‘Tis the season!  Each year, starting in mid-November, the approaching holiday season brings about a change in folks.  As they shop for gifts and prepare for their annual traditions, the world around them presents music and movies geared towards common themes and iconography.  With December 25th bringing a large Christmas Day movie-viewing audience, each year without fail, Hollywood produces films which are geared directly to the season.

Whether they are huge movie enthusiasts or only include movie-watching as a small part of their overall entertainment, most folks have their favorites.  After decades of movies being produced with Christmas themes, there are plenty of options.  Whether “White Christmas” is your favorite movie of the season or the thought of watching it is nap-inspiring, none would dispute it’s status as a Christmas movie.  Its name not withstanding, the events which unfold in the film make that clear.

One film about which there is some debate is the 1988 Bruce Willis action film Die Hard.

I would fully expect folks who haven’t watched Die Hard to raise an eyebrow when hearing claims that the film is a Christmas movie, but amongst many movie-watchers I know, it’s a seasonal favorite.  During recent discussions with friends and family over what movies they like to watch this time of year, the debate over Die Hard’s qualifications to even be on a list of Christmas movies began.

I’m here to tell you that although it’s not my personal favorite Christmas movie, I’d certainly argue that it definitely belongs on a list of Christmas films.

It’s not your typical Christmas movie by any stretch of the imagination.  Upwards of a dozen or more folks die over the film’s 120+ minute span.  Swearing is rampant.  Blood is smeared on walls and floors and windows.  At least three explosions light up the screen.  Al of that, and not a single visit from Santa Claus, though “Ho-Ho-Ho” is written on the shirt of a dead terrorist in blood.

Die Hard is not your typical Christmas movie, but that doesn’t change the fact that it does fit the mold.

The film is all about an attempted reconciliation for a man and his estranged wife.  John McClane makes the trip from New York City out to Los Angeles to be with his family for Christmas.  He wants things to work out between he and his wife.  He didn’t initially go to California with her because he felt a civic duty to see the criminals he arrested in New York come to justice.  He wants to be with his family for the holiday season, and they want him there with them.  They miss one another, and the holiday season magnifies those emotions.

Through enduring both the emotional and physical pain, John McClane realizes he is partially to blame for the current state of his family and issues a heart-felt apology.  With plenty of sequels having been released in the past 20 years, it’s no big spoiler that John McClane and his wife are reunited at the end of the film to live “happily ever after”, which is part of the Christmas Miracle resulting from the film, in addition to the miracle involved in the dozen terrorists being ultimately defeated.

There’s also a side-story involving the redemption of the first responding officer played by Reginald VelJohnson, overcoming a terribly tragic mistake he made early in his career to emerge as one of the heroes at the end of this film.

One of the arguments against Die Hard being considered a Christmas movie states that if you were to take the overall plot of the movie and shift it to a different date, it would still hold up.  Would Die Hard still be a classic film if it took place on July 4th or a random Friday in August or at Halloween?  Probably, but it wouldn’t have the same impact.  Christmas is a time to be with family, a time whether many take part in introspective reflection and seek redemption. That’s what great Christmas movies are all about, Die Hard included.

You could take Christmas out of the equation for plenty of great Christmas movies and they’d still hold up:

  • If Kevin McCallister had been left Home Alone in the middle of January as his huge family went on vacation, Macaulay Culkin could have still become a child star by entertaining audiences with fun gags to prevent thieves from robbing his family.
  • The love-lives of over a dozen individuals with inter-woven stories could still have been presented in touching fashion to present Love, Actually without involving the holiday season.  There’s a reason they picked Christmas instead of Valentine’s Day or a random day in October.
  • Dressing up Will Ferrell as one of Santa’s helpers could have still been hilarious if the fish-out-of-water story had been presented with Buddy traveling to New York City to seek out his biological parents in May.
  • Ralphie could have obsessed over wanting a Red Ryder BB Gun for his birthday and been warned about shooting his eye out in late January.  Frustrations with neighborhood dogs running amok, kids getting their tongues stuck to frozen metal poles and children being immobilized by winter weather wear could all happen without the holidays.

In all of these movies, Christmas is an important part of the plot.  The themes of families coming together, reconciliation, seasonal traditions, and seeking a Christmas miracle are present.  Die Hard  would not be the same movie without taking place on December 24th, and neither would the other movies I mentioned.

Christmas movies are just like Christmas music.  There are plenty of options available because Christmas means something different to different people, and each person has their own traditions they like to experience during the season.  While blood, swearing, explosions and killing might not be your idea of key elements to include in a Christmas movie, that’s not much different than the other differences which exist when comparing your seasonal traditions to those of others around you.  Die Hard might not be your favorite Christmas movie, but it IS a Christmas movie.

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