Why are the best Christmas movies so depressing?

In a postmodern landscape of self-confession and honesty undermined by cynicism, Christmas movies have undergone a process of critical reappraisal. Holiday movies with warm messages about love, family, spirituality, and giving are such clichés—in the bad sense of the word. Instead, the Christmas movies that are currently celebrated in holiday canon have some underlying darkness to them. With satirical times comes the celebration of satirical movies, and thus, the feeling that the best Christmas movies are also the saddest. We’re drawn to these kinds of Christmas stories, dubbing many of them the best because their dose of merry season depression offers a unique complexity.


Christmas movies and the “Untouchable” trophy

Jack Skellington sees a snowflake for the first time in Nightmare Before Christmas
Image via Disney

These Christmas stories often adopt a sad, lonely character trope that is “different” from cheerful, such as The nightmare before christmasAnd the Tokyo godparentsAnd the Ron Howard‘s How the Grinch Stole ChristmasMost if not all explanations Rudolph the red-nosed reindeerboth of which are Christmas films directed by Tim BurtonAnd the Batman Returns And the Edward Scissorhands. The protagonists of these films discover Christmas as something to behold rather than partake in. They may want to share in the joy of the holiday, but society considers them outcasts. Considering how many people in real life don’t celebrate Christmas or find this season lonely, these movies gain popularity through their relevance to the theme. Even those who felt Christmas was something they didn’t get can understand these heroes.

Christmas movies and the “tragic background” trophy

James Stewart as George Bailey and Henry Travers as Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life
Image via RKO Radio Pictures

Similarly, there is a movie where Christmas displays the pre-existing latent sadness that exists in wanting something that someone doesn’t have. Although it has a generally nostalgic feel to it, this bleak flat is felt throughout Christmas story And a lower picture by Norman Rockwell of a family Christmas. Oftentimes, these willing heroes are found in films that are unconventional in the holiday canon. by John McClain (Bruce Willis), an awkward party is just a reminder of his relationship problems at Die hard. This can also apply to any of the Shane BlackAction films, in which the main character finds the winter months cold and dreary in terms of finances (Kiss kiss bang bang), or memorial (lethal Weapon) reasons. The contrast between the holiday cheer and the dark theme heightens the sadness, as in long kiss good night And the Stanley Kubrick‘s closed eyes. The grief was not caused by the Christmas season but rather emphasized by it, underscoring the tragic backstories and struggles of relationships in the colored lights.

The best classic in the depressing Christmas genre is It’s a wonderful life. When George Bailey (James Stewart) wants to throw his life away, his daughter is haunting him playing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” on the piano, his son is asking about the spelling for a Christmas play, and his wife is making plans for the evening. But rating the movie as depressing only focuses on the surface. Dreamy film critic Pauline Kael famously removed the film for the exact opposite reasons. Kyle wrote: “Capra takes a serious tone here, though there is no basis for seriousness; this is Hogarel trying to turn into art.” Kyle points out some kind of absurdity in the text. GW’s script is full of jokes and hilarious reassurances that, honestly, no man is poor if he has friends. Yes, the premise is frustrating in a way, but the film’s strength lies in turning itself around for the better. It has to balance its absurdity with its seriousness or it’s just melodramatic.

Christmas complaints and ridicule

Charlie Brown is depressed on Charlie Brown's birthday
Image via CBS

In another set of depressing Christmas movies, there are protagonists who may be able to take part in the festivities, but find it a chore rather than a blessing. This is classically found in old school family comedies like Home Alone movies and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacationand recently appeared in a B-rated holiday comedy, Including an Overture Christmas with the Kranks. These characters have a problem with holiday rituals, be that as it may Macaulay Culkin And the Chevy ChaseThe characters’ annoyance with their families or the massive amounts of spending associated with the Kranks family vacation. The enduring sadness of these Christmas movies comes from the kind of loneliness that can only happen in a crowded room; For some, vacations are just too much of a chore.

Finally, there are the pessimists about Christmas itself who make the mood depressing, turned toward acceptance at the last minute through some epiphanies. for Tom Hanks Child’s character canonized recently pole clarificationThis takes the form of simple disbelief in the magic of the holiday. But the more classic examples are the miser in many interpretations Christmas carolAnd the whether, what if Robert Zemeckis or Muppets His interpretation, and the Grinch, in his own Benedict CumberbatchAnd the Jim Carreyand even Boris Karloff Special TV formats. For Scrooge, Christmas is simply another day to make more money, and though this is as motivated by a tragic backstory as the previous heroes, his coldness is philosophical on the surface. Meanwhile, the Grinch sees Christmas as a bad, noisy, and consumerist thing. Carey’s version makes it explicit. Whos down in Whoville may celebrate the holiday, but along with the Grinch, they should also learn to appreciate its power to make us feel grateful rather than craving. This type of character, whether in a supernatural night or an act of joy, finds at heart an appreciation of Christmas for its magical power to make us better, more faithful, and give people more.

Related: 10 beau Christmas movies for the miser in all of us

Perhaps all the images of depression inherent in Christmas are best represented in one of the most popular Christmas food items, Charlie Brown’s birthday. When revisited, every archetype listed here can be applied to a TV-specific protagonist. Charlie Brown clearly feels like an outsider during the Christmas season, “I know nobody loves me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to stress over?” Christmas underscores this pre-existing depression Charlie Brown has within himself. When he eventually tries to take part in the ritual in the form of a Christmas play, he finds that the hassles of his directorial role are not worth his effort. And, of course, Charlie Brown with his reaction to aluminum Christmas trees and “commercial” Snoopy decorations for kennels proves a philosophical pessimism about Christmas. “Runned by a big oriental guild,” Lucy told him. The main character finds it all about the Christmas season’s corporate, selfish, and anarchic. Even spending time with his friends he tries to keep the fragile notion of Christmas afloat in their own selfish desires.

During this time of year, it’s easy to feel the weight of loneliness, neediness, stress, or even cynical company during this time of year. However, that shouldn’t be the point of us watching or rating these holiday classics as better than the less pessimistic works. Sure, some of the greatest Christmas movies have a sad sound to them, but we watch them because, like John McClane, George Bailey, or Scrooge, we need a reminder of the purity of the purpose of celebrating, and the joy of doing so with the people we love. “And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

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