A Christmas Movie Is Any Movie In Which The Main Plot Line Is Resolved On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Or During An Organized Christmas Function Or Christmas Representative.

Christmas after Christmas the debate of whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not rages on with the crackling of the fire and the clicking of reindeer hooves. However, after years of hearing these arguments, one thing has always bothered me: I have never once heard someone offer an objective definition of what a Christmas movie is. Often, it goes like this: “Die Hard is the best Christmas movie.” Someone chimes in, “Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie!” And their basic reasoning is something along the lines of “Die Hard doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy like Rudolph does.” That may very well be true, but that doesn’t actually define a Christmas movie. Meaning, it does not provide a definition that is outside of personal opinion or preference.

On the other hand, there are those who argue Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but they use vague definitions that simply don’t work when universally applied. They may say, “The movie takes place on Christmas, and there’s Christmas music in it.” However, there are many movies that would apply to this standard and yet nobody would genuinely argue they are Christmas movies. For instance, every Harry Potter movie has a scene related to Christmas because it shows the passage of time for the school year. These movies, along with many others, may have Christmas scenes, but they aren’t Christmas movies. Likewise, Mean Girls has its infamous “Jingle Bell Rock” scene, yet nobody would genuinely argue that it is a Christmas movie either. Movies like this, along with many others, may have Christmas music, but they aren’t Christmas movies.

And so, last year, my brother and I sought for an objective definition answering the question: What is a Christmas movie? But it started with a TV Show.

We were watching the newly released first season of the Disney Plus series Hawkeye. My Dad and brother mentioned, “This seems like a Christmas TV Show to me.” And they were right! What was it about this TV Show that made it seem like, not just a normal TV Show, but a Christmas TV Show?

My brother and I began to work through Christmas movies trying to think of what made them so objectively Christmas. We established a list of classic films that no one debates are Christmas movies, like It’s A Wonderful Life, Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer, and A Christmas Carol, and we worked from there. We realized it wasn’t the Christmas references, or the Christmas colors, or even the Christmas music of these stories that made them a Christmas movie, it was that all of these stories had plot lines that resolved on Christmas. Christmas was the object of the plot’s resolution.

This was why Hawkeye is a Christmas TV Show, because the consistent question for the audience is, “Will he make it home in time for Christmas?” Ultimately, this question is resolved on Christmas Day, and the plot line itself is resolved over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. So, the question we asked was, “Does this standard work universally? Do Christmas movies resolve their plots on Christmas?” Wonderful Life? Yes. Rudolph? Yes. Christmas Carol? Yes. The Grinch? Yes. The Polar Express? Yes. Miracle On 34th Street? Yes. Christmas Story? Yes. Elf? Yes. And so on, and so on, and so on. Yes! We had found a definition that worked, but a few caveats had to be made.

The Main Plot Line

            We needed to be clear that it was only if the main plot line resolved on Christmas. After all, there may indeed be movies that show where characters have gone, or that tie up a few loose ends after Christmas, but the point was that the main plot line – the whole driving force of the narrative – was heading towards and concluded on Christmas.

Christmas Eve

            We also felt it necessary to include Christmas Eve, since both days are intimately connected, and one could argue that the main plot line of some Christmas movies ends on Christmas Eve so that Christmas itself can happen. Because of the nature of Christmas Eve, we felt it carried with it the implications of Christmas itself, when it comes to plot lines anyway. It isn’t enough that the movies are “in the Christmas season.” It needs to have Christmas as the object it’s driving for. And in this sense, Christmas Eve applies as well.

During An Organized Christmas Function Or Christmas Representative

            This one may seem odd at first, but let me explain. This caveat was us recognizing that there are many “Christmas episodes” of TV Shows, and Hallmark movies, and more, that may not resolve on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day itself, but a Christmas equivalent. For instance, in The Office, the main plot line of the Christmas episodes resolves at their office Christmas party. Or a Hallmark movie might end the plot line at a city Christmas parade, or something like that. The reality is, in these cases, Christmas itself is replaced by these events. Co-workers will have Christmas with their families, but the party is Christmas for the office. Families may enjoy Christmas in the comforts of their home, but the parade or festival, or whatever, is Christmas for the town. The whole driving force of the narrative is still heading towards something that, for all intents and purposes, is Christmas (it’s representative for Christmas), so we felt this an appropriate addition to the definition.

A Charlie Brown Christmas would fall under this category. In the movie, we are lead to believe that the climax will be a big Christmas production – the Christmas play – yet, the point of A Charlie Brown Christmas is that Christmas has become too commercial. So, the plot line is ultimately resolved when Charlie Brown’s question is answered: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Instead of the Christmas play representing Christmas, we discover Christmas itself to be the resolution. The meaning of Christmas, and Charlie Brown’s hope-filled discovery of it, stands as the perfect idea of Christmas itself, and, like Christmas Eve (see above), prepares the way for Christmas to be enjoyed by Charlie Brown. The implications of this resolution are fundamentally dependent on the object, Christmas Day.

The Definition

            So, we applied this definition to not only movies, but TV shows and books and all stories that want to be labeled Christmas. We concluded with this definition:

A Christmas Story Is Any Story In Which The Main Plot Line Is Resolved On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Or During An Organized Christmas Function Or Christmas Representative.

With all loose ends wrapped up, one question must then be answered.

Is Die Hard A Christmas Movie?

            Die Hard’s plot begins on Christmas Eve, happens entirely during an organized Christmas function, and resolves on Christmas Day. By the definition defended above, not only is Die Hard a Christmas movie, but it may in fact be the ultimate Christmas movie of all time.

Nathan Walker

Nathan A. Walker is Jon Walker's son. He currently attends the College at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in pursuit of a Bachelor of Arts in Pastoral Ministry, with a Minor in Christian Studies. After graduation, he plans to pursue an Advanced M.Div., and, after that, a Ph.D. in New Testament.