I wait all year long to watch classic Christmas movies. And I mean classic. None of that bullshit inside Hallmark jargon. Sorry, I was way forcing that quote and I didn’t pull it off very well. I just can’t help myself, I am THAT in love with real classic Christmas movies that teach us morals about love and togetherness and what really matters. Over and over I watch them to feel the spirit of glorious trees with dazzling lights and turkey and puzzles and wine and family and shopping and wrappings. Something funny happens, though, when you’ve watched them over and over and over, year after year for decades. Weird patterns emerge. And you notice things. Little things that a casual viewer would never catch. Have you noticed any of these before?
Christmas Movies Do Not Include Christmas Day
I’ve come to discover that this is mostly due to an American obsession with the lead-up to Christmas. Most of us get so amped up through December, that by the time December 26 rolls around, we’re spent and ready to hibernate for the winter. A lot of European countries, on the other hand, don’t understand this. Yes, there’s a build-up to Christmas, but Eve and Day are merely a kick-off to Twelve Days of Christmas, which include various festivals and traditions.
So I suppose it’s the enormous Yule frenzy that Americans (including myself) adore that has caused a strange pattern in our most beloved movies: Almost none of them include Christmas Day. I suppose the idea is that by the time we get to the proper holiday, we’ve sorted all of our conflicts and obstacles. We’ve confessed our love. I guess. Still, it’s a little weird when you think on it. Still, a few films do treasure the proper holiday. After all, none of the takes on A Christmas Carol would work without Scrooge on Christmas morning. A Christmas Story and Home Alone also buck the trend.
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- Love Actually
- Die Hard
- The Ref
- Bad Santa
Christmas Movies Feature a Character Watching It’s a Wonderful Life
My mom once explained to me that IAWL is such a Christmas classic because the rights to it were cheap or free or something in the 70s or 80s. I don’t know. She could’ve been making it up. Or drunk. Just kidding. Kind of. But the point was that the broadcast of this movie was so ubiquitous in the days before streaming and downloading, that it was almost inescapable at holiday time. The networks just hammered people with its saccharine message of faith and community. Hence, if you watch for it, so many of our beloved movies since that time have referenced Jimmy Stewart and Bedford Falls by directly showing us scenes. Movies within movies.
- The Ref (the police officers watch it and accidentally record over some VHS evidence with a broadcast of it)
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
- Home Alone (the family watches a French dubbed version in Paris)
Christmas is For Getting Punched in the Face
This one is hard to explain. I guess holiday stress leads to a lot of violent confrontations. And there’s drinking. And family. Actually, the more I think on it, the more it makes sense.
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Todd)
- It’s a Wonderful Life (George Bailey)
- The Ref (Santa)
- A Christmas Story (Scutt Farcus)
- Gremlins (The Gremlins at the bar punch each other)
- Die Hard (everybody)
- Scrooged (Frank Cross)
- Elf (Buddy is attacked by a children’s author)
- Bad Santa (Santa)
- Home Alone (if you count a shovel or paint can to the face)
Christmas Movies Involve Gunplay
This is even stranger than the “punched in the face” phenomenon. Granted, in two of the movies below, the guns in question are BB guns. And just because there are guns doesn’t mean there’s bloodshed. Except Die Hard. Lots and lots of guns and blood. I guess that, except for Ralphie’s exploits, all of the other holly jolly heroes have to contend with or commit a crime in order to save Christmas. That’s kind of weird, guys. We have strange taste in holiday adventures.
- Home Alone (BB gun)
- A Christmas Story (BB gun)
- Bad Santa (police)
- Scrooged (Elliott holding everyone hostage; the promo for The Night the Reindeer Died)
- Die Hard (all the guns)
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (SWAT team has them)
- Gremlins (who gave the Gremlins handguns?)
Christmas Movies Have a Lot of Power Outages
The power goes out during key scenes in a lot of Christmas movies. I’m sure this is a metaphor for powerlessness in the face of winter’s cruel wrath and the passing of years marked by the empty seats at the tinseled table before us. Just kidding. It’s mostly a cheap plot device to laugh at how patriarchs can be boobies. Or in other cases, a warning that you don’t have enough FBI guys.
- Home Alone (power outage causes their alarm clocks to fail)
- Scrooged (the lights on set are cut when Frank meets the Ghost of Christmas Present)
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (it’s more that the power fails when Clark tries to illuminate his yard)
- Die Hard (FBI cuts the power to Nakatomi)
- A Christmas Story (Dad blows a fuse lighting up the Christmas tree)
And as one final bonus, I’ll share with you a secret. The most bizarre thing you will ever notice in a Christmas movie. Next time you watch A Christmas Story, during the scene where Ralphie is waiting to see Santa, turn on the closed captioning–especially when the Wicked Witch is speaking. It’s terrifying.
Merry Christmas to all! Ho-ho-ho!