When our editor Steve suggested* I review Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas for a post, I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy the endeavor.
Not the movie itself; I knew that would be bad. But I also knew this film was never intended for me. I’m not religious at all, so of course a movie steeped in religious posturing and spiritual messages will get nothing but eye rolls from me. That’s not the movie’s fault. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do, so to tear it down in mockery felt like it would just be mean.
Fortunately for me, the movie was horrendous in a completely different way than I had imagined.
In general, Christian movies are considered “bad” by the wider moviegoing public because they can’t push boundaries beyond their “values.” So you usually end up with really simple, bland stories meant to inspire and reaffirm one’s faith. This usually results in far from interesting stories, but they serve a purpose for their target audience. That audience doesn’t care about the technical qualities of the filmmaking, or the complexity of the characters. They care about the message. And that message is how Christian movies live or die in this niche market.
Which makes Saving Christmas such a treat of a ridiculous movie because even when judging it solely against other Christian movies, it’s a tremendous fiasco.
It all starts with a Christmas party hosted by Kirk’s sister. But his brother-in-law is not enjoying the festivities, choosing instead to sulk in the corner. Kirk takes it upon himself to get his brother-in-law back in the Christmas spirit with a heart-to-heart in a parked truck in the driveway. Did I mention the brother-in-law is named Christian, because what is subtlety anyway?
This conversation forms the backbone of the movie, with Christian lamenting about how Christmas has been hijacked and that everyone cares more about secular symbols like Santa and Christmas trees rather than the baby Jesus, and how everyone focuses on buying presents and taking in material pleasures. Plus, Jesus wasn’t even born in December! We’re really celebrating the solstice like a bunch of filthy pagans!
From a Christian viewpoint, these are all valid arguments and complaints. So imagine my surprise when Kirk Cameron, patron saint of the Crocoduck and believer in all things biblical, counters that he’s been listening to the “wrong people” and all those things are just as much what Christmas is about as the Nativity.
“Is Kirk Cameron actually going to argue for the commercialization of Christmas?” I thought, now unsure of reality. “This can’t really be what the movie is about.”
But it kind of is. Kirk spends the better part of 50 minutes explaining to Christian why he shouldn’t feel bad about celebrating Christmas with all these extra bells and whistles. Why, a Christmas tree is made of wood, and isn’t that what the cross Jesus was crucified on was made of? So Christmas trees DO have something to do with Jesus, and if anyone tells you that pagans utilized them as part of their rituals first, why, just tell them that God was here before those heathens so He gets first dibs!
The movie continues making arguments like this, cutting from the parked car to boring reenactment footage that feels like it belongs in a bad History Channel special, even by their standards. In each case, Kirk bends over backwards to find ways to associate contemporary symbols of the holiday back to Christianity. Some do have validity to them, such as St. Nicholas, who was a real bishop with a penchant for giving children toys, and is one of the inspirations for Santa Claus. But most of the time it’s simply Kirk smugly dismissing Christian’s concerns and confidently going through enough mental gymnastics to knock 50 velociraptors out of a building.
The central thesis is summed up in one of the last lines of the film, when Kirk assures the audience through a voiceover that it’s okay to get into the materialistic aspects of Christmas because really, it’s about God being made material Himself. This argument neatly allows Kirk to have his cake and eat it too, because he positions any criticism of Christmas, even the most superficial and commercialistic aspects, as a religious affront.
“Go max out your credit cards for Jesus!”
But what really makes the film confusing is that it comes really close to admitting that Christians have lost the Culture Wars, which is weird considering this is a movie called Saving Christmas aimed squarely at a religious audience. In that final voiceover, when Kirk tells the audience it is time to “infuse old symbols with new meaning,” it comes across as a call for a cultural appropriation of sorts.
“If the world prefers these secular symbols over religious ones, well, we’ll just make them religious so we don’t have to whip ourselves for enjoying them!” It feels like a concession that the “reason for the season” really isn’t the reason anymore, and historically might never have been (never forget that the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas because it had no direct ties to Christianity nor did the Bible make any indication that Jesus’ birth was to be celebrated).
It all adds up to a pretty bizarre movie that seems to be at odds with itself and its audience. Nowhere is this more clear than an interlude between two of the other partygoers who talk to each through their coffee mugs like they are walkie-talkies. One begins to go off about the War on Christmas before ranting about every stereotypical conspiracy theory you can think of. It’s obvious it’s supposed to be a joke, but I’m not sure what it is.
It seems like satire, making the case that believing in a War on Christmas is crazy. But that goes against what most of the movie is trying to argue when it presents a need to take back the holiday. The whole thing is just a gross mess, especially for the religious-minded folk this film is supposedly intended for.
Oh, and the movie ends with a hip-hop dance number in front of a Christmas tree. Kirk Cameron doing the worm? Almost makes it all worth it! Almost.
*Please give me back my family