Cinema taught me that Christmas is the most versatile holiday. As previously discussed, Thanksgiving is all about family, so it really lends itself to movies about being with your family or learning to want to be with them. Halloween is pretty much always going to be horror, just as Valentine’s Day leans towards rom-coms. Christmas, on the other hand, cannot be put in a box. There are family movies about togetherness and the true meaning of Christmas, but there are also horror movies (Krampus), action movies (Die Hard), kids’ movies (Home Alone), adult comedies (The Night Before), rom-coms (Love Actually), Sci-Fi oddities (The Star Wars Holiday Special), superhero movies (Iron Man 3 and Batman Returns), buddy movies (Lethal Weapon), animated movies (too numerous to list), musicals (Holiday Inn), Muppet movies (A Muppet Christmas Carol), Orwellian nightmares (Brazil), heist movies (Reindeer Games), and Tim Allen trilogies (The Santa Clause).
So why is Christmas so adaptable while other holidays are locked down to single genres? Christmas has such strong connotations towards love and family and peace. To embrace those things is great but to chuck them out is somehow great, too. With Halloween you need to lean into the holiday’s traits. A Halloween film that’s simply a rom-com wouldn’t work. Halloween works best with horror, and it fails as a backdrop to anything else. Now there are scenes in movies of other genres that involve Halloween but a rom-com set at Halloween in which no one dies or has their head cut off is a waste of a holiday. Christmas bypasses this. As the list above proves, Christmas can be anything. It can be about a family getting over its differences and making peace, or it can be Bruce Willis dropping Alan Rickman off a building. And Die Hard isn’t a movie with a Christmas backdrop; it is a Christmas movie. Like almost all the films listed above, it is a movie that isn’t about opening presents or drinking eggnog, but it is about an estranged husband trying to reconnect with his wife. Yes, that reconnection involves a body count, but it is very Christmas-y for a person to overcome the odds to bring a family together. Remove Christmas from Die Hard and it’s probably still pretty good, but that subconscious Christmas effect heightens the drama because we all know how important it can be to be with the people we love around Christmas, whether they are family, your deranged partner, Pepper Potts, a girl you’ve only seen in your dreams, or a bunch of Wookies.
In the end, cinema taught me that, done well, a Christmas movie can be about anything on the surface, but underneath it’s always going to be about the same things: love, peace, togetherness, and family. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to a Fallon Christmas tradition: Watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, the best Christmas movie that isn’t Die Hard.