It's not Christmastime unless everything nearly falls apart first. I mean that. Christmas almost being ruined is a time honored tradition, like decorating the tree, or baking cookies, or drinking your feelings away with spiked egg nog. It wouldn't be a good time without that feeling of suspended peril, and Christmas media has proved that time and time again.
For proof, I've gathered 25 Christmas movies (including a handful of classic TV specials) in chronological order, showing a multitude of times that Christmas was nearly ruined... and how it was, of course, saved at the very last minute.
Image: MGM Television
'A Christmas Carol' (1938)
Problem: Poverty. I mean, Scrooge learns that he’s kind of a dick and nobody will miss him once he’s dead, which is definitely a Christmas buzzkill, but it’s the Crachits’ lack-of-funds that make their Christmas traditionally disappointing.
Solution: Thanks to three guilt-tripping ghosts, Scrooge undergoes a change of heart, and awards the Crachits’ belated kindness financial security, and the biggest bird you’ve ever seen.
'It's A Wonderful Life' (1946)
Problem: That dumbass Uncle Billy loses $8,000, leaving American hero George Bailey to be potentially arrested, and sending him on a suicidal downward spiral.
Solution: A literal guardian angel shows George life is worth living, the whole town rallies together to supplement the money, and I cry hysterically.
'Miracle on 34th Street' (1947)
Problem: Kris Kringle, who is either criminally insane or a Real Life Santa Claus, gets into a legal scuffle that could land him in the nuthouse, and further presses the question: is there such thing as a Santa Claus?
Solution: A staggering number of children’s letters to Santa, piled heavily onto the judge’s stand.
'White Christmas' (1954)
Problem: A retired, discouraged war general is at risk of losing his Vermont show in due to low attendance, the low attendance resulting, in part, from a lack of snow. His former underlings work to put on a fantastical variety show to raise money, but misunderstandings almost drive away their would-be love interests.
Solution: The misunderstandings are cleared up when Irving Berlin chases Rosemary Clooney to New York, and the show goes on without a hitch.
'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' (1964)
Problem: Everyone’s an asshole to Rudolph, the one reindeer with proper lighting, and then a fog hits Christmas Eve that makes it impossible for anyone to see.
Solution: Rudolph takes the high road and decides to guide the sleigh with his glowing red nose.
'A Charlie Brown Christmas' (1965)
Problem: There’s a Christmas play, and what would REALLY make it is if the Peanuts gang find a beautiful Christmas tree. Of course, that blockhead Charlie Brown brings a wilting tree that can’t sustain a single ornament.
Solution: Well, it’s not a BAD tree. It just needs a little love. After viciously berating Charlie Brown, the group re-brands and re-decorates the tree. They all gather to sing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” and I cry hysterically.
'Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!' (1966)
Problem: You know this story, immortalized in this TV retelling narrated by Boris Karloff, later bastardized by Jim Carrey. The Grinch is a cantankerous Christmas-hating grump who decides to steal all of the Whos who puddings and roast beasts.
Solution: To be honest, The Whos don’t really give a damn. Moreover the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes, and he gladly gives back all their nonsense. HE EVEN CARVES THE ROAST BEAST.
'Frosty the Snowman' (1969)
Problem: Frosty is a magical snowman, but even magical Snowmen aren’t impervious to global warming. You can ask Olaf about that.
Solution: It’s complicated, but basically Santa explains that since Frosty is made of Christmas snow he’ll never TRULY die, and he’ll be back every Christmas. So, good, I guess?
'A Christmas Story' (1983)
Problem: Youngster Ralphie wants only one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Unfortunately his mom squashes that dream, claiming he’ll “shoot his eye out.” Also those goddamn Bumpus dogs eat the Christmas dinner.
Solution: Ralphie’s Old Man secretly buys him the dangerous weapon, and Ralphie subsequently shoots his eye out. And that was the Christmas they were introduced to Chinese turkey.
Problem: A clueless father gets a Chinatown pet called a mogwai for his son for Christmas. Short version: if you feed those little bastards after midnight all things go to hell.
Solution: Explosions and murder via sunlight. It’s a heartwarming flick.
'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation' (1989)
Problem: Just…everything. It’s one of those Christmases when everything is falling apart. This get particularly grizzly, though, when Chevy Chase gets a Jelly of the Month club membership in lieu of a Christmas bonus and decides to kidnap his boss.
Solution: A very calm explanation to a SWAT team, paired with the reinstatement of the Christmas bonus.
'Home Alone' (1990)
Problem: Kevin McAllister’s gigantic family accidentally leaves him home alone for the Christmas holiday. While dangerous burglars are on the prowl. I mean, whatever.
Solution: Fierce mama bear Catherine O’Hara claws her way back home, and Kevin uses incredible prank mastery to castrate the Wet Bandits.
'Home Alone 2: Lost in New York' (1992)
Problem: Mr. and Mrs. McAllister win another Parents of the Year Award for losing their son when Kevin gets on the wrong flight. Also: dangerous burglars, now with a thirst for revenge!
Solution: Repeated and doubled prank mastery, and a credit card that sustains Kevin in a life of luxury for a long, long while.
'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (1993)
Problem: Pumpkin King Jack Skellington decides to take over Christmas this year, despite having Halloween be more his thing. It backfires terribly, leaving a world in peril of murderous Christmas toys and both Santa and Sally at the mercy of baddie Oogie Boogie.
Solution: Jack fights Oogie Boogie and Santa replaces the the psycho-killer presents with much less lethal options.
'The Santa Clause' (1994)
Problem: Scott Calvin reluctantly takes up the reigns of Santa Claus and his dumb kid won’t stop talking about it. This leads to the kid looking like he’s crazy pants, the father looking like he’s crazy pants, and visitation rights being totally suspended. Also kidnapping. Also an arrest.
Solution: Um. An elf SWAT team? Belief? Something like that.
'Jingle All the Way' (1996)
Problem: My brother saw this when he was 8 and even then he knew it wasn’t the best movie. But beyond that, the Governator struggles to get the toy-of-the-year Turbo-Man for his son. Other things happen, but that’s basically it.
Solution: Idk, he fights some criminals dressed up as Turbo-Man and his son is proud of him for being a hero. I feel like that ending would be significantly creepier if his son had wanted a Tickle-Me-Elmo instead.
'Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas' (1997)
Problem: Belle and The Beast have some very differing opinions about Christmas (Christmastime being when Beast was initially cursed). A magical… organ thing named Forte tries to further mess things up between their budding romance, because reasons.
Solution: A magical piccolo played by Pee-Wee Herman kills the organ. Kay.
'Jack Frost' (1998)
Problem: A dead father comes back as a snowman, which is like, a raw deal in itself. Then he starts melting, as is tradition.
Solution: The family as a whole gets closure, but other than that, there is no solution. He melts and he dies. Again.
'The Santa Clause 2' (2002)
Problem: Returning champ Scott Calvin AKA Santa Claus needs to find a wife all of a sudden or else he has to give up his job as Santa.
Solution: He finds a Mrs. Claus by wooing over his son’s ice queen principal, but not without the usual misunderstanding and lack-of-belief bullshit.
Problem: Buddy the Elf (technically a human) raises all sorts of trouble when he meets his biological father on a journey to find himself. The scariest part, though? Santa’s sleigh malfunctions, meaning old St. Nick can’t deliver any more Christmas presents.
Solution: A Zooey Deschanel song resurrects enough Christmas spirit and belief to re-start the sleigh. Seriously.
'The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause' (2003)
Problem: The fact that this movie exists. Outside of that, Jack Frost decides to intercept Santa’s power, dominating in an alternate reality.
Solution: A warm hug. I can’t.
'Fred Claus' (2007)
Problem: Santa’s brother is resentful and a troublemaker. He does reckless shit like putting everyone on the nice list and is generally the worst. However, Santa gets sick on the night before Christmas, and who saves the day?
Solution: Fred Claus. I KNOW, WHAT A PLOT TWIST.
'Arthur Christmas' (2011)
Problem: Santa’s youngest son is having some weird existential crisis and Santa dun goofed and forgot to deliver a present. How are we going to negotiate between these two problems?
Solution: The youngest son (Arthur, btw) delivers the present and proves himself to be a suitable Claus successor.
'A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas' (2011)
Problem: In this flawless masterpiece, stoners Harold and Kumar struggle valiantly to find a replacement Fraser Fir Christmas tree, after recklessly burning the first one. Wackiness, and Neil Patrick Harris cameos, ensue.
Solution: If I remember correctly (and this was a Harold and Kumar movie, so it’s very plausible that I…wouldn’t) they never get their Fraser Fir. But they also restore their broken friendship, which is a nice consolation prize.
'Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever' (2014)
Problem: Something with dog-napping and delusional pre-teen who thinks she can hear a cat talk?
Solution: We need to take a break from Christmas movies. I think that’s the solution here.