Christmas is for the Weirdos

Posted 12/21/23

I love Christmastime. I really do! I love the whole month leading up to Christmas far more than I love the day itself. The lights, the music, the atmosphere! And I love Christmas stories. I think …

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Christmas is for the Weirdos


I love Christmastime. I really do! I love the whole month leading up to Christmas far more than I love the day itself. The lights, the music, the atmosphere! And I love Christmas stories. I think it’s delightful that Christmas has its own genre. Cynics might say that Christmas stories, movies especially, are far too formulaic and that certainly can be true. But I’ve noticed that it can also be wildly, wholly untrue. The best Christmas stories are WEIRD, and I think the world agrees with me.

I can’t deny that in the ever expanding Christmas genre, there is a formula, or formulae. They seem to go one of five ways. One, the family with baggage learns to appreciate one another despite their differences. Two, beautiful people fall in love at Christmas. Three, a former dreamer who’s lost their sense of wonder learns to believe in magic again. Four, a group of young heroes “save” Christmas from some calamity. Five, a misanthropic protagonist lampoons Christmastime with dirty jokes and irreverent uses of holiday iconography. Often multiple of these are blended.

To be clear, I can enjoy any of these stock stories! I’m sure you can all think of beloved examples of each and I don’t want to knock any of your favorites. That said, the formulae  get old, and I can’t blame people who are sick of them. But those stock stories are not all the Christmas genre can be. Many of the most enduring stories in the genre break that mold hard, and have been for over centuries.

Take the original modern Christmas story, perhaps the most famous Christmas story of all, discounting the birth of Christ. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol! In which a mean old man is visited by a series of terrifying ghosts and shown horrifying visions of his life until he learns to be a better man. I’m sorry, but what exactly about that premise says “holiday cheer?” It’s frightening, grotesque, and macabre. It makes us face our own mortality. Yet we can’t get enough of that story! It’s been told and retold for almost two-hundred years. It’s been adapted dozens of times, though The Muppets Christmas Carol is the only adaptation that really matters. It delights me that the western world’s favorite secular Christmas tale is a ghost story!  

Moving into the 20th century, how about It’s a Wonderful Life? In many ways a spiritual successor to A Christmas Carol, pun intended. Continuing the ‘horrifying visions’ sub-genre, after a near suicide attempt, a good man is visited by one not so terrifying spirit and shown horrifying visions until he’s convinced to be more appreciative of his life. Wholesome, beautiful, valuable, and yet! It’s a Wonderful Life is the story of a deeply depressed man.

Now that I think of it, Miracle on 34th Street, which aired a year after It’s a Wonderful Life, is also a beloved Christmas Classic of the 1940’s in which the protagonist also (perhaps) suffers from severe mental illness. It says a lot about post-war America that its most enduring Christmas stories are about depression and delusion.

Okay, with my premise established, let’s explore a few more enduring classics. Lightning round!

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, in which a reindeer has a flashlight for a nose. Ubiquitous today, but can you imagine being in the writer’s meeting when that idea was first pitched?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, in which a bunch of microscopic, inexplicably Christian pixies live on a snowflake with a hairy green man who, also inexplicably, hates their guts.

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, in which Grandma gets run over by a reindeer.

I could go on! Nightmare Before Christmas comes to mind as a more modern example, though that one feels like cheating. But I think I’ve made my point. The best Christmas stories are also the most bizarre. And it’s not just me who thinks so! Look around the world at the many and diverse traditions surrounding the holiday, some modern, some stretching back thousands of years to pre-Christian times!

Look at Krampus, Austria’s evil Santa Doppelgänger. Mari Lwyd, the horse skeleton Christmas specter of Wales. How about Japan’s 50 year old tradition of Christmas KFC? Or do yourself a favor and look up the Caganer figurines of Catalonia. I myself was told as a kid that at the stroke of midnight on Christmas, all the animals of the world can speak (yet every year my pets snubbed me). Even the myth Santa Claus! There’s nothing about Santa Claus that isn’t bizarre when you really think about it. To be extra clear, I think every one of these traditions are wonderful. Touches of the Saturnalian extant in the 21st century, they ought to be celebrated!

Christmas in the modern day is a blend of the sacred, the commercial, and the bizarre. There’s just nothing in the western world quite like the culture of Christmas!

That being said, I worry Christmas is losing its weirdness. There hasn’t really been a breakout hit in the Christmas genre in quite a while, though there are still plenty of movies being produced and just as quickly forgotten. Maybe the era of streaming services and Hallmark movies has finally sucked the life out of the genre, but I hope not. I hope someone, sometime comes up with something sufficiently bananas to bring us all together once again to appreciate this strange, beautiful time of year.

weirdos, Christmas, stories


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