On Horror at Christmas

There's an article up on comingsoon.net offering a brief look at a handful of Christmas horror movies. It's a good read with some interesting insights into the sub-genre, but it doesn't really delve into the origins. Instead, it points out the more horrific aspects of modern Christmas, which are of course worth exploring. But it got me thinking about the depth of horror as it relates to Christmas, and I wanted to dig in a little deeper.

Over the last century or so, pop-culture and entertainment has mainly embraced the funny and whimsical aspects of Christmas, leaving things like horror seeming subversive. It hasn't helped matters that the vast majority of Christmas horror has been extremely campy, giving the genre the sense it's trying to mock or parody the season from the outside. All but one of the movies the article I linked to above fits that mold (the exception being Black Christmas).

But this is all pretty new. Pull off a layer or two of cheer, and you find horror at the very core of Christmas.

It's easy to forget that A Christmas Carol is a horror story. Sure, it gives its protagonist a happy ending, but only after showing him a world of supernatural torments lying just beyond the one he sees. The only way he can escape a fate beyond imagination is by embracing friends, family, and community. Because that's how we get through this - that's how we drive the darkness away.

It's fascinating to me that the genre of family comedy has subsumed horror as the face of Christmas, because we're missing a crucial connection. Our ancestors huddled together at Christmas not out of joy but out of fear. The nights grew long, the weather turned cold, and it was easy to wonder if warmth and light would ever return. That's how all this started.

Look at the prevalence of demons and witches in Christmas and midwinter folklore: Krampus, Frau Perchta, Befana... the list goes on. Supernatural horror is rooted in the holidays.

But at some point we forgot that. We lost the core for why we were coming together, and our attention turned to the trappings of the festival itself. Our stories stopped being about dark forces outside and instead focused on warm feelings inside or drama related to our issues with one another.

Last year's Krampus was about this shift in our understanding of Christmas. It starts out as a modern family comedy then devolves back into a tale of a family trying to fight back primordial demons. The same theme can actually be found in Hearth's Warming Eve, a holiday episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, as well as countless other places.

But that shouldn't surprise us: we're really just talking about the solstice, after all. In its purest form, this is what Christmas is about.

So light the fire, gather together with the ones you love, and hope nothing gets in. When it comes to horror, Halloween has nothing on Christmas.