by Thomas Cowley – Originally published on Rain Man Digital
The holiday season is something of a mixed bag for most people. On one hand you (usually) have time off from school and work, you can eat cookies and drink in the middle of the day without judgment, and people give you gifts. On the other hand, the holidays mean traffic, incurring massive credit card debt in order to avoid the awkward situation in which someone gives you an iPhone and you hand them a paltry bag filled with fruit cake and socks. And of course, every store turning into an impromptu fight club where the winner gets to go home with the new 4k television and a fistful of their opponent’s hair. So why do we do go through it all? Partly because it’s tradition. Part of it is greed. After all, if we do not get anyone gifts, then they will not give us gifts! But the real reason, the reason we are supposed to keep in mind as we stand in the freezing snow at 3 a.m., waiting for Target to open in the hopes of obtaining one of the only four Hatchimals in existence, is to spread good will and appreciate those dearest to us. This is not always easy to do. And yet somehow, a horror show on the CW was able to capture the very heart of Christmas, both the good and the bad, and deliver a surprisingly strong episode that is as dark as it is touching.
The episode, written by future showrunner Jeremy Carver and appropriately titled “A Very Supernatural Christmas,” takes place in the middle of Season 3. Dean’s soul is doomed to Hell, and Sam is struggling to find a way to either stop it or, if necessary, accept the fact that his brother will soon be dead. Dean, knowing this may very well be his last Christmas, wants to pull together a last minute celebration, tree and all. Sam, much to Dean’s surprise, is vehemently again it, citing their less than stellar Christmases from childhood as a reason to avoid the holiday. This divide is a central theme for the episode. In many ways, Sam and Dean represent the two common opinions on the Holidays: those who look back at previous yuletide cheer with fondness, and those who would prefer to forget them. Much of the imagery we see for most of the episode seems to reinforce Sam’s opinion. Santa is a drunk (and quite possibly a sexual pariah) who spends his free time getting high and watching porn. The store clerk is only concerned with the fact that he can take the wreaths he got for free and sell them for a profit because “people pay a butt-load for this crap.” Oh, and let us not forget the home invasions and murders. The few people who seem to embody Christmas cheer are in fact the worst offenders of all, hiding a murderous agenda behind a façade of wholesome goodwill. Even those who are in the spirit cannot be trusted. Much like Santa, it is all a lie, and this is why Sam cannot get into the Christmas spirit. After all, Christmas was the day he learned that the world is dark and full of monsters. More importantly, he learned that his father was lying to him on a regular basis. During those rare occasions when he was actually showed up. How could anyone feel jolly under such circumstances?
And yet Dean, the one with presumably just a few months to live, looks at the holidays with an almost out of character optimism. Despite sharing the same past, Dean had a very different experience that Christmas. Sam, at first, only remembers his father’s lies and learning the truth about monsters. Dean remembers explaining their weird life to Sam and for the first time, no longer having to lie to his little brother. But more importantly, he remembers a necklace, wrapped in the comic section of a local newspaper, given to him out of love by his brother as they spent Christmas together on some shitty motel couch. It was the best Christmas he ever had.
In many ways, this episode deliberately tries to subvert our traditional thinking when it comes to Christmas and the Holidays. Nearly every scene littered with decorations has something terrible associated with it. The pagan gods where a Santa suit, but it is perverted. Its leathery appearance is sticky with blood and grim, the white fur cuffs are caked with filth. The murderous gods themselves, Madge and Edward Carrigan, appear to have been pulled straight out of Pleasentville. Every inch of the house is covered in decorations. Sweets sit about the table, music floats through the halls, and snow globes line the wall unit. You can almost smell the aroma of gingerbread and pine. And yet, the second we get into the basement, the music shifts to Supernatural’s traditional horror theme as we descent into what is basically a slaughterhouse. Even as they torture the boys the couple are jovial and disgustingly saccharine, saying things like “all righty-roo” as he pulls a fingernail from Sam’s hand and replacing the word “fuck” with “fudge.” Everything that is Christmas is just a paper thin veneer covering the true rotting core beneath. On top of all that, the phrase “Merry Christmas” is dropped while two fresh corpses bleed out onto the floor.
So what makes Sam change his mind? If it’s all bad, all fake, why go through the trouble? While that Christmas in 1991 was not perfect, it was a true moment of bonding for him and Dean. Dean did everything he could to give his brother the kind of Christmas he wanted. Unlike their father, he was there for Sam. This was also the year in which there were finally no more lies between them. It was just two brothers, spending time together as a family. The final scene is easily the highlight of the episode and perhaps one of the best Christmas scenes I can recall from either television or a movie. They both got each other simple gifts from the Gas Mart, sharing eggnog and watching the game under the ever present gaze of their very own Charlie Brown tree sitting in a bucket. Dean’s two presents are oil and a candy bar. What is that, about $20? No iPhone would ever matter more to him than that bottle of motor oil at that moment. In that scene, Christmas wasn’t about the gifts. It wasn’t about the hardships of the past. It wasn’t about the fears of the future. It was about him and his brother spending time together, watching the game as snow quietly fell on Baby just outside the window.
“A Very Supernatural Christmas” is a shining example of Supernatural at its very best. It is simultaneously funny, dark, disturbing, and ultimately touching. As I type this, I am certain that some of you who took the time to read it are going through your own struggles at this moment. This year was not easy for most of us. No year ever is. I myself am out of a job, let go right before the holidays. My family has done their very best to drive me into an insane asylum. But what I hope you try to remember, as Sam remembered, is that you do not have to do anything extravagant or expensive to give the perfect holiday to those you care about. Maybe it’s your family, maybe your friends. Maybe it’s just your cat. No matter who it is, the thing that will really matter to those who truly care for us, will be time together. As Dean knows in this episode, in the end that is all we take with us. We at Supernatural: The Crossroads want to thank you for the time you spend with us every week, and we wish you and yours a very Happy Holiday. We can’t wait to see you all again next year.