The end of Thanksgiving traditionally marks the beginning of many families’ Christmas preparations.
Many deep-rooted family traditions, such as decorating trees, singing carols, and wrapping presents, are centered around the holidays, and watching Christmas movies with the family is no exception. Be careful though, because it can be difficult to determine which movie your family will watch if your family can’t even define what a Christmas movie is.
It is impossible to determine whether an object meets certain classifications without first establishing what the criteria are. In the case of Christmas movies, the debate continues as to what qualities define this festive subgenre of film. Does the story simply have to be set on the holiday to qualify? Should the film include traditional Christmas iconography and symbolism, such as Santa Claus and Christmas lights? Should the film focus on the themes of the holidays, such as being with family and the gift of giving?
To categorize films like “A Christmas Story” and Tim Allen’s “The Santa Clause” as Christmas movies is almost a tautology since films like these are by definition Christmas movies. Their entire theme, aesthetic and narrative is hyper-focused on the holiday itself. It’s much like a documentary about Christmas is fundamentally about the holiday, while a documentary about a bank robbery that took place on December 25th is not.
One film at the heart of this debate is Bruce Willis’ 1988 action classic, “Die Hard,” as it dances around the edges of how we traditionally define a Christmas movie. The film takes place on Christmas Day when an off-duty police officer tries to stop an armed takeover of a corporate office building. The narrative thrust is centered on the conflict between Willis’ off-duty cop and Alan Rickman’s terrorist, but much of the subtext of the film reflects the structure of the holiday subgenre. Mel Gibson’s “Lethal Weapon” is another film that shares the spirit of a holiday film wrapped in the veneer of an action film.
There are even symbolic Christmas movies that avoid the sentimental subtext of Christmas and instead focus on the social consequences. Stanley Kubrick’s cryptic and iconic 1999 film “Eyes Wide Shut” contains subtle themes that examine the widespread consumerism surrounding what is known as the holiday shopping season. Make no mistake, “Eyes Wide Shut” is not a Christmas movie in tone or feel and contains extremely mature content, but the themes around the holidays are present. Ultimately, what criteria someone uses to define the subgenre is a subjective judgment which means you may have more arguments about what a Christmas movie is than actually choosing a Christmas movie.