Marley's Ghost

Christmas horror is a fiction and film genre that incorporates horror elements into a seasonal setting.

Origins and history

The genre is part of a seasonal tradition in the UK dating to prehistoric celebrations of the winter solstice.[1][2][3] Hollywood Reporter said it was part of an early tradition of associating the death of winter with the coming rebirth of spring, citing Shakespeare's 1623 The Winter's Tale as a precursor to the genre.[2]

Charles Dickens' 1843 A Christmas Carol is an early example of the genre in fiction, which according to the British Film Institute "forever tied the festive season to the genre".[1][4][5] Dickens wrote other ghost stories with holiday settings, such as the 1866 The Signal-man.[4]

M. R. James wrote ghost stories in the early 1900s which he read aloud to friends at Christmas time as part of a tradition of such holiday entertainments.[6][7]

The film genre fully emerged in the 1970s.[8][2] Early examples in film are is 1971's Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and the 1972 Silent Night, Bloody Night.[9][2] 1972's Tales from the Crypt was the first to feature a killer dressed as Santa.[2] 1974's Black Christmas is considered an influential classic of the genre.[9][2][10] The genre faded for a few years amid a glut of slasher films in the late 1970s and early 1980s but was revived by Gremlins and Silent Night, Deadly Night, both in 1984.

In the 1970s, the BBC broadcast an annual A Ghost Story for Christmas based on James' short stories.[1] It later produced Christopher Lee's Ghost Stories for Christmas in which Lee played James reading his stories aloud, and then a reboot of Ghost Story for Christmas, both series airing in the early 2000s. [4]


The genre typically juxtaposes horror elements with communal seasonal expectations of a period of peace and kindness.[9]

Christmas horror novels and films are sometimes based on horror elements from a variety of Christmas storytelling traditions, including Krampus and Perchta of Central Europe, who punish miscreants, sometimes in cooperation with Santa Claus, and Kallikantzaroi of Southeastern Europe, who create general mayhem during the season.[1] Examples of the genre in which a killer is disguised as Santa are common, but those in which an actual Santa commits violence are rare but exist.[11][2]


Paste connected the the popularity of the genre to the juxtaposition of violence and fear with a season that is commonly regarded as a time when people are expected to treat one another with unusual kindness, saying that "Setting a bloodbath against the pristine, jealously guarded specter of Christmas, on the other hand, has always been angling for a certain level of purposeful offense, because there have always been folks who take the defense of the holiday’s image very seriously. Perhaps tearing down that institution (or at least gently ribbing it) is simply too tempting to resist."[9]

Hollywood Reporter speculated that the genre's appeal was a reflection that "Christmas isn’t the happiest time of the year for everyone" and that it provided "a means to conquer and control some of the less delightful aspects that seep into the holiday".[2]

NPR said the relatability of the genre seemed obvious: "It's not too hard to make the case that Christmas stories can be scary...that large man sneaking into your home at midnight after watching you all year. No wonder there's an entire genre of Christmas-themed horror movies".[12]


  1. ^ a b c d Thompson, Eliza (2021-12-06). "The 13 Best Christmas Horror Movies". Time. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Newby, Richard (2018-12-21). "The Strange Appeal of Christmas Horror". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  3. ^ Morton, Caitlin (2021-12-17). "Here Comes Santa's Claws: A Brief History of Christmas Horror Movies". The Gutter Review. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  4. ^ a b c Angelini, Sergio (23 December 2005). "BFI Screenonline: Ghost Stories". Screenonline. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  5. ^ Blichert, Frederick (2017-12-22). "Christmas Is the Perfect Time to Binge on Horror Movies". Vice. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  6. ^ "‎Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M. R. James". Apple Podcasts. 2021-11-14. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  7. ^ "The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James". p. Preface. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  8. ^ DuPée, Matthew C. (2022). A Scary Little Christmas: A History of Yuletide Horror Films, 1972–2020. McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-1-4766-7999-0.
  9. ^ a b c d Vorel, Jim (21 December 2022). "25 of the Best Christmas Horror Movies". Paste Magazine. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  10. ^ Gunning, Cathal (2022-12-22). "You've Probably Never Seen The Best Christmas Horror Movie". ScreenRant. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  11. ^ Piepenburg, Erik (2 December 2022). "When Santa Slays: Holiday Genre Movies". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Ulaby, Neda (12 December 2015). "Oh Holy Fright: Christmas Horror Movies That Slay". NPR.