The Flavorwire Holiday Canon

By
Share:

Well, the leftover pies and turkey sandwiches are finally depleted, so you know what that means: time to leap into some holiday movies, music, books, and television. But seasonal pop culture has become such a cottage industry — after all, it’s quite literally the gift that keeps on giving, with fresh sales and downloads year after year — it can become a bit overwhelming. What are the definitive holiday viewings, readings, and listens? Faced with that daunting question, your Flavorwire editors each selected a handful of their seasonal favorites, and jotted down a few words to explain why. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

The Shop Around the Corner (dir. Ernst Lubitsch)

“When everything seems hopeless and lost,” Pedro Costa once wrote, “Dr. Lubitsch is the one to call.” What better film to turn your sad, embittered holiday around than Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner? This is to say that, to my mind at least, Lubitsch’s Christmas movie, set in Budapest, is preferable to It’s a Wonderful Life. For me it comes down to Lubitsch’s weird humor, the film’s cleverly plotted source material, and, above all, the dramatic weight (compared to Capra’s film) of its thwarted suicide. Still, your choice — why not watch both? — could come down to your preferred vintage of Jimmy Stewart. 1940 or 1946? –Jonathon Sturgeon, Literary Editor

It’s a Wonderful Life (dir. Frank Capra)

I’ll take 1946, Jonathon, but just barely. I’ve always loved the backstory of how Capra’s family drama became a perennial favorite: a bit of sloppy copywriting put it in the public domain for several years, which meant local stations could show it as often as they wanted, for free — and boy did they. But it doesn’t always play like a Christmas movie; the holiday itself isn’t even mentioned until minute 100, and its dark overtones are hardly standard feel-good fare. Yet its beautiful closing passages summarize the feeling of the season more than any straightforward holiday tale: this is a story about valuing one’s family, friends, and community, and when Harry Bailey bursts in to that Christmas party and toasts his big brother George as “the richest man in town,” what first sounds like a corny joke becomes a heartwarming tribute to the capacity of the human spirit. –Jason Bailey

A Christmas Carol (dir. Brian Desmond-Hurst)

My Jewish dad introduced us to this version of Dickens’ sadly ever-relevant moral tale. It’s the most Dickens-y of adaptations, with Sims’ Scrooge portrayed as particularly grotesque in his miserly indifference, and then the most absurd and delightful after his redemption at the hands of three ghosts. He even dances. The line that Scrooge tosses off in regard to poverty, which later comes back to haunt him — “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” — still sounds like it would fit in perfectly in a contemporary GOP debate. –Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large

The Muppet Christmas Carol (dir. Brian Henson)

Admission: I have never read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, nor have I seen any other film adaptation of it (though I’ve probably seen every TV episode that riffs on it). I watched The Muppet Christmas Carol early in my life, and it became the only version for me. It’s warm and wonderful: Rizzo providing commentary (“Light the lamp, not the rat!”), Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Michael Caine (!) as Scrooge. But what’s even better is the soundtrack, which my family and I listened to on drives to elementary school all year round, never once getting sick of it (except for “When Love Is Gone,” the song we never talk about). –Pilot Viruet, TV Editor

Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (dir. Chris Columbus)

If you’ve spent any time on a suburban couch during the holidays, chances are you’ve caught either (or both) of these Chris Columbus/John Hughes holiday classics on basic cable. The films follow iconic ‘90s brat Kevin McCallister as he leads a pair of bungling burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) through a funhouse of horrors — first in a suburban Chicago mansion, then in a New York brownstone. Even if you’ve seen them 100 times, it’s hard not to revel in the burglars’ pain, or in the second-most-embarrassing roles of Joe Pesci’s career. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz, Music Editor

Miracle on 34th Street (dir. George Seaton)

Pure treacle, and rather reactionary to boot — but also charming filmmaking that showcases beautiful Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood. My adult self cringes, but my childhood self, watching while the grown-ups cooked, remains enthralled. – Sarah Seltzer

Bad Santa (dir. Terry Zwigoff)

The darkest Christmas film ever, but also the funniest — in this correspondent’s opinion, anyway, although your mileage may vary, as they say. If you stick out the unrelentingly bleak first hour — Santa’s an alcoholic! Santa’s a racist! Santa pissed his pants! — you’ll be rewarded with a denouement that’s both blackly funny and curiously touching. Shit really does happen if you party naked, eh? –Tom Hawking, Deputy Editor

Un Conte de Noël (dir. Arnaud Desplechin)

No bourgeois virtue goes unchallenged (or uncelebrated!) in Arnaud Desplechin’s Un Conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale), which is by some measure the best Christmas movie of recent years. It’s also a vintage Desplechin family-ensemble-psychodramedy, which is to say that it’s a lively, Shakespearean mishmash with the neurotic energy of a well-fed, pilled-up, drunken, morally compromised family forced together for the holidays. As the story unfolds, it takes the shape of the house where it’s set: it’s multistoried, large, and it contains hidden interiors. It has been said many times that the Vuillard family resembles the Tenenbaums — this is obviously true. But the film itself is deeper, more adult, more alive, and less plastic than anything made by Wes Anderson, and Desplechin is a much better director of actors. Catherine Deneuve is timeless here as the family matriarch who faces death with a grace and good humor rarely seen in cinema outside of Only Angels Have Wings. –Jonathon Sturgeon

Black Christmas (dir. Bob Clark)

Bob Clark’s 1974 film is one of the earliest and most influential slasher films in horror cinema, laying the groundwork for John Carpenter’s Halloween and other classics. The oh-so-popular convention of a killer calling from inside the house started as an urban legend, but Black Christmas brought the terrifying tale to life. It’s a simple premise; a murderous madman torments a group of sorority girls stuck at school during the Christmas season with obscene, threatening phone calls. But Black Christmas isn’t a mere body count movie, and it’s impossible to dismiss its characters as lazy tropes. Clark depicts final girl Jess (Olivia Hussey) as a resourceful, smart woman faced with the difficulty of an abortion, who is neither a nerdy virgin or promiscuous party girl. Jess also takes matters into her own hands when the police department fumbles the case. The camera offers chilling point-of-view shots from the killer’s perspective, but the psychopath remains shrouded in mystery. Clark lends a complex psychological element to the movie by composing his killer’s disturbing voice from three different voices — actor Nick Mancuso’s, his own, and an unnamed actress — confronting us with the monstrous id run amok. The holiday canon tends to focus on hearth and home, but Black Christmas penetrates our deepest fears about what we hold sacred and the places we feel safe. –Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

Die Hard (dir. John McTiernan)

It’s become a bit of a cliché to champion the groundbreaking 1988 action film (and its pretty-good 1990 sequel) as alternate Christmas fare, but you can understand the inclination: with so many of the holiday cinema standards trafficking in family-friendly syrup and Tim Allen-centered Santa humor, a bloody, foul-mouthed, R-rated shoot-‘em-up is a pretty welcome palate cleanser. And to be fair, Die Hard’s seasonal setting isn’t just window dressing; aside from the vital importance of wrapping tape in the climax, it’s ultimately a story of the familial discord and forgiveness that are such a vital part of the holidays. Plus, the unsung catchphrase “Now I have a machine gun, ho ho ho” will liven up any Christmas gathering. –Jason Bailey

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (dir. Shane Black)

But if you’d like a less-oft-cited R-rated holiday action flick, allow me to suggest this criminally underrated 2005 mystery/comedy from writer/director Shane Black, which gives us Robert Downey Jr. as a thief-turned-wannabe-actor, Val Kilmer as a gay private eye, and Michelle Monaghan in a Santa suit. Christmas settings are sort of Black’s signature (Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Iron Man 3 all take place during the holiday season), and this is his most purely entertaining picture to date, a snazzily self-aware and cracklingly witty neo-noir that gets a fair amount of Annie Hall-style giggles from the silliness of Christmas in sunny California. –Jason Bailey

Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)

Are you sick of hearing about Carol on Flavorwire? Well, too bad — because it’s not just a stunning film based on a groundbreaking cult-classic novel, featuring two astounding performances and directed by one of our greatest living filmmakers; it’s also an excellent example of a holiday film that isn’t pure saccharine. The central love affair begins when Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett) lock eyes in the department store where Therese is a seasonal cashier, decked out in a sort of pitiful Santa hat. From there, we watch their tree-buying expedition and interrupted Christmas Eve and fraught gift exchanges — and then there’s the title character’s seasonally appropriate name. But what’s truly apt about Carol‘s timing is that it takes place during the transition from one year to the next, in a way that echoes the new beginning the story offers to both of its lead characters. –Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

The Hebrew Hammer (dir. Jonathan Kesselman)

Look, I’m Jewish — and “the holidays” (come on, euphemisms don’t make Hanukkah any less of a consolation prize) are pretty much the only time of year when I don’t feel well and thoroughly represented by the entertainment industry. Thankfully, endless Comedy Central reruns introduced me to this underrated gem, perhaps the only true Hanukkah movie in existence. Adam Goldberg, late of Fargo Season 1, stars as blaxploitation-style action hero Mordechai Jefferson Carver, a man on a mission to save Jewish children from Damian Claus’ evil plan to brainwash them with bootleg copies of It’s a Wonderful Life. The heart and soul of this movie, however, are the jokes: the “dirty talk” about sending their kids to good colleges! The Buddhist-to-Jew whining meter in the lobby of the Anti-Defamation League! The counter-brainwashing campaign of Yentl and Fiddler on the Roof! Before I discovered my parents’ Woody Allen movies, Jonathan Kesselman showed me what if felt like to see one’s culture lovingly parodied. –Alison Herman, Associate Editor

“The Hanukkah Song” (Adam Sandler)

Perhaps the only thing Adam Sandler has ever done that can be described as “genius” is combining, in one ditty, all the things that rhyme-ish with “Hanukkah” (like marijuanica and gin and tonica) with American Jews’ favorite pastime: playing the “Which celebrities are Jewish?” game. His intonation is perfect, and the song is a modern classic. Every year, thousands of people take to Google to see if Harrison Ford really is a quarter Jewish. Not too shabby, indeed. –Sarah Seltzer

“Must Be Santa” video (Bob Dylan)

If Bob Dylan’s “Must Be Santa” video isn’t canonical, exactly, it certainly should be. No more “Jingle Bells” — people should play it as they sit by the fireside cracking nuts, sipping ‘nog, and opening re-gifted copies of Purity. The video sees Dylan dressed as a bewigged something-or-other while a polka band offers up a creepy, frenetic rendition of the call-and-response Christmas song formerly sung by Raffi. Bob Dylan’s tongue-in-cheek (but also tongue-drunkenly-dangling-from-mouth) rebrand as a decrepit, pirate Harry Connick Jr. is one of the most curious — and endlessly intriguing — moments of, well, Harry Connick Jr.’s career. –Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

“O Come Emmanuel” (Neil Diamond)

Depending on how you look at it, Christmastime for Jews can be either overly complicated or deliciously simple — kind of like this version of the several-hundred-year-old hymn, in which Jewish icon Neil Diamond gloriously weaves tales of Hebrew captivity with the coming of the savior Jesus Christ in his velvet baritone. Because regardless of your religious leanings, we can all find solace in the dulcet tones of Neil’s vocal chords. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” (Mariah Carey)

It’s rare that a contemporary Christmas song enters the holiday canon, but from the moment Mariah Carey debuted this tune in 1994, it was an instant classic. At its core, it carries a message that is at least ambivalent to capitalism; Carey’s lyrics profess that she can do without all the presents and decorations, as long as she has her lover. It’s a joyous message with only a little of the cheese that traditionally accompanies Christmas tunes, and if you doubt its cred, just ask Grimes, who twisted faces and eardrums when she dropped this gem into her Boiler Room session. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

Yes, yes, I know, the name of producer Spector conjures up all sorts of unpleasant connotations these days (and his creepy voiceover appearance on the closing track will leave most listeners nodding and thinking, “Yep, that totally sounds like a crazy guy who killed a lady in his house”). Be that as it may, A Christmas Gift is, bar none, the single finest holiday album of all time, with Spector deploying his signature “Wall of Sound” style and several of his favorite artists (Darlene Love, the Ronettes, The Crystals, and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans) on a series of seasonal standards, along with the original “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” That one become a perennial (and deservedly so), while the Spector treatment makes the other, older songs sound fresh and new again. Most holiday recordings play like kitschy cash-ins; more than a half-century after its release (on the day before the Kennedy assassination, yeesh), A Christmas Gift is as energetic and enjoyable as any music of the period. –Jason Bailey

“Santa Baby” (Eartha Kitt)

A look at any list of artists who’ve covered the comic, and quintessentially ’50s, standard “Santa Baby” is overwhelming — especially in that all of them (including the likes of Ariana Grande, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Kylie Minogue, and Taylor Swift) could never hope to compare to the wonderful peculiarity of the original, sung by Eartha Kitt. Kitt, whose voice was already awesomely strange, adds to it an eerie sexy-baby persona that emphasizes the innuendo in “hurry down the chimney tonight.” As she lists the various luxuries she hopes Santa will bring, a male chorus intones “ba boom, ba boom” with similarly false innocence. This tongue-in-cheek sexualizing of the fat old man who sends branded gifts down through the gaping mouths of suburban chimneys is perhaps the best musical encapsulation of post-war commodity fetishism there is. It also happens to be, simply, damn fun to listen to. —Moze Halperin

A John Waters Christmas

This is an artifact that, if it didn’t exist, surely the universe would call forth fully formed from the void, because really there’s no way that we should have to live in a world without a John Waters Christmas album. It’s… well, it’s exactly what you might imagine a John Waters Christmas album to be, really: full of schmaltzy songs that are weirdly menacing in their unabashed saccharine flavor. There’s also an appearance from Tiny Tim, speaking of whom… –Tom Hawking

“Santa Claus Has Got the Aids This Year” (Tiny Tim)

We’ve covered this before, but whether or not you believe the explanation that the song actually refers to some sort of dietary supplement and not, y’know, actual AIDS, it remains what has to be the single most bizarre Christmas song ever released. With the benefit of distance, too, it’s… well, come on, it’s hilarious, right? –Tom Hawking

“No Presents for Christmas” (King Diamond)

Neil Diamond might work for grandma, and Mariah Carey for anyone with a pulse, but if you want to celebrate christmas with the undead, look no further than this punishing yuletide tune to set the mood. No one does metal like the Scandinavians, and after a short jingle-bell fake-out intro, King Diamond’s evil laugh, double bass drum, and sizzling finger-tapping remind you that Christmas can be dark and still be fun. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

“Christmas Time in Hollis” (Run-DMC)

At the other end of the Christmas song scale, we have Run-DMC’s “Christmas Time in Hollis,” which was a) a blatant cash-in and b) awesome nonetheless. The group’s two MCs bring their usual charisma to the verses (the vision of Run returning Santa’s wallet is particularly good, as is DMC rhyming “Hollis, Queens” with “collard greens”). There’s also the elf in the video, who’s spookily reminiscent of the Ferrari-borrowing garage attendant in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Tom Hawking

“Last Christmas” (Manic Street Preachers)

The rock-vocalist-covers-a-pop-song thing has been done to death, but this dates from before the trope was quite as tired as it is now, and either way, it’s great. (Their live covers of the Wham! song have become something of a Christmas tradition, too.) –Tom Hawking

The Hard Nut (Mark Morris)

I confess, I’m one of those terrible people who saw about 15 versions of The Nutcracker (live and on video) as a kid, yet never did the work of learning really anything else about ballet. But at least I’ve graduated from the sticky-sweet original to this 1991 adaptation by the great contemporary choreographer Mark Morris. With a midcentury setting and an aesthetic that draws on the comics of Charles Burns, The Hard Nut updates, queers, and psychoanalyzes Tchaikovsky’s ballet — but still manages to keep the elements of fun and holiday wonder intact. New Yorkers can catch it at BAM this year, December 12-20; if you can’t see it in person, there’s also a DVD. –Judy Berman

“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (Community)

There are few recent-ish shows on NBC that have made me laugh as much as Community did, but there is no sitcom in NBC’s history that has made me cry as hard as Community did. Basically every episode that centered on Abed’s brain made me sob, and “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” is no exception. Yet even with all the emotional weight — Abed basically breaking because it’s the first time his mother isn’t visiting, and he’s coming to terms with spending the holiday alone — it’s still very funny (it includes a sick burn on Lost) and impressively creative (the claymation!), with an emotional punch that will stick with you. –Pilot Viruet

“Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” (Mad Men)

Mad Men wasn’t the kind of show to run a Very Special Christmas Episode, and that’s part of what makes its Christmas-set Season 3 finale one of its finest hours. It’s the first of a few periodic episodes where the entire series gets reset, with Sterling, Cooper, Draper, and Pryce brilliantly dodging a McCann Erickson buyout by having Lane kill their contracts. “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” also weaves in other big transitions in Don’s life, from the end of his and Betty’s marriage to one of the show’s few flashbacks to Don’s youth that actually work. Of course, all of this instability is totally dissonant with the comfort the holidays are supposed to provide — a fact thrown into hilarious relief when Lane responds to the news that he’s been fired from PPL with a jaunty, “Very good! Happy Christmas!” –Judy Berman

30 Rock‘s Christmas episodes

I tried to pick just one of these, but it’s impossible. All of them are fantastic and bitingly funny, whether it’s “Ludachristmas,” in which we spend time with Liz’s developmentally challenged brother (Andy Richter) and Jack’s condescending mother (Elaine Stritch), or “Christmas Special,” which finds nonstop humor in Liz’s liberal white guilt. 30 Rock often goes for the head more than the heart, but its twisted, sweet Christmas episodes take aim at both. –Pilot Viruet

“Xmas Story” (NewsRadio)

Maybe it was something in the water over at NBC, but the network’s Must-See sitcoms tended to kill it with Christmas episodes. NewsRadio‘s Season 2 episode is one of the show’s funniest, as punching bag Matthew struggles to figure out why Mr. James gave the entire staff sports cars but only gave him some comedy tapes. It could easily be written off as another cheap joke about Matthew being the sad-sack, put-upon member of the office. Instead, NewsRadio makes it surprisingly sentimental: It’s clear that Mr. James thought hard about Matthew’s gift — but then gave up with the rest of the staff, opting for identical cars instead. And if that’s not enough, the first gag of the crew getting cheap hats and the B-story with Bill convinced he’s being stalked by a psycho Santa Claus both make the episode that much better. –Pilot Viruet

“Roman Holiday” (Gossip Girl)

I could just say “dumb high schoolers losing their virginity in a winter wonderland sex cave” and leave it at that. OR I could hype up “Roman Holiday” (no TV show has ever had better episode titles than Gossip Girl — every single one of them is a movie reference) as an excellent example of the heights this show reached back in its first season, when it was still theoretically a high school show and it didn’t have a terrible, nonsensical ending that made one of its main characters into a creepy stalker. Gay dads! Weird class dynamics! A high schooler who somehow got published in the New Yorker! And yeah, it all culminates in Dan and Serena’s kinda-romantic, kinda-weird tryst. God, I miss this show. –Alison Herman

“A Rugrats Kwanzaa” (Rugrats)

For years, it seemed that Kwanzaa only appeared on television as a punchline, so it was incredibly refreshing and vindicating to see a show actually explain, depict, and celebrate the holiday — even if it took a cartoon to do it. Rugrats had a lot of holiday episodes, but the most memorable to me, for obvious reasons, was “A Rugrats Kwanzaa.” It shifted the focus from the white babies to Susie Carmichael’s family, particularly her Great Aunt, who tells captivating stories about the Civil Rights Movement. But what’s most important is how all of Susie’s friends immediately accept this holiday, and Susie’s black culture, without a second thought. –Pilot Viruet

“Pilot” (Six Feet Under)

What better a way to begin a show about approaches to death in contemporary America than through the chintzy commodification of the birth of Christ, whose life and death some 70.6% of Americans use, in some way or another, to comprehend their family’s (and their own) lives and eventual deaths? Six Feet Under doesn’t seem to have a religious agenda, but rather sees people confronting and questioning their intricate personal and societal myths about death when actually faced with it — and when faced with the price tags the American death industry places on mourning. Fittingly, the game-changing TV series begins with the central family’s patriarch driving a hearse down a sun- and heat-saturated, Christmas-decorated LA boulevard, and lighting a cigarette as he sings along to “I’ll be home for Christmas… if only in my dreams,” before a bus slams into him and kills him. How will this sudden death affect what Christmas supposedly represents — familial togetherness, faith, burdensome expenses — for the Fisher family? The pilot episode explores this through an ill-timed meth experience at a morgue, a grief-accelerated romance, escalated fraternal tension, a cantaloupe-smashing outburst in a supermarket that angers a sad Santa-hat-sporting clerk, yet another food-smashing outburst involving a pot roast, and the ensuing the defeated proclamation, “Your father is dead and my pot roast is ruined.” –Moze Halperin

Ian McShane as the Murder Santa on American Horror Story: Asylum

It must have taken an ungodly sum of money to get legendary actor and Golden Age of Television hall-of-famer Ian McShane to stop by AHS — though who knows? Maybe McShane’s a closet Glee fan — but it was worth every penny. Asylum is, hands down, American Horror Story’s finest season to date, and the only one that qualifies as straight-up good television, rather than “good if you’re into what it’s doing.” Objective quality, however, doesn’t mean giving up the joyous havoc that makes this show tick. No Asylum character embodied that better than Leigh “Murder Santa” Emerson, McShane’s Claus-obsessed serial killer who terrorizes Briarcliff in AHS’ version of a Christmas episode. It all culminates in a showdown between McShane and Jessica Lange, a two-hander that gives Carrie Coon and Regina King of The Leftovers a run for their money. A little stupid, a little scary, a little masterful: McShane’s appearance is Asylum in a nutshell. –Alison Herman

“Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (Mystery Science Theater 3000, et. al.)

This 1966 family movie first dug itself out of obscurity when it appeared in the seminal 1978 volume The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. But it truly earned its bad-movie bona fides when it appeared on a third season episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000; with its cheapo special effects, dopey script, lead-footed direction, and dire “comic relief” (oh, Dropo!), it was perfect MST3K fodder. And it deservedly became one of that show’s most beloved episodes, spawning not only recurring gags and seasonal viewings, but two return visits — one by the MST alum crew Rifftrax, and another by the rest of the alums at Cinematic Titanic. You would think a movie would have to be spectacularly inept to spawn not one, not two, but three sets of jeering riffs. And you’d be right. –Jason Bailey

Festivus (Seinfeld)

Writer Dan O’Keefe did the world a huge favor when he brought “Festivus” — an anti-holiday celebrated solely by his family, and created by his writer father Daniel O’Keefe — to Seinfeld. It was an especially smart decision to write it as a Costanza tradition — as any subplot involving the histrionic Frank and Estelle Costanza is bound for a hilarious explosion — and, sure, explosive hilarity. Festivus is something of a beau ideal for us secular misanthropes. Instead of a prettily adorned Christmas tree, its main symbol (in the Seinfeld episode, at least) is an aluminum pole. And instead of predicating tradition around sleeping through a break-in by a portly and oddly generous creep, Festivus sees its celebrators directly interacting with, and challenging the authority of, Father Festivus. In order for the holiday to end, one has to wrestle Jerry Stiller. I cannot think of a better tradition. –Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

“A Visit from St. Nicholas” (Clement Clark Moore)

The original title of Moore’s poem is “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” but it is known more popularly as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” And popular is the right word: it is not only responsible for drastically expanding the Santa Claus imaginarium (even though it stole from Washington Irving), but it is also probably the most widely known poem ever written by an American. How did this come to be? Well, for one, the poem is written in anapestic tetrameter, a meter that is proven to syringe itself straight into your memory — a fact that was later demonstrated by Dr. Seuss and Eminem. Also, the poem is likely laced with consumerist subliminals; it was responsible for turning the tide away from New Year’s as the seasonal holiday of choice because it transformed St. Nick into a fantastical, chubby Protestant elf who peddles toys. And, in case you were wondering, Moore likely composed the poem while he was shopping. –Jonathon Sturgeon

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Dr. Seuss)

The story of a politically radical, isolated, renegade misophoniac who fails to escape the twin Hells of consumerism and religion, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is an imperfect antidote to “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Why is it imperfect? Well, what the title fails to explain is that after stealing all of the Whos’ presents — all of the nasty fruits of their consumerism and industry — the little ones inspire him to go back on his plan, to return their gifts, by singing Christmas songs. In other words, the Grinch becomes enchanted by the power of religion and returns Christmas after stealing it. In the end we see him in the position of Christ at the Last Supper, carving the Roast Beast. –Jonathon Sturgeon

Christmas Pudding (Nancy Mitford)

No one does Christmas like the English upper classes, and few authors have chronicled that demographic as wittily or observantly at Nancy Mitford. In this early Mitford novel, from 1932, a few Bright Young Things end up at an uptight aristocratic country house for the holidays. What ensues is a tale of artistic pretensions and generation gaps that might feel surprisingly (and a bit shamefully) contemporary to any young creative types traveling home this month to visit their well-heeled families. And whether you relate to it or not, the dialogue is hilarious. –Judy Berman

“One Christmas Eve” (Langston Hughes)

The penultimate story of Hughes’ The Ways of White Folks, “One Christmas Eve” is a short, unadorned work of literary realism that begins with the worried mind of Arcie, a maid who works for an aloof, unsympathetic white family in a small town in the 1930s, and ends with the worried mind of her young son, Joe. Short on money because her employer overspends on presents, Arcie nevertheless makes her way to the ten-cent store, where she hopes to buy Joe at least one Christmas gift. Along the way, Joe gets a quick-and-ready education on the callousness of white America, especially by way of an appropriately sinister Santa Claus. “Oh,” he responds. –Jonathon Sturgeon

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman)

Jewish kids, particularly ones who grow up in overwhelmingly Christian communities, as I did, don’t encounter too many books (or movies, or songs, or TV specials) about our holidays. While I could list dozens of Christmas stories I heard as a kid, this is the only Hanukkah book I remember owning — a retelling of a folk tale where a hero named Hershel saves a village from the goblins who regularly ruin its annual Festival of Lights. The book, which received a Caldecott medal, is beautifully illustrated and contains Jewish touchstones ranging from pickles to valuable moral lessons. And I’m pretty sure that, at least the first time I read it as an elementary schooler, some of those goblins scared the shit out of me. –Judy Berman

Chinese food and movies, aka Jewish Christmas

I genuinely enjoy this counter-tradition that’s gone mainstream. (Is Christians indulging in Jewish Christmas a form of cultural appropriation? You tell me!) First of all, there are actually enough good movies in the theaters that you can find something you want to see no matter what’s sold out. Second of all, there is absolutely nothing else to do if you’re not attending mass, gathering round the tree, caroling, or manifesting the belief that Christ is your savior. So it’s pretty much the only option for us War on Christmas wagers. Pass the lo mein, and the matinee tickets. –Sarah Seltzer

ABC Family’s Harry Potter marathon

What started as a Christmas tradition rapidly metastasized into an “anytime we’re short on original programming and have an excuse to re-air a massively popular franchise” tradition, and Lord knows whether it’ll survive once the network fully rebrands as “Freeform.” But some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around killing time on Christmas by revisiting the only universal touchstone my fragmented, post-Internet generation has. (Watching TV has the benefit of being free, unlike the more traditional non-Christian-Christmas pastime of hitting up the local multiplex.) It also helps that Harry Potter‘s Christmas scenes never fail to warm the heart, or at least include a bizarre Radiohead cameo — shoutout to the Yule Ball! –Alison Herman

Fox News and the “War on Christmas”

Nothing entertains me more than the anchors and pundits on Fox News getting their tinsel in a tizzy over the “erosion” of a holiday whose traditions were originally borrowed from pagans and bolstered by multinational corporations. Whether it’s the anger directed at such flagrant abominations as Starbucks’ plain red cups or a “Happy Holidays!” sign or the gall of those who erect nativity scenes while denying entry to refugees, the foibles and hypocrisies of the season satisfy my inner Dorothy Parker. –Sarah Seltzer

Turducken

Stuffing birds inside of other birds is nothing new; the roti sans pareil (roast without equal) — a delicacy made by stuffing 17 birds inside of each other — was favored by the French aristocracy. Turducken, the popular American version, consists of a deboned chicken stuffed inside a duck which is then stuffed inside a turkey, with stuffing serving as the mortar that holds it all together. Former NFL head coach and broadcaster John Madden famously fell for the dish in the ’90s, even eating one with his hands on camera. A beautifully gluttonous symbol of American ingenuity. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Lindy West’s definitive Love Actually takedown

Love Actually is a terrible movie that does not deserve to be part of any holiday canon. But our belated recognition that Love Actually is, in fact, terrible definitely deserves a spot. And that’s why we all ought to thank Lindy West, a key standard bearer of said recognition. West is an Internet hero for many reasons — remember this? — but mostly because of “I Rewatched Love Actually and I’m Here to Ruin It for All of You,” a moment-by-moment breakdown of this “apex of cynically vacant faux-motional cash-grab garbage cinema.” Somehow, it only gets better from there. –Alison Herman