I have never liked Christmas. I’m a child of divorce. Any fall or winter holidays in my childhood consisted of being passed back and forth because of custody agreements, regardless of what I, the child in question, actually wanted. Christmas especially was a nightmare of being shunted between three sets of grandparents and two parents,
I have never liked Christmas. I’m a child of divorce. Any fall or winter holidays in my childhood consisted of being passed back and forth because of custody agreements, regardless of what I, the child in question, actually wanted. Christmas especially was a nightmare of being shunted between three sets of grandparents and two parents, with only one of those gatherings feeling like I was expected or even wanted.
It was a far cry from the Christmases I saw on every holiday movie, where rosy-cheeked children sat with warm and welcoming parents around a Christmas tree laden with presents. These characters rarely worried about money, as my closest family did, or anything that wasn’t spending time with their loved ones, those people that really cared and wanted them around.
Except Gremlins. My Christmases, however bad, never had actual, literal monsters wreaking havoc. But they’ve never been good, and that’s something the film understands, despite its ’80s cheese. Midway through the movie, Kate, the obligatory love interest, turns to protagonist William Peltzer and says, “You say you hate Washington’s Birthday or Thanksgiving and nobody cares, but you say you hate Christmas and people treat you like you’re a leper.”
I’m 28; I’ve embraced that people are going to call me Scrooge for the rest of my life, regardless of the fact that his sin was stinginess and cruelty. I love giving presents, and I’d do it all year if my budget allowed, but my past experiences with the holiday, nonetheless, get me labeled after one of literature’s most infamous villains.
Like me, Kate’s relationship with Christmas is traumatic. Hers much more so than mine—her father being stuck in the chimney and dying is so over-the-top dramatic and bizarre that studio executives wanted it removed from the film—but no less a shameful secret, not something I want to share with everybody who asks me why I don’t bother putting up a Christmas tree. One of the few times I showed any great love for Christmas was wearing a sweater with a giant Santa face on it, and a kid at school called me trailer trash. I threatened to fight him, my fourth-grade fists in the air, Santa sweater and all. He backed off.
The horror in Gremlins is, of course, the screeching little demons brought about by Williams’ inability to follow three simple rules. But it’s more than that, too—it’s the financial insecurity of Kingston Falls, where people are losing their jobs. William has to help support his family because his earnest, bumbling father is waiting to make it big on one of his inventions. Side conversations discuss people losing jobs. And during her tirade against the holiday, Kate discusses winter suicide rates in as crass a fashion as possible. There is so much darkness and fear and anxiety around Christmas—the monsters just make it explicit.
Christmas is lovely and wonderful and magical, except when it isn’t. Sometimes it’s economic insecurity, sometimes it’s the endless chess game of who gets the child on what day for what strategic purpose, sometimes it’s little goblin creatures storming the town pub and setting it aflame. Sometimes we find moments of genuine warmth in the chaos, sometimes we shrug and warm our hands on the flaming building because it’s all we have.
Gremlins isn’t the greatest Christmas movie by a long shot. It isn’t even my favorite Christmas movie—that honor belongs to A Muppet Christmas Carol, the most perfect and pure and good film on Earth. But Gremlins, for all its myriad flaws (and they are many), is the one that I feel really gets me. Christmas isn’t always a magical time of joy and snowflakes and heartwarming declarations of love, and that’s fine. We’ll get through it, monsters or no.