Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Christmas as the black hole of popular culture

(Reposting from 2018, because hopefully we have lots of readers now we didn’t have back then).

Over the years Christmas has become the black hole of movies, drawing them to the season by the gravitic pull of its marketing power.

As my colleagues were discussing in a recent post, Christmas rom-com has become a staple of churn-it-out filmmaking. The plot doesn’t really require these films be set at Christmas, it’s just that holiday season gives them more cachet (at least hopefully) than an equally bland rom-com set in the summer. Case in point, 2007’s Holiday in Handcuffs. Melissa Joan Hart’s boyfriend dumps her right before she was going to bring him home to her family’s Christmas gathering. Rather than let her perfect clan see she’s still a big loser, she kidnaps Freddie Prinze Jr. at gunpoint to pose as her boyfriend. You’d never guess but by the end of the film Hart and Prinze have fallen in love for real and Hart has learned her family aren’t perfect — oh crap, I spoiled the twists, didn’t I?Christmas is irrelevant to the plot, which would have worked as well on Hart’s parents’ anniversary or a Fourth of July barbecue. But Christmas gives viewers a somewhat stronger incentive to watch (I did, obviously).

Not that this is a new thing. White Christmas (1954) really has no connection with the holiday, but if Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye had made Vermont in July instead, it’s unlikely people would watch it every year. Turn to mystery novels and you see the same thing. Writers have been using Christmas as an excuse to gather people at isolated country houses for years (OMG, there’s a murder! And the phone lines are cut! And the killer is … one of us! Crap, now I’ve spoiled several hundred mystery novels too).While Groundhog Day is easily the best-known time-loop movie and there’s been one Labor Day time loop film (Last Day of Summer), Christmas has effortlessly captured the subgenre (as I learned writing a book about time-travel films). The first film was Christmas Every Day in 1996. Since then we’ve had Pete’s Christmas, 12 Dates of Christmas, 12 Days of Christmas Eve (worth watching if only for Molly Shannon’s delightful guardian angel), Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas and Christmas Do-Over. The last named is easily the second worst time loop movie ever*, due to protagonist Jay Mohr’s utter selfishness: when he treats his son like a jerk in one scene, he brushes it off on the grounds it’ll be undone once time reboots so it doesn’t count.

(Minor note: while the 1892 short story “Christmas Every Day” is often cited as the first time-loop tale, it isn’t. Dec. 25th doesn’t reboot, it’s just that everyone has to celebrate it on the 26th, the 27th, Jan. 17th, etc., etc. Elmo Saves Christmas used the same idea).

Christmas also generates its own movie sub-genres. Christmas Carol films are one, though the spirits of past, present and future angle has escaped the holiday (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and A Valentine Carol, for instance). Another, relatively recent one, is films about Santa’s kids.

The first such story I remember was actually in comics, Bizarre Adventures #34. In a Mark Gruenwald/Alan Kupperberg story, “The Son of Santa” (cover by Joe Jusko) learns his heritage when the last surviving elf summons him to the Pole in the wake of his father’s murder. Can the kid save Christmas when Anti-Claus is coming to town?

In 1998 we got Like Father, Like Santa (which I watched for another movie book, Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan). Here Harry Hamlin is Santa’s estranged son, determined to show up his dad up by becoming an even greater toymaker, and using a copy of the naughty list to blackmail his rivals. Since then we’ve had Kelsey Grammer in Mr. St. Nick, Kathy Ireland in Once Upon a Christmas and Jenny McCarthy in Santa Baby (both had sequels)plus the animated Arthur Christmas and the Belgian The Claus Family. Does it reflect the boomers passing the world on to Generation X? Or just that it hasn’t been done to death quite as much as other types of Christmas film?


*In case you were wondering the “he jerks off, time reboots” film Premature sinks to the bottom of the barrel, and then falls through it.


  1. Eric van Schaik

    Well thanks a lot Fraser. 😉
    You ruin the plot of a movie and several mystery books.
    And to top it off you made me see the premature trailer. I wish I could undo it.
    I hope your happy now. 🙂

    And yes, I didn’t read it in ’18 but I’m glad you reposted it.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    That Gruenwald Santa story is pretty much a retreaded Phantom story; since that is the basic premise of every new generation of The Phantom. Just trade the reindeer for a horse and a wolf and the elves for pigmies.

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