There seems to be a slasher film for just about every holiday out there. Between Leprechaun for St. Patrick’s Day, Uncle Sam for the 4th of July, and April Fool’s Day/Mother’s Day for their titular holidays, horror fans can find maybe one or two films for any time of year.
But when it comes to Christmas, suddenly that number skyrockets. Halloween seems to get the most attention from the horror genre, but the “most wonderful time of year” which is meant to be filled with yuletide joy, plays very well into some pretty disturbing stories. Why does Christmas lend itself so well to horror?
An Entire Season
Much like how October is dominated by Halloween, December (along with parts of November) are dubbed “The Christmas Season”. Whereas most holidays really only get attention on or around that specific day, Halloween and Christmas both get entire months devoted to celebrating the spirit of the time.
So because of how much the holiday dominates the entire month, there’s simply many more opportunities to make films out of it. It’s the same reason why there’s so many Christmas films in general. Because of how much preparation, and how many activities revolve around the holiday, there are simply tons of stories to be told.
The Long, Cold Night
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” remains one of the most popular Christmas songs, and in it Andy Williams sings a verse about “scary ghost stories”. The original lyric references a Victorian Christmas tradition, in which people would gather round the fire and tell scary stories. But this line reveals that there was always an element of horror to Christmas.
The Winter Solstice occurs only four days prior, so the entire Christmas season takes place during the longest, darkest night of the year, along with some of the coldest temperatures. Most people associate these conditions with the creepy and the frightening. So it’s no surprise that a holiday based around this long, cold night has spawned so much horror.
For most people, December is by far the busiest month on their calendar. There’s Christmas parties, decorating the house, Christmas cards (for those who still do them), taking the kids to see Santa, shopping for presents, trying not to break the bank while doing said shopping, visiting relatives, and cramming as much activity into December 24th-25th as humanly possible.
This can often result in this being an incredibly stressful time of year. This idea was immortalized in the satirical “Twelve Pains of Christmas” by Bob Rivers. So, with all this added stress, people become anxious, angry, and irritable. And these are the perfect ingredients for the tension that horror brings out. Having characters deal with this holiday stress can be a great setting for the first act of a horror film, before the terror really sets in!
Christmas is supposed to the happiest, most joyful time of the year, but shoving it down the collective throat of society can often backfire. It’s one of the reasons that depression rates tend to go up in December.
The lack of sunlight doesn’t help, and creating an expectation of happy family time can often take a toll on those without families, those will family trauma in their past, or those who are reminded of lost love ones during the holidays. So with all this contrived bliss, it’s easy for negative feelings to take over.
Horror has always been synonymous with taking something innocent or happy and turning it evil. It made clowns scary, Poltergeist made us fear our TV sets, Psycho made us think twice about showering, A Nightmare on Elm Street made us nervous about falling asleep, and When a Stranger Calls made teenagers afraid to babysit.
So with an entire season of happy family activity, the possibilities for subverting joy into terror are endless! Suddenly Santa can go from beloved bringer of toys to menacing harbinger of death. And family/friend gatherings normally filled with good tidings can be replaced with murder.
A holiday as old as Christmas is filled with traditions going back centuries and across numerous countries and cultures. This includes the whole idea of Santa Claus, as well as Christmas trees, stockings, giving gifts, and the religious celebration that commercialism often causes people to overlook. But in addition to the pleasant and fun traditions exist a few pretty disturbing ones. The most famous of which is Krampus.
His titular film from 2015 made him a household name, but for years he was a sort of underground secret of Christmas. Acting as a counterpart to Santa, Krampus was charged with punishing the wicked. And as anyone who’s ever read the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales, a lot of these old legends are downright disturbing.
Because if the prospect of presents isn’t enough to motivate children to behave, maybe threatening them with a demon who’ll take them into eternal hellfire will.
So while the rest of the world enjoys watching Polar Express, Elf, The Santa Clause, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, remember that Christmas and horror go hand in hand and that watching some can be cathartic at the most stressful time of the year!
This article was original published on DorkDaily.com