Five Things Christmas Could Learn from Halloween

December 19, 2014 — I love Christmas. I do. Every tinsel-strewn branch of it. Every overplayed carol of it. Every ho ho ho and fa la la of it. But it has its problems. Problems that my other favorite holiday, Halloween, doesn’t suffer from. I’ve always said that my favorite holiday of the two is whichever one I’m celebrating at the time, but the below five points often tip the scale from peppermint to pumpkin. And while certainly Santa could teach Samhain a thing or two about how to run a holiday, right now tis the season for St. Nick, not Old Nick.

1. Celebration, not Obligation

Christmas often becomes more of a to-do list than a holiday. Figuring out what to get and then buying presents for an evergrowing list to rival Santa’s own takes up an enormous part of the season. Then there are all the family obligations. Heck, even the simple little tradition of Christmas cards can be stressful. Overall, we spend more time running Christmas errands than celebrating Christmas.

Halloween, on the other hand, is filled with haunted houses and corn mazes and pumpkin patches and apple orchards and leaf peeping and graveyard skulking and horror movie watching. Not an obligation in sight. Other than the easily met/skipped ones of costumes and candy.

One way to fix this issue would be to place an age limit on receiving gifts—like the vague age limit we have around trick-or-treating. Once you’re too big to sit on Santa’s lap, you’re too old for shiny boxes. Besides, kids are much easier to buy for than adults, and it’s much more gratifying to watch them open the presents, anyway.

Sure, you've seen the jack-o-lantern in this scene, but what about the Munsters lunchbox below it?

2. Sentiment for Sale

I hate that our culture is surrounded by an eye-aching wall of ads and commercials and logos, but if it’s gotta be there, I want it participating in the holiday. In other words, if it’s going to be my backdrop, I want it decorated. However, Christmas commercials are invariably sappy and, worse, disingenuous as they try to present heartwarming Christmas moments that are nothing more than salesmen shoved in Santa costumes. Even the best commercial this year, the Strange Magic reindeer farm one, has the unavoidable lead lining that its entire reason for existence is to get you to shop at Kohls. Halloween commercials don’t have to pretend to be anything that they’re not: Product pitches with spooky ambiance.

3. Calendar Space

There’s not much Christmas can do about this one. I mean, its end-of-year placement is ideal for nostalgia and would be perfect…if it weren’t squeezed between two other major holidays. On the other hand, the Halloween Season signals the end of a terrible, terrible holiday drought. We're so ready for it when the season rolls around. But Christmas just becomes the next holiday on the list.

Of the two holidays that bracket Christmas, the worse offender is Thanksgiving. That Grinch of a holiday steals Christmas’s thunder of family get-togethers and scrumptious eats and first snows. And, between you and me, I want to celebrate Christmas for two months (like I celebrate Halloween for two months), but the buckled-shoe speed bump of Thanksgiving trips me up every year.

4. Let’s All Party

Christmas is getting better at this one, but the holiday is still a hugely religious one. That alienates some serious potential mistletoe moments. If you don’t believe that 2,000 years ago, a skin-covered universe-maker was tortured and killed because sometimes you imagine Hollywood actors naked, then you might feel uncomfortable rooting for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye to dance snow down in Vermont or erecting a dying tree in your living room. And that’s too bad, because it’s a good time.

I mean, if you’re looking for even more Christmas obligations (see Point #1), then religious ones are the way to go. But Halloween is for everybody. It’s a death celebration, so if you have death somewhere in your future, you’re in. Do you have a skeleton? Great, here’s a skeleton costume. Do you bleed? Good, here’s a vial of fake blood to dribble down your chin. Sure, if you’re Duncan Macleod of the Clan Macleod, you can F off. But the rest of us can feel free to partake of the candy bowl.

5. More Christmas Character

Christmas needs desperately to widen its palette of characters. It’s got elves, reindeer, snowmen, angels, and Big Red himself. That’s basically it. Halloween has an extremely diverse and growing assortment of monsters and ghosts and fiends to pull from. This means Halloween stories have more variety, while Christmas has to recombine those same characters over and over, which is why 50% of Christmas movies are about saving Christmas and the other 50% are about learning its "true meaning." Certainly, some storytellers over the years have valiantly tried to fix this problem. Rankin/Bass gave us the Bumble and the Miser Brothers. Dr. Seuss gave us the Grinch. Dickens gave us Scrooge and his ghosts. And Krampus seems to be making a run to the front of Santa’s sleigh these days.

That’s a lot of monsters. Maybe Christmas is already learning from Halloween.