It’s holiday time and that means celebrating all the big guns of the Christmas season. The likes of Jesus, Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, Krampus, the Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge, George Bailey, and – depending on how much time you spend at Hot Topic – Jack Skellington. But there are so many Christmas-themed characters who don’t get the same red carpet treatment.
Let’s take a second to give a little extra love to the yuletide heroes and villains who hang out on the second or third tier of Christmas cheer.
BAD MISTER FROSTY
I’ve spoken at length about the history of ClayFighter before. The stop-motion, comedic fighting game featured only three installments (plus upgrades) and one of the two characters to appear in every game is Bad Mr. Frosty, a snowman turned sentient and deadly due to radioactive alien goop. At first, he tries to take over a clay-covered circus and transform it into a frozen wasteland, as one does. Then he trades his top hat for a radical backwards baseball cap and goes reformed. In the last game, he goes back to his original look and acts as the main hero, fighting alongside fellow Interplay properties as Earthworm Jim and Boogerman.
A common thread in Frosty’s history is his intent to conquer Christmas. In the first game, his victory causes him to overtake the North Pole and take over. In the second game, he becomes Santa’s personal gift-wrapper. By the third game, Santa himself becomes a playable character, albeit in the form of a gruff sumo wrestler.
Frosty reveals that he’s long had a bone to pick with the jolly fat man ever since he neglected to give him any gifts one year…despite taking the time to eat all the cookies that were left out.
BUZZ THE HONEY NUT CHEERIOS BEE
When Ebenezer Scrooge woke up, he got all excited and impressed because these time-traveling and reality-warping ghosts were able to fix his broken soul over the course of one night. And yes, that is pretty damn spiffy.
But you know what’s even more impressive? Fixing Scrooge in thirty seconds!
Buzz chooses to Green Eggs and Ham his merchandise to Scrooge and he’s able to soften the hardened miser without having to show him a single flashback or warn him that he’s going to die alone. He just lets him know that his cereal has honey and nuts and Scrooge decides to finally chill out and smile at life. Great speed run, bee.
Santa Claus: The Movie is the bizarre experiment where they were like, “Let’s take the first Superman movie…but make it about Christmas!” I’m glad it exists, but it’s certainly a novelty in film history.
With the attempts to turn Santa into the defender of truth, justice, and the North Polean way, there has to be a Lex Luthor and John Lithgow was the man for the job. His greedy toy mogul BZ best fit the evil businessman version of Luthor that had yet to appear in the comics at that point, but would define his identity for years to come.
BZ is a special kind of holiday villain because he isn’t merely driven by money (though his delivery of, “FOR FREEEEEE?!” is the work of angels), but ego. He wants to create Christmas 2 and use its dominance to become the face of the holidays. Already, Santa has a negative stigma attached to him for watering down Christmas’ values and commercializing it. BZ takes those aspects and magnifies it without any of Santa’s redeeming qualities.
Then there’s BZ’s final fate, which would be nightmarish if it wasn’t so surreal. The jerk’s done in by the corrupted Christmas magic that he helped create.
THE CHRISTMAS CREATURE
Glenn Jacobs has taken part in many ridiculous gimmicks and storylines over the years. He wrestled as an evil dentist, a Kevin Nash doppelganger, and a pyromaniac monster that moonlights as a businessman. In movies, he’s been an unkillable slasher villain with an eyeball obsession and a knife-throwing military guy accidentally blown to smithereens by MacGruber. Yet none of these personas can compete with the Christmas Creature.
The Christmas Creature showed up at the end of 1992 in the United States Wrestling Association. Despite Jacobs’ imposing size, he looked silly beyond belief in green tights with candy cane striped arms and tinsel crisscrossing his body. This evil Christmas tree’s manager was Bert Prentice, who started off the Creature’s first match by berating a guy dressed as Santa Claus. I can’t tell if he was supposed to be the actual Santa or just some drunk, but the company’s champion Jerry Lawler took offense.
The Christmas Creature ended up being just another monster-of-the-week to feed to Lawler. They clashed a couple times, Lawler came out victorious, and the Christmas Creature was tossed aside like any other pine tree in January.
About a decade later, some wrestlers started putting ornaments on a stationary Kane backstage at a WWE show. Jerry Lawler was on commentary and noted that Kane looked like, “some kind of Christmas Creature.”
I’m in the middle when it comes to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s very low on story until the end and instead is nothing more than a bunch of sketches about misadventures. It’s really just good background noise for filling out Christmas cards and whatnot.
Eddie Johnson and his family show up rather late in the movie and Eddie makes this list for several reasons. The main idea is that he’s the escalation of the Griswold household being overstuffed and chaotic, what with him being a cartoony freeloader. Yet at the same time, he’s there to give Clark a better foil to play off of, as another well-meaning father and bumbling everyman…only several steps down on the social and financial ladder.
Eddie is an idiot, but his heart is in the right place and his short-sighted loyalty ends up saving the day when it really should have caused even more disaster. Too bad the idea of giving him his own spinoff sequel shit the bed.
DROPO THE LAZIEST MAN ON MARS
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a movie so cornball that it’s appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Cinematic Titanic, AND RiffTrax. I’ve seen it enough times to appreciate it for the silly and unique family film that it is. The plot revolves around Martians kidnapping Santa Claus and some Earth children in order to bring Christmas to Mars and teach its youth how to have fun. Unfortunately, that also means keeping Santa on Mars indefinitely.
Dropo (played by Bill McCutcheon) is the assistant to Martian commander Kimar, but really just comes off as his worthless brother-in-law who is allowed to sleep on the couch. Dropo spends much of the movie being the goofy comic relief, but comes to idolize Santa and what he represents. In the final act, he dresses as Santa and tries to do his job for him, only to get kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity.
In the end, Santa and the kids are allowed to return to Earth due to Dropo ascending from Laziest Man on Mars to Santa Claus of Mars.
Before the Muppets started owning Christmas over and over again, we got to see Kermit introduce this delightful TV special, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. It’s a lot less cheery than your usual Muppet fare (outside of the insinuation that Kermit somehow caused 9/11) as it’s built on otters in poverty screwing each other over while unknowingly competing against each other and failing, but it has so much heart, charm, and lovely music that it’s a regular watch for me.
Even though there’s a moral about familial love and togetherness that brings everything to a happy ending, Emmet and his band do bring up what Christmas is truly about: a pretty girl dancing to jug band music and a mess of mama’s barbecue.
GARY THE SINGING SNOWMAN
Hey, remember how the team of Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn made Deadpool comics really good after a long stretch of them being crap? I for one wasn’t very surprised because of their 2006 comic miniseries The Last Christmas, which had art by Rick Remender. The comic takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where Santa continues to deliver presents on Christmas because as long as people believe in him, he will never die.
Then some marauders kill Mrs. Claus, putting Santa in a hateful and suicidal funk where the only way he can kill himself is to stop delivering presents and hope that everyone forgets about him. All this leads to a big, action-packed finale where he redeems himself by going to war with an army of marauders and zombies to save the last child that has any faith in him.
The narrator of the story is Gary the Singing Snowman, who comes off as cheery in light of the dreary setup. He spends much of the book separate from the narrative until it’s time for Santa to head into the final battle. Gary appears on a hill, brandishing a board covered in nails, angrily letting Santa know, “If the shit’s going down – you’ll need the snowman watching your back.” The cigar-chomping Santa admits that this isn’t Gary’s fight, but allows him to come along.
As a concept, Hanukkah Harry is a simple one: the Santa of Hanukkah. He’s appeared on Saturday Night Live a couple times, but is mostly remembered for his first appearance in a lengthy sketch called “The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Christmas.” Played by Jon Lovitz, Hanukkah Harry is called in to sub in for Santa Claus (Phil Hartman), who is suffering from a nasty stomach flu.
The whole sketch is honestly kind of low on laughs, though Santa’s sudden and violent vomiting is top-notch stuff. To me, one of the reasons I keep watching this bit year after year is that it’s sort of a sweet Christmas special in its own right. It adds a new wrinkle to the Santa mythology, teaches togetherness, selflessness, and forgiveness, while ending with a Christmas miracle.
Lovitz may be piling on a bunch of Jewish stereotypes, but in the end, he’s a man who comes off as even more loving than Santa himself.
THE ICE CREAM BUNNY
I’ll admit, I don’t know what this guy’s deal is. He’s the title character of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, a low-budget and inexplicable film that acts as an advertisement for long-dead amusement park Pirates World. To this day, I’m not sure if the Ice Cream Bunny is Pirates World’s Mickey Mouse or if he was created strictly for this movie.
When Santa’s sleigh crashes into the sand on a Florida beach and his reindeer abandon him, his best course of action is to summon some children to rescue him. When their plans ultimately prove useless, they decide to just run off and find the Ice Cream Bunny. The mute man in a creepy rabbit suit drives a fire truck to Santa, all while almost killing those children and their dog because, again, he’s just a dude in a mascot costume trying to drive a fire truck.
The Ice Cream Bunny decides to drive Santa to the North Pole, meaning that he’ll be back in time for Christmas after all.
Marley is pretty well-known, since he’s the first supernatural escalation in Christmas Carol and all of its many adaptations, but the more I thought about him, the more I realized how completely interesting this ghost is in relation to Scrooge’s tale. As we know, Marley is Scrooge’s old friend and corrupting mentor whose ghost appears to tell Scrooge about the three coming spirits while begging him to listen to their words or Scrooge will spend an eternity damned and covered in chains. And that’s it for him.
It brings some questions to the table. What exactly is Marley’s relationship to the other ghosts? Was he dragged into this or was this his own idea? Was he given the same treatment as Scrooge at one point and if not, then why? Is he still fated to a horrible afterlife or does his role in Scrooge’s story soften the sentence?
Basically, for Marley being the bad crowd that puts Scrooge on the path to almost no return, it says a lot that he would try to save his only friend from beyond the grave. How much of the story is Marley’s redemption?
When I was making up this list, one thing I started to notice was how women get the short end of the stick when it comes to Christmas movies and specials. Even Mrs. Claus is so much of an afterthought that she has like a dozen different first names depending on what story you’re looking at. Most female Christmas characters are mostly identified as a more important character’s girlfriend or wife. Or that time they gender-flipped George Bailey. I mean, I guess there’s Kate McCallister from Home Alone, but I don’t really have much to say about her.
Karen from Frosty the Snowman, on the other hand, at least sticks out. She’s the only kid in that story who even has a name. She not only brings Frosty to life, but has to take charge as his guide in the world while matching his endless optimism. She’s not as flashy as her jolly affront to God and nature, but her innocence and desire to keep Frosty from either melting away or having his sentience stolen is what drives the story.
Her crying at Frosty’s puddle remains is heartbreaking for a reason. Too bad they never followed up on their friendship in any of Frosty’s many lousy sequels.
MINTY THE CANDY CANE THAT BRIEFLY FELL ON THE GROUND
When Conan O’Brien moved to TBS, one of his new characters was an attempt to fit in with the holidays. It was there that we got Minty the Candy Cane That Briefly Fell on the Ground. Brian McCann would walk out as Minty, wearing an oversized candy cane costume covered in all sorts of filth, from coins to hair to bugs. Minty would go around throwing candy canes at audience members while accompanied by a total earworm of a theme song.
Minty’s staying power came from the overpowering catchiness of that theme song. Then when McCann left Conan, the annual gag would be Minty showing up in contrast to McCann living in New York. Conan would bemoan the inability to bring back Minty and either McCann would make a return or they’d just give the role to a random guy.
NESTOR THE LONG-EARED DONKEY
Nestor is what happens when someone looks at Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer’s success and decides that they want a Jesus version. Same ostracized freak plot, only without the fun characters and songs. And without the sense of wonder. And instead of not being able to play reindeer games, Nestor’s long ears lead to him having to endure his mother’s horrifying death.
Man, why did I even put this on the list to begin with? Oh, right, the awesomeness of Rankin/Bass stop-motion.
THE OLD MAN
*sigh* Okay, so. I can’t stand A Christmas Story. I really can’t. But my wife insisted on this entry, so here it is.
The dad, known as the Old Man, is the only character in this movie who isn’t the worst. It’s a proto-Simpsons deal where even though we’re supposed to care more for Ralphie, the highlight character holding everything together is the bumbling, angry man-child. He’s the one who takes care of his son’s controversial desire for a bb gun because he’s the one who’s truly enveloped in the spirit of Christmas. Even if Ralphie never goes to him about the dangerous toy, the Old Man sees what needs to be done like he’s Neo looking into the Matrix.
Even I’ll admit that the leg lamp was pretty bitchin’.
Much like Jack Skellington, Ricky Caldwell from Silent Night Deadly Night II is one of those characters who best represents two holidays.
Ricky and his brother Billy were there when a man dressed as Santa Claus murdered their parents. Ricky was too young to process it, but when his insane brother was killed by the police for trying to murder an abusive nun, Ricky recognized that this woman was “naughty” and would one day be punished.
The main reason we remember Ricky is for a time when it seemed like his inner demons were under control. He had a loving girlfriend and all was good, until her jerk of an ex came around and caused some trouble. Ricky murdered the ex-boyfriend, murdered his girlfriend for freaking out over it, then stole a cop’s gun and went on a killing spree.
That’s where Ricky saw a random dude moving trash cans around. With a mockingly sarcastic yell of, “GARBAGE DAY!” Ricky shot and killed the bystander. He then laughed to creepy music and blew at the end of his gun.
Like his brother before him, Ricky would go on a killing spree while dressed as Santa, but when it comes to Ricky, the day of presents will always come second to the day of garbage.
This slightly recurring villain from Futurama is so delightful in his devious concept. As humanity advanced in technology, they decided to try and make their own Santa in robot form. They unfortunately screwed up the programming and his standards for what counts as “nice” went through the roof. Also, he’s excessively violent. Christmas loses its cheer and instead becomes the Purge in December, where everyone’s trying to lay low and protect themselves.
I’m amused by how easy it is to take the wholesome Santa persona and twist it so easily to make Santa seem like a psychotic despot. Futurama’s character is essentially Injustice Santa.
Speaking of comics, Robot Santa’s story is also very similar to a great Marvel short story from the mid-00s where an inventor named Virginia tried to reprogram the remains of an Ultron robot into Santa. It ended up deeming all of the Avengers “naughty” and tried to slaughter them all at Dr. Strange’s holiday party. Good times.
Skeletor was always secretly a badass. Hidden by his many losses to He-Man and his iconic voice, it’s easy to forget that he’s essentially a jacked, barbarian Grim Reaper. Skeletor once decisively beat up Superman, which is more than you can say for Scrooge and the Grinch.
He doesn’t truly shine until Christmas in Eternia, a He-Man/She-Ra holiday special where Skeletor is gradually infected by the Christmas spirit. Some kids from Earth end up stranded on Eternia and with them is the Christmas spirit, treated like some kind of morality virus. Horde Prime, who is like Space Satan, has his top two skull-based villains Skeletor and Hordak go out to capture those kids and bring him over so they can be snuffed out.
Skeletor succeeds in getting his hands on the kids, but on his journey to Horde Prime, he begins to inadvertently become a better person. This comes to a head when he betrays both Hordak and Horde Prime by choosing to protect the children. Using his magic blasts, he essentially fries Horde Prime’s vessel like the mother ship from Independence Day.
Skeletor is still at odds with his sudden goodness, but is put at ease when he finds out that Christmas only happens once a year. By the way, He-Man’s a dick for not inviting him to his Christmas party afterwards.
Despite their supporting roles in The Year Without Santa Claus, the Miser Brothers are the main reason anyone remembers the special. Hell, their musical number is the only reason to look at the live-action remake.
While the duality is nice, Snow Miser is obviously the better brother. Heat Miser is a sour curmudgeon while Snow Miser is like a lost 1960s Batman villain. His manic charisma allows him to walk a fine line where he could assist you or he could possibly freeze you to death for the sake of laughter. He’s more of a villain on the sidelines who might aid you because he has nothing else going on.
Even the differences in their songs back up that Snow Miser is more likable. He actually has “friends.”
As an adult, it’s hard to play by the rules all year. Sometimes we slip and we’re naughty, screwing ourselves out of Santa’s annual gifts. Luckily, there’s another jolly, fat man to counter him. One who decides that nobody in the North Pole should claim the higher moral ground.
That man is Sump’n Claus. Once upon a time, he was an elf working for Santa, but they had a falling out due to Mrs. Claus’ interest in the employee. Sometime later, he reappeared as Sump’n Claus, dressed like a pimp version of Santa with a seemingly endless supply of cash that was probably not legally obtained.
Feeling that, “Everybody’s getting sump’n,” Sump’n Claus hands out envelopes of twenties and fifties to people all over the world, even if they’ve damaged their ex’s property or attacked their boss. Everyone deserves a little love around the holidays and this guy surely isn’t going to watch you while you sleep.
THE TAXI DRIVING GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST
Just barely squeaking past the Muppets’ take, Scrooged is my favorite version of Christmas Carol. Not only is it Bill Murray being awesome, but all the ghosts are fantastic modern takes of the ones from the original. The one that truly stands out is none other than Buster Poindexter as the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Watching him in action is a complete joy, with his frantic driving, gross mugging, and comedic torturing of Frank Cross. Even though Carol Kane is a delight as the Ghost of Christmas Present, her violent fairy persona doesn’t quite match up. Luckily, the Ghost of Christmas Past not only gets the most screentime, but he also gets to pop back in near the end for a wonderful moment of divine intervention and happy ending-ing.
While I’m at it, shout out to the time Beavis and Butt-head watched a Buster Poindexter Christmas video and commented that he could probably pick his nose with his big toe.
WAYNE AND LANNY
I think The Santa Clause is what introduced the trope of overly-modernizing how Santa’s workshop and delivery works. Old fashioned magic and workmanship isn’t enough these days and now you need radar and SWAT team elves. Same deal for stuff like Fred Claus, Fairly OddParents, and Arthur Christmas.
My favorite take on this is Prep & Landing, a pair of animated specials (plus shorts) starring Wayne and Lanny, two elves who are tasked with going to various houses, making sure the coast is clear, then preparing the roof for Santa’s sleigh landing. Wayne is the weary and cynical one who has been working hundreds of years without a promotion while the rookie Lanny is…well, Pinky, I suppose.
Wayne tends to let his own frustrations get in the way of his Christmas duties and ultimately has to fix things and save Christmas from himself while Lanny is there to give him hope. It’s nothing that would have made for a good feature-length thing, but it’s the perfect fit for 22 minute entries. It’s just too bad that the series stopped at two and they didn’t keep cranking these out every few years.
You know what didn’t age well? Mr. Hankey. Happy, talking poop as a Christmas icon seemed like pushing the envelope back in the day, but the fact that he’s barely appeared on South Park after the first few years is telling. There just isn’t enough to hang your Santa hat on after the high voice and absurdity.
As South Park evolved, they came up with a more biting Christmas creation in the Woodland Critters, a group of cheery, talking animals living in the forest who appear to be out of a wholesome, religious holiday special like Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey. Instead, they are sadistic and vicious monsters who pray to Satan and intend to bring forth the Anti-Christ via sacrifice and blood orgies.
One of the things that makes them so horrifying is because they are, in the South Park universe, fictional characters created as Eric Cartman’s idea of pure evil. Cartman is already the evilest child in town without seeing himself as such, so for him to come up with something even he considers so sinister means going especially dark.
Also, I love that they just show up in the two recent South Park video games. It’s very Homestar Runner how the fictional characters somehow just show up as real and nobody really bats an eye.
One of the most understated plot points of mid-90s WWF is that at some point, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase was funding some kind of mad scientist bio-engineering lab. There was a time when the Undertaker went missing, so Dibiase unearthed an Undertaker clone driven by the power of greed and money. When the real Undertaker returned to kick his doppelganger’s ass, nobody ever really wondered, “Wait, where did Dibiase get that other guy?”
A year and a half later, Ted Dibiase practiced mythological nega-cloning by having Savio Vega beaten down by his newest client, Xanta Klaus. Portrayed by Jonathan Rechner (most well-known as Balls Mahoney), Xanta was an evil, Bizarro take on Santa. He was from the South Pole, he stole presents from children, and dressed in black and red.
He lasted only a couple of weeks before the writers realized that having a December-based gimmick was going to look extra stupid after the 25th. His finisher was the Camel Clutch, but I’m sure they would have called it the Reindeer Clutch if they got around to it.
Yukon Cornelius is the Han Solo of Christmas, though not to be confused with Han Solo, who is the Han Solo of Life Day. The wild adventurer is a necessity in Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer to offset how much of an insufferable dick Santa is. Santa acts like a total jerk from start to finish, so we have to rely on another paternal, friendly, bearded dude.
The kind of bearded dude who will run directly into battle with an abominable snowman and win decisively. I don’t even care that Hermey removed its teeth beforehand. That sumbitch was huge.
Yeah, if anyone deserves more love this holiday season, it’s Cornelius. What a lovable badass.
Gavin Jasper thinks it’s odd that at no point did Cindy Lou Who ask, “Santa, why are you not wearing pants?” Follow Gavin on Twitter!
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