What Makes a Christmas Movie a Christmas Movie?

Hello all! Christmas is here at last! Here’s a reminder of our holiday hours:
December 24th we are closed for Christmas Eve
December 31st we are closing at 1 PM for New Year’s Eve

For the last blog of the 2021, our resident film nerd, Alex Parker, tries to solve the greatest riddle of the holiday season: What Makes a Christmas Movie a Christmas Movie?

What is your favorite Christmas movie? On the surface, this question seems an easy one to answer. It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, all perfectly reasonable answers. But what about Die Hard? Does L.A. Confidential count as a Christmas movie, it opens on Christmas Eve after all? What about Black Christmas, it has Christmas in the title? To answer these lingering questions, I have devised a super scientific model to definitively answer the most pressing question of them all: Is ‘[Blank]’ a Christmas movie?

To start, let me explain our Christmas criteria. I’ve split up into three areas of inquiry to help us home in on each film’s yuletide qualities.

Setting: This one is pretty basic, does the film take place at least partially during Christmas time? I think we can agree, no Christmas setting…no Christmas movie.

Tone:  Here we are asking how the film feels. Is the film happy, sad, bittersweet, scary, intense, exciting? We’re aiming for a ‘feel-good’ experience. Though, not a necessity.

Theming: Finally, what’s the theme of the film? What are the film makers trying to say? Is it about the importance of family, friends, love? Do the film’s themes fall in line with the spirit of the season?

Since we’re trying to be super scientific, we need a control group. Let’s try out our model on two films, one that is definitely a Christmas movie and one that is definitely not a Christmas movie.

Control # 1: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Synopsis: A man named Kris Kringle gets a job as the store Santa Clause at Macy’s flag ship location in Manhattan. He’s an instant hit and increases sales, but there’s a question about the man’s sanity since he insists that he is the real Santa Clause. A claim that’ll be put to the test by America’s legal system.

Setting: The film takes place during the Christmas season with scenes taking place on Christmas Eve and Day.

Tone: It’s a cute movie, the tone is light and fun.

Theming: The film is interested in taking on the cynicism found in adulthood especially in contrast to the wide-eyed sense of wonder of childhood. This is found in the relationship between a young girl who wholeheartedly believe that Kris Kringle is Santa and her mother, who thinks that Kris is a crazy old man. Basically, just because you’ve grown up, doesn’t mean you have to lose that childhood wonder.

Is it a Christmas Movie? Yes, duh.

Control # 2: Halloween (1978)

Synopsis: 15 Years after murdering his sister, Michael Myers escapes a mental institution and returns to his hometown to kill again.

Setting: It takes place on October 30th and Halloween.

Tone: Dread. The film does a pitch perfect job raising tension and a sense of dread throughout its runtime.

Theming: The safety of suburbia and small towns are an illusion, especially if the monsters you fear are home grown.

Is it a Christmas Movie? No, do not stream Halloween for your in-laws this holiday season.

Ok, now that we know that our model works, let put five films to the test and see if they’re Christmas movies…starting with most dudes’ favorite ‘Christmas movie’:

Die Hard (1988)

Synopsis: New York cop, John McClane, flies to Los Angles to spend Christmas with his estranged wife and two kids. After arriving at a holiday party at his wife’s company the building is taken over by East German terrorists. He is forced to engage in a cat and mouse game with the heavily armed terrorists to thwart their plans and save his wife.

Setting: It takes place entirely on Christmas Eve, so there’s that.

Tone: Die Hard is the quintessential action movie, it’s a tense, exciting and cathartic experience.

Theming: At its core, Die Hard is about a man trying to spend Christmas with his family and must deal with several obstacles in his way. Sure, it’s more violent than something like Planes, Trains and Automobiles…but it’s kind of the same basic story.

Is it a Christmas Movie? While I don’t like to admit it, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Synopsis: Jimmy Stewart works as a clerk at a small leather goods store. He gets along well enough with all his coworkers except Margaret Sullavan, the newest hire. For one reason or another, they just simply cannot get along. In his private life, Stewart has been corresponding anonymously with a woman who he has begun to fall for. Of course, surprise, that woman is Margaret Sullavan. Stewart soon finds out and forced to reconsider his feeling towards his work rival. It’s You Got Mail, but older.

Setting: Only like the last 15 minutes takes place on Christmas, the rest of the film is essentially  Christmas free.

Tone: Adorable, just a really cute and comfy movie.

Theming: We can be wrong about people, even those we despise the most. Give someone half a chance and they might be the love of your life!

Is it a Christmas Movie? Yes, while not chock-full of Christmas, the film fits into the gooey feel-good entertainment whose tone and themes are just right for the holiday season.

Black Christmas (1974)

Synopsis: An unseen murderer hiding in the attic of a sorority house, slowly kills the houses residents one by one and in the downtime makes obscene phone calls to those who remain.

Setting: The film opens with a holiday party and the rest of the film unfolds over the course of the Christmas season.

Tone: Legitimately disturbing.

Theming: Oh boy, I don’t know…I guess check your attic once in a while, who knows what or who could be living up there.

Is it a Christmas Movie? Despite the name and setting…no, Black Christmas does not capture the holiday season. If you’re into horror movies, it is definitely one to add to your list. Fun fact though, the film’s director, Bob Clark, would later go on to direct a Christmas Story, so that’s something.

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Synopsis: Following a massacre at a local diner, two Los Angles detectives are drawn into a far-reaching web of corruption, drugs, and prostitution.
Setting: The film opens on Christmas Eve, so at least we have that to hang our hats on.
Tone: This is a straight up neo-noir, so tonally this one is equal parts exciting and brooding.

Is it a Christmas Movie?  Not even close. Even the Christmassy part of the film is punctuated with racially driven violence.

Home Alone (1990)

Synopsis: Kevin McCallister, a 10-year-old boy, is mistakenly left home alone after his whole family flies to Paris for Christmas. At the same, two thieves decide that his house is the perfect house to burgle.

Setting: Takes place on the days leading up to Christmas and Christmas itself.

Tone: Heartwarming anarchic violence.

Theming: Honestly the film is about the importance of family. Even though your family might annoy you at times, you are going to miss them when they’re gone.

Is it a Christmas Movie? Yeah, in spite of the wacky high jinks, the film is nails everything needed to make it a Christmas classic.

Ok, so what have we learned from this experiment? Absolutely nothing! Well maybe something, but I couldn’t tell you one way or the other.

Honestly, do not let anyone tell you that your Christmas favorite isn’t Christmassy enough. If Halloween is your favorite movie to watch during the Christmas season, then that’s a Christmas movie in my book. I hope you all have a happy holiday, a merry Christmas, and a brilliant New Year.

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