The holidays are a time for cheery family films, but if I have to watch another Santa Claus movie I might move to the North Pole myself.
Thanks to Coca-Cola and the merging of many convoluted cultural myths, Santa Claus has become synonymous with Christmas in a way that would probably make our ancestors (like, way, way back) gasp in horror. Especially in America, it’s hard to imagine a Christmas without the idea of Santa Claus hovering over everyone’s minds. Which, naturally, has brought about a slew of increasingly weird Santa Claus movies.
While I love all the Home Alones and the wonderful thrill of romantic comedies set in the holiday season, Santa Claus movies have just become weird for me. Maybe my mistake is in holding them at the same level of Oscar-worthy films, or in assuming that child-friendly movies are aimed at me, but I’m irrationally irritated about Santa Claus movies.
I’m not trying to change your mind if you enjoy watching Tim Allen strut around wearing a long white beard, or if you’ve legitimately dedicated hours of your life to analyzing Santa’s genealogy and consequent line of succession — after all, I like the High School Musical trilogy and I can quote the entirety of Shrek in Spanish, so to each their own — but if you’re like me and the sight of Santa leaves you feeling particularly soulless, let’s break down the main reasons for which Santa Claus movies usually suck and what it would take to make one that’s actually good.
Santa should not have a hero’s journey!
It upsets me to no end when Santa has an emotional breakdown about being Santa Claus, or finds himself suddenly conflicted about his life choices. Hasn’t he been doing this job for millions of years? You’d think he would have gotten over this a long time ago! If Santa is indeed as wise and experienced as he should be, he should be more of a Gandalf-like figure than a main character.
Then there’s Santa’s heir — a classic — who is usually a grown man trying to live up to the real Santa. And that story is always incredibly frustrating. The characters always spend almost the whole movie thinking of their only of themselves and their life on earth, which nobody cares about. The world is in your hands, man! The happiness of children all around the world (though mostly America, let’s be real) depends on you! Step up! Nobody wants to see a middle-aged man have an identity crisis about being Santa Claus, of all things.
The only scenario in which I might be interested in seeing a Santa Claus coming-of-age story would be if we traveled back in time to Santa’s first year of gift-giving, waaay in the past. Mix in some history and various mythologies and I might even go to theaters to watch it.
Gift-giving is exciting, but not that exciting
Santa Claus movies focus on the idea that without gifts, there is no Christmas. Which is kind of weird if you think about it; especially since not everyone in the world — even the Christian world — has the custom of giving gifts on Christmas. Also, what does Santa do during the rest of the year? How is it that everyone Santa delivers to is a middle-class American family that also has a chimney?
They never seem to spend enough time exploring the logistics of Santa-Claus-ing. I need a mockumentary that thoroughly explores the toy manufacturing process of the North Pole. I would say that that’s much more interesting than the absolutely unbelievable reindeer transportation, which is usually the climax of the film.
And what is this ever-elusive Christmas spirit?
I realize that disliking Santa Claus movies probably makes me something of a monster. Maybe it’s the fact that I never believed in Santa as a kid? But I’m fascinated by the ways in which these movies try to encompass the spirit of the holidays — to make it about kindness, family and generosity. I guess this is the way that we can most easily capture those values in pop culture. It’s a way to turn consumerism into something much more profound.
Santa Claus films, I guess, are one attempt to try to capture the Christmas experience and neatly package the feelings it brings. But that’s also one of the things that bothers me about it: that it condenses, and ultimately simplifies, an inner feeling into what is usually formulaic, slightly-angsty comedy.
Then again, that’s okay. We’re all trying to unpack what the holidays mean to us, and reflect on our own place in the world. So maybe it’s okay to somewhat-irrationally hate Santa Claus films, if we can see the value in the intention behind them. Or at least appreciate the importance of selflessness in A Christmas Carol, or social responsibility in Gremlins.
The holidays are what you make of them. I’ve decided that my holiday movies will be free of old bearded men unless they’re Gandalf or Dumbledore. But you’re free to watch elves scrambling to fix reindeer-related issues, or viciously dissect the North Pole’s line of succession. And I guess you’re also free to recommend Santa Claus movies that you think could change my mind.
But if you’re like me and feel slightly evil for disliking Santa movies, just remember: the holiday spirit is beautiful and about a lot more than gift distribution, and there are plenty of other movies out there.