Christmas vs. Halloween: St. Nick vs. Old Nick


December 2, 2023 — Yesterday, in kicking off this Christmas villain of a project, I mentioned some of the underlying truths and falsehoods of Halloween and Christmas. I think we should compare them some more. So, as the serial killer said to the set of toes sticking out of the ground, "Let's dig deeper."

1. Celebrations and Obligations

Christmas isn't a holiday. It's a to-do list. You've got a bunch of people you have to figure out what to buy for and then spend your time shopping (and, as all the commercials tell us, each one has to be the "perfect gift"). Then there are all the family obligations. Overall, we spend more time running Christmas errands than celebrating Christmas when we should be focusing on the reason for the season: Cordial cherries. Natch.

Halloween, on the other hand, is full of haunted houses and corn mazes and pumpkin patches and apple orchards and leaf peeping and graveyard skulking and horror movie watching. As the sage said, "Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see." And you never have to talk to that one weird uncle much less share an eggnog with office mates who are only in your life because of capitalism. There's just 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 full of stuff you'll forget about come January. Besides, kids are much easier to buy for than adults, and it’s much more gratifying to watch them open 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 wallpapered with eye-aching 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. Here's a tearjerker about an elderly man in Ireland visiting the grave of a loved one (make sure you stop by Charlie's Bar to have a pint or two). Or a kid experiencing the wonder of a reindeer farm (make sure you shop ag Kohl's). Remember when ET even came back for that heartfelt Christmas reunion with a now-adult Eliot? (make sure you subscribe to Xfinity for all your internet needs). 

Halloween commercials don’t have to pretend to be anything that they’re not: Product pitches with spooky ambiance. You like monsters? Great. Here's a vampire eating a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Fog machines and castles turn you on? Buy some Duracells. No commoditization of sentiment there. Just honest commoditization.

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 reminiscing…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 that is January through August (Easter sucks and so does July 4th, although I like the latter as an extra day off). I guess, also relevant is that I start celebrating Halloween in September. Regardless of where the jack-o-lantern sticker is on your calendar, we're so ready for Halloween when the season rolls around. But Christmas just becomes the next holiday on the list. And sometimes, merely a second Thanksgiving.

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 movie actors naked, then you might feel uncomfortable rooting for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye to dance snow down in Vermont or bundled up lovers one-horse-opening a sleigh. And that’s too bad, because that makes Christmas more than fake. It makes it a jerk.

I mean, if you’re looking for even more Christmas obligations (see Point #1), then religious ones are the way to go, I guess. Go to church. Feel guilty about buying presents instead of remembering a god-baby in a feeding trough. I mean, his father forsook, it's probably ok if we do for a holiday or two. But Halloween is for everybody. No matter what you believe. 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. You can all take part in our candy-bowl Eucharist. This is my body which was given for you, now don't forget to brush your teeth afterwards.

5. More Christmas Character

Christmas needs desperately to widen its palette of characters. It’s got elves, reindeer, snowmen, angels, and Big Red himself. But 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 has made a pretty successful run to the front of Santa’s sleigh these days.

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