One Last Time, Here’s Why Die Hard Is a Christmas Movie

Die Hard and “Christmas” is to movies what “hotdogs” and “sandwiches” are to stoned grad students: a debate that means simultaneously nothing and, more importantly, everything, everything that matters. (For the record, hot dogs are sandwiches and Die Hard is a Christmas movie. But we’ll get to that.)

Let us first outline the stakes. This argument has absolutely nothing at stake. If you believe Die Hard is a Christmas movie you can watch it with the manger Jesus and sip eggnog. No one is stopping you. You don’t have to believe it, but we may be able convince you otherwise. However, stakes or not, we hope to bring Die Hard Christmas joy even to the grinchiest Hans Gruber of Christmas movies. Therefore, we will make the argument that it’s a holiday film. The movie runs from Christmas Eve to Christmas morning. There are holiday parties. There are Santa jokes. There’s festive cheer and machine guns and songs and an ending wherein all conflict is resolved. What more could you ask for in a holiday movie?

While we’re pretty convinced these features makes Die Hard a Christmas movie, we’ll entertain objections—however wrong they are.

For the sake of clarity, we’re calling the argument in favor of Die Hard as a Christmas movie “Yippee Ki Yay” and the argument apposed “Yippee Ki Nay.”

In good argumentative style, we will start by stating the Yippee Ki Nay argument that Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. The argument will then be riddled with logic bullet holes. This will show how fallacious and incorrect it is and why Die Hard, in fact is a Christmas film. Let’s go, [Hans Gruber voice] cow-boy.

Is Die Hard Christmas movie? Answer: No.

20th Century Fox

The main issue in Yippy Ki Nay is whether or not the film’s setting can be considered a sufficient condition to classify it as a genre. If a movie takes place on or around Christmas time, is this condition enough for calling some movie a “Christmas movie”? Yippy Ki Nays will argue that genre classification is dependent on setting.

According to the argument, Christmas films should not only be set around Christmas but also must have as the central storyline the holiday itself. (We’ll discuss these definitions in a bit). Yippy Ki Nay says that Die Hard’s Christmas setting distracts from the main tone and central focus. Though Die Hard takes place on Christmas, its primary genre is “action,” they say. Die Hard is a film that focuses on action, and it doesn’t use any Christmas themes. Die Hard is therefore an action film set on Christmas. It’s not a Christmas movie.

Let’s get back to the first premise. A Christmas movie must explicitly use holiday themes, tonalities and plot points. It cannot be set just during Christmas. We accept this premise. However, Yippi Ki Nay’ers must prove that Die Hard fails to satisfy this point. They will need to prove that Die Hard doesn’t use Christmas themes, tonalities and plot points.

We believe this is a more complex argument and will attack Yippy Ki Nay’s position.

Let’s start with some definitions.

What are the Christmas movie themes? What makes a Christmas Movie a Christmas Movie?

Another definition could be how important the holiday is for the story. Can the story be told without the holiday or is it still effective? Does it still work? Yippy Ki Nay might suggest that Die Hard is able to take place at any time of year. The Christmas season is over, but the heart of Die Hard remains.

Another definition is themes and tones. A Christmas movie must somehow capture the spirit of the holiday, including its modernized tones—good cheer, family, and charity—as well as its religious undertones—birth, renewal, salvation. These features are missing in Die Hard, they claim.

Timing is another definition of Christmas movie. Yippi Nay asserts that Die Hard wasn’t marketed as Christmas movies and was released in July 1988. Christmas is not essential to the movie’s story and image. And because setting alone isn’t sufficient, Die Hard is not a Christmas movie.

Is Die Hard Christmas movie? Answer: Yes!

20th Century Fox

The thing is that we don’t have to prove that all holiday scenes in films are enough for the “Christmas” label. We only need to demonstrate that this setting works for Die Hard. This will be done by demonstrating how Die Hard is different from other Christmas films.

To argue this anecdotally, let’s list all the Die Hard Christmas features. In total, there are 21 references to Christmas, as counted by, including holiday parties, Santa hats, Christmas trees, “ho-ho-hos,” and “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-DMC. There are also three other Christmas songs in the movie, notes stephenfollows, making the movie’s music more Christmas-like than over 99% of films over the last three decades.

Yippy Ki Nay might be asked to suggest Christmas movies that aren’t Christmas movies. BuzzFeed lists a number of these movies. These films do not feature Christmas in any way. Die Hard runs for twelve hours. What hours? THE HOURS UP TO CHRISTMAS DAY. Show us movies not set at Christmastime. We’ll wait.

Does Die Hard just take place at Christmas? What does this mean?

Yippy Ki Nay said that Die Hard was (first) an action film and (secondly), a movie set on Christmas.

But even if we concede that setting is not a sufficient condition for Christmasdom, we can still make the case that Die Hard goes beyond setting, incorporating also Christmas themes and motifs, and that these things—setting and themes—combine to form sufficient conditions for a Christmas movie.

First, the Yippy Ki Nay argument claiming that Christmas isn’t essential to the Die Hard storyline. Proposterous. Christmas is the raison d’etre behind all the characters and events. McClane arrives in L.A. because it’s Christmas. Because it’s Christmas, he attempts to rekindle his relationship with his wife. The robbery occurs at the Plaza also because of the Christmas party and the ease of taking hostages—and because police will be less active. Powell was only there to buy his pregnant wife twinkles. (And we can deduce he’s working Christmas Eve for overtime—for his wife.)

20th Century Fox

As far as Christmas themes, the rekindling of family ties, the child waiting to be born (Powell’s), and the hunt for the lone savior (McClane)—these all seems pretty frickin Christmas to us.

We might also read McClane’s role as a Christ-like figure, one who is put under trial by forces of evil in his attempts to redeem everyone. McClane is often seen barefoot and has his feet covered in glass. These marks (“stigmata”) correspond to the marks on Christ during the crucifixion (the feet, the hands). McClane also complains often of a headache—the pain in his head like Christ’s crown of thorns.

McClane is the one who must be delivered in Die Hard. He must save others. Powell treats McClane like he would his own child, even though they are far apart.

These themes would not be possible without the Christmas background. The film is indefinable better and more relevant with these themes in place.

The release date is not yet known. Remember that Miracle on 34th Street—the Christmas movie—came out in the summer.

So yeah, even if Die Hard’s (very) Christmas setting isn’t enough to call it a Christmas movie, its themes have Christmas written all over them like blood on a white shirt.

Checkmate, cowboy.

Joshua St Clair works as an editorial assistant for Men’s Health Magazine. 

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