It’s December twenty fourth. The stockings are hung. The items are wrapped. The hearth is crackling. the drill. You higher be careful, you higher not cry, you higher not pout, I’m telling you why: For those who do, Santa Claus will tear open a can of whoop-ass on you.
Outdated St. Nick wasn’t at all times the sort who solves issues together with his fists. As soon as upon a Christmas Eve, the jolly previous elf pulled hundreds of thousands of B-and-Es within the U.S. to drop off presents and make of us glad. That was yesterday’s Nick. In keeping with the flicks, right this moment’s Nick is a modified man, reimagined as both a superhero or a straight-up motion hero. He’s gotten swole over the past 20 years, and he’s able to rumble. However whereas his form has modified, he represents the identical qualities he at all times has. He’s simply higher ready to combat for his values now, thanks partially to the methods America has recontextualized Christmas as a cultural battleground.
The concept that America was fomenting a battle on Christmas happened within the early ’00s, when right-wing pundits warned the general public about nefarious leftist schemes to secularize the vacation. To their credit score, they have been technically appropriate: Progressives had advocated for company and social adoption of “glad holidays” as a nondenominational season’s greeting, and pushed for communal celebration of culturally vital December holidays like Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. In progressive communities, menorah lightings carried out on city commons simply 20 ft from a manger show didn’t strike a religious incongruity: They have been welcomed.
Till conservative commentators like John Gibson and Invoice O’Reilly declared that battle was imminent, there wasn’t a battle in any respect. They marshaled the media towards neighborly accords between of us of numerous non secular and ethnic backgrounds, they usually’ve saved skirmishing towards participatory secularism ever since. Popular culture ultimately caught up on the fracas: Jon Stewart mocked pearl-clutching Christmas nonsense on The Day by day Present; Humorous or Die mashed up the trailers for Batman v Superman: Daybreak of Justice and The Santa Clause; the YouTube sketch present wellRED Comedy used Ken Burns’ documentaries as a template for a chronicle of the historical past of the battle on Christmas.
However whereas comics cracked jokes, Christmas’ most beloved symbolic determine went by a special transformation: Over the course of the final decade, Santa Claus slowly was a warrior. In 2012’s Rise of the Guardians, Santa is refashioned as Nicholas St. North, a strapping Russian charged with defending kids’s sense of surprise. Within the 2018 and 2020 Christmas Chronicles motion pictures, Santa is performed with burly roguishness by Kurt Russell, a legend of Hollywood’s action-movie golden age, racing to forestall Christmas’ cancellation.
In 2020’s Fatman, Mel Gibson performs a model of Santa who works with the U.S. navy, supplying them with elements for constructing high-tech fighter jets. And in Tommy Wirkola’s 2022 action-comedy Violent Night time, Santa Claus (David Harbour) is a drunken curmudgeon residing out a Die Exhausting state of affairs as he fights to avoid wasting an exorbitantly rich household held hostage by a workforce of ruthless mercenaries.
These motion pictures present a marked development from whimsical kids’s fantasy to R-rated hyperviolence. It took the flicks nearly 20 years to reach on the logical conclusion of the manufactured Christmas tradition battle: an motion movie the place previous St. Nick launches a savage offensive to defend his vacation from dangerous guys who don’t consider in him.
Violent Night time’s most important villain, codenamed Scrooge (and performed by John Leguizamo), is motivated each by abject loathing for Christmas, and by obvious ethical disgust over how the wealthy grow to be wealthy — and keep wealthy. Violent Night time’s central household, the Lightstones, have a historical past of shady authorities dealings, together with battle profiteering. Scrooge excoriates Lightstone matriarch Gertrude (Beverly D’Angelo) in entrance of her daughter Alva (Edi Patterson), her son Jason (Alex Hassell), and their households about that historical past. Scrooge needs their cash. The Lightstones stole it, he causes, so stealing it from them is a victimless crime.
Violent Night time’s moral gymnastics are tangential to Santa’s existential gloom and disaster of religion. Early within the movie, he complains that the fashionable world runs on greed. Individuals suppose solely about themselves and what they need. He’s much less aggrieved that nobody believes he’s actual anymore, although he does have a slight chip on his shoulder about it. He’s extra disgruntled over unexpectedly scribbled, shallow want lists.
“Video video games, video video games, video video games,” reads one be aware left on a mantle for Santa to eyeball as he makes his annual journey across the globe. No surprise he takes his breaks pounding down pints at Bristol bars. Making children’ goals come true, as a lot as he can, is his mission. He couldn’t, for example, make Trudy (Leah Brady), the youngest and most winsome Lightstone, fly — however he may give her a kite, a number of Christmases in the past, that helped her contact the sky. Senseless commodification is anathema to that mission.
The fact is that Christmas has grow to be a purchasing vacation, however media variations of Santa have at all times resisted that message, going again to vacation TV specials like 1974’s The 12 months And not using a Santa Claus. Even when there’s no Santa determine concerned, Christmas specials have railed towards the commercialization of the vacation, with 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas main the cost.
The brand new interpretations of Santa simply make that resistance extra aggressive and bodily. In Fatman, Chris Kringle shares misgivings just like what Santa feels in Violent Night time: He’s aggravated on the methods children fetishize violence. He feels they’ve grown too callous. Given the rise of violent leisure as diversion — Kringle significantly hates video video games, very similar to Harbour’s Santa — it makes excellent sense that Uncle Sam makes Kringle a suggestion he genuinely can’t refuse. In Fatman, the U.S. authorities has backed Kringle’s gift-giving operation for many years. Refusing the navy contract means shedding these treasured subsidies. Kringle complies. He has no selection.
As in Violent Night time, Fatman’s Kringle works out his malaise by reluctantly preventing. When a spoiled wealthy child finds a lump of coal in his stack of presents, he dispatches his private hatchet man, Jonathan Miller (Walton Goggins), to bump Kringle off in retaliation. Jonathan bears a grudge towards Christmas and Santa that dates again to his childhood, very similar to Scrooge in Violent Night time. For each males, killing Santa could be cathartic.
The “battle on Christmas” rabble-rousers must be tickled by Violent Night time. As a villain, Scrooge is successfully an avatar for conservative panic over the left’s battle on Christmas through secularization. The hero is Santa, the avatar of Christmas, who takes out the villain’s henchmen and massacres scores of nameless cannon fodder whereas tossing out vacation one-liners: “Season’s beatings,” “Santa Claus is comin’ to city,” and admonishments of “That’s naughty!” barked at Scrooge’s sociopathic goons. Harbour’s Santa even weaponizes conventional vacation accouterments, like sweet canes and tree decorations, in addition to various winter equipment, like ice skates and snowblowers. Tucker Carlson must be tittering in bloodthirsty glee.
Lengthy earlier than Wirkola and Fatman administrators Eshom and Ian Nelms took their respective swings at Christmas style movies, although, popular culture repurposed Santa first as a Slavic swashbuckler in Peter Ramsey’s Rise of the Guardians, then as a grizzled cowboy rascal in The Christmas Chronicles. Within the case of all three motion pictures, leisure is the primary purpose. Watching Ramsey deal with Santa as a part of a superhero ensemble, like a member of the Avengers or the League of Extraordinary Gents, is a blast. And whereas the Christmas Chronicles motion pictures don’t add as much as rather more than treacly sentimentalism, Russell’s magnetism and brawny attraction make his Santa memorable.
Russell’s efficiency and Rise of the Guardians’ heat, noble tackle Santa push again on the propaganda of the Christmas endlessly battle: They’re broadly interesting movies that reject the innate cynicism of the declare that Christmas is below assault as a result of some folks consider nobody ought to really feel barred from celebrating their very own beliefs publicly in December. At a look, Fatman and Violent Night time particularly seem like they’re affirming the battle — they’re functionally low-key battle motion pictures that heart on conflicts between Christmas-hating contract killers and Santa Claus. What could possibly be a clearer allegory for “battle on Christmas” than a small-scale literal battle that takes place on Christmas?
For what it’s price, neither Violent Night time nor Fatman truly endorse the assumption within the battle on Christmas. They aren’t political, both, immediately or not directly. They’re merely a byproduct of that concept nonetheless echoing by American tradition. They’re centered on the identical arguments as Christmas motion pictures relationship again to 1946’s It’s a Great Life: Greed and inhumanity have changed compassion and charity, which ought to dominate the vacation season as a substitute.
Nonetheless, Violent Night time seems like a right-wing fantasy the best way most motion motion pictures do — they’re basically motion pictures constructed round hawkish eventualities that may solely be resolved with acts of pure violence. There’s nothing improper with cheering for good guys mowing down dangerous guys, but it surely’s a contradictory strategy to those motion pictures’ nostalgic name for Christmas heat, cheer, and goodwill towards humanity.
Violent Night time, Fatman, Christmas Chronicles 1 and 2, and Rise of the Guardians all reinforce themes from Christmas classics about avarice as the vacation’s truest opposition. What’s completely different about these movies is that they’ve been made in a world the place folks truthfully appear to consider that conventional vacation values are battling towards the spirit of inclusion and joyous neighborhood celebration, and that these values have to be defended with weapons and sledgehammers.
Like so many different “darkish Christmas” tales, from horror motion pictures like Silent Night time, Lethal Night time to caustic comedies like Unhealthy Santa, the action-Santa motion pictures are enjoying round with acquainted iconography, including some grit and grownup humor for the sorts of viewers who discover conventional vacation treacle a bit too candy. Nevertheless it feels doubtful to see Santa defend vigilantism and slaughter in the identical breath that he’s utilizing to defend anti-commercialist messages and the surprise and magic of childhood. It’s price being conscious of the opposite, extra troublesome messages these superhero Santas are defending on the similar time.