The three kinds of Christmas Story

Many years ago, I browsed a volume about mystery fiction titled Murder Ink. One of the many sections was a discussion of Christmas as a setting for mystery stories—and I’ve recent realized it applies to non-mystery stories as well. Basically, you can break them down into three categories:
•Christmas Convenience.
In this category come stories which could be set at any time, but Christmas works as well as any. For example, mystery writers doing the old “country house party where everyone’s cut off and there’s a killer among us” (which I recycled for The Wodehouse Murder Case) can make it a Christmas party trapped by a heavy snowfall as easily as anything else.
Likewise, Christmas movies that involve family interaction can use Christmas as an excuse to bring the family together. Holiday in Handcuffs would have worked just as well if Melissa Joan Hart were dragging her fake boyfriend home for her mom’s birthday or her sister’s wedding, but Christmas does the trick (and given the demand for Christmas programming, it’s probably an easier sell). Same for Christmas Do-Over. White Christmas could as easily have been set on Independence Day or Valentine’s Day.
•Christmas for Contrast
These movies or stories have a story of loneliness or isolation or darkness that gains heft by being set against the bright warmth of Christmas lights. A Christmas Carol, for example, really could have been set at any time of year, but Scrooge’s misanthropy and his estrangement from his family gain strength from being set against a time of family and charity. Likewise, The Bishop’s Wife with its story of a clergyman (David Niven) obsessed with building a massive cathedral could take place at any time of year—but Christmas makes Niven’s loss of spiritual clarity more compelling.
•It’s About Christmas
These are movies where the Christmas element is indispensable. One of the advantages of writing (or viewing fantasy) is that it’s much easier to make a “real” Christmas movie than in other genres—Santa Claus movies are by definition the spirit of Christmas (ditto spiritual, serious movies dealing with actual matters of faith). It’s hard to imagine Arthur Christmas being set in July.
I don’t think being a pure Christmas movie is inherently superior (certainly not if the execution sucks) but I find the classifications interesting.

7 Comments

Filed under Movies, Reading, TV, Writing

7 responses to “The three kinds of Christmas Story

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