted yet incredibly (times infinity) beautiful. The theme of Christianity is indeed very present (some might say it was overly displayed) but it didn't personally bother me, although I understand how it could. Maybe it's because I'm also a Christian. But I think it's more so because you just realize that in these times, when science, tangible and reliable methods and information, isn't on your side, and giving up is just not an option, you need a miracle. The subject of religion but however not be for everybody, which is also 100% understandble. If you're one of these people, just letting you know there are some scenes with prayers that aren't made so subtle. So before you fall asleep reading this oh-so-cheesy review (if you even made it all the way here), I strongly recommend this movie. Smiles and feels guarenteed - it's just a winner.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models