Today nothing is certain except two things. No, not death and taxes. It is Mariah Carey’s Christmas Hit (you know which one) and Wednesday Addams’ dancing routine. Whilst the ‘Mariah’ phenomenon is reasonable and expected, the viral dance moves of a lugubrious adolescent may seem inexplicable and out of place during this jolly season. In reality, the ‘Wednesday’ moment falls into an aesthetic essential for the functioning of modern day Christmas. It lives and thrives in the twilight zone between the 31st of October and the 25th of December. It is the CHRISTMAS GOTHIC.
We can define the Christmas Gothic in an image. One November afternoon, a lazy, scroogie and yet resourceful person tries to reuse and restyle its Halloween decorations – for which he has paid far too much – for the even more expensive Christmas Time. Suddenly spooky ghosts have red hats, frankensteins become helpful elves and skeletons gain a few pounds as they morph into snowmen.
Who’s to blame for these strange creatures if not the director of the new Netflix series himself: Tim Burton. The success of his story and character designs in ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993) have popularised the aesthetic and shown the creative and commercial potential of the Halloween-Christmas crossover. However, a cinematic origin to this aesthetic can be traced back to the cult picture Gremlins (1984). The story of cute and fluffy Christmas presents which become horrific monsters first revealed a hidden desire for festive fear in modern audiences.
A hidden desire which is centuries old. While modern society has sweetened Christmas with heartwarming Coca Cola ads and Hallmark movies, the 25th of December has always carried a hefty dark side to it. Who’s naughty or nice is determined on this cozy Judgement Day. Indeed, in the past it was not a jolly Santa Claus the one to judge. According to a German tradition, the ominous figure of Krampus took bad children away never to be seen again. The contemporary horror flick Krampus (2015) reinterprets this horrible tradition.
Why do we crave for the Gory instead of the Holy, the gut-wrenching scream instead of custard cream?
It is certainly our way to revolt agains bland, superficial messages of consumeristic kindness (buy-and-gift-away). But there is something more. I believe a strange game of opposition is at play. This game consists in the existence of X and its opposite. The latter strengthen the existence of X. For example, we appreciate the warmth of a fire cackling only when icicles and snow knock from our foggy window. It is the case for the origins of Christmas, which was once a pagan celebration of the Sol Invictus (Invincible Sun): only on a dark wintery night we truly appreciate the Sun.
We need our inner bad, mischievous child to nurture our goodness. We need monsters to teach us about a year-round Christmas value: family.
by Federico Erminio Spadaro