Why You Shouldn’t Write a Holiday Show

Brad Pontius

OnStage New York Columnist

You have, no doubt, seen or heard about a holiday production at a nearby theatre this past December. Whether it’s the ever-popular A Christmas Carol or the relatively new musical rendition of A Christmas Story. Once November hits, they start popping out of the woodwork. Obviously this makes sense, people are getting festive and enjoying the festivities. What better way to celebrate than to enjoy theatre with loved ones?

That is why it is so unfortunate that people even continue writing new productions wholly based on one holiday or another. The hard truth is that any production solely based around a holiday, no matter how popular, it becomes undeniably ‘niche’. And the worst part about these shows is that you can predict everything that happens almost every time. If entertainment tends to draw inspiration on overdone tropes, Holiday Shows are that friend who plays one song every time you see them and never get sick of it even though you feel like throwing their ipod out of the window and run it over with your car. Even the original ones paint the same plot. Someone is always unhappy with (insert holiday here), someone is overly zealous about spreading (insert holiday here) cheer, the unhappy person comes to understand the overwhelming love of (insert holiday here)/finds happiness, et cetera. You can practically tap your feet to the tune because everyone knows it. 

I remember doing a fantastic rendition of A Christmas Carol once wherein the director and designers, rather than do what everyone does with the classic feel, created a beautiful steampunk world and set it there with insanely dark themes. And on those occasions where those putting holiday shows on the positives definitely do shine through. However; normally these productions are not that creative and continue the blundering entitled cheer-mongering nostalgia that everyone raves about. This is unusually frustrating because it always paints the holiday in question as the one saving grace of the year and without that kindness in their lives the characters are hapless saps and cannot find happiness without finding Christmas Cheer. This is a boldfaced lie.

Here’s a bit of a shocker for you – some people do not celebrate any of the holidays in December. Most do, and many celebrate being together and family, but you are actually allowed to dislike the Holidays. These productions glorify the peer pressure that others try to impose on those that don’t celebrate it. In fact they often villainize the characters that view the holidays otherwise. Yes, Ebenezer Scrooge is a terrible person but the fact that he comes to terms with his own problems on Christmas Eve is wholly unimportant. He eventually makes a fantastic turn around and does real good with his money – but he also has a right to act and feel what he wants. In a time period where children worked dangerous factory jobs, women were treated as objects and everyone was expected to live roughly half as long as we do now, he is actually not so bad. Despite threatening to fire everyone, it’s pretty obvious that he has no interest in following through so he definitely keeps everyone in his employ working – and considering that he wants to have them work on Christmas and his employees are poor, he’s actually doing them a favor. 

If you get down to the bottom of it all, Holiday Shows preach love and understanding… so long as you are celebrating that holiday (usually Christmas) and giving away a majority of what you have for others. It’s not a terrible message but it definitely is propaganda and demonizes any other opinion.

But, okay, despite the moral issues that are often glanced over in these shows because they want to be happy and up-beat you also suddenly have a show that can only ever be performed one month out of twelve. Financially speaking, a holiday show suddenly will only ever make money in December – maybe November if someone is getting a little overzealous. The run time will always be brief and no one is likely to perform this piece in, say, June. Even if you’re ignoring the financial aspect, then that means your artistic voice will be lost for ninety percent of the year. While it’s not always true, the playwright generally pours their heart and soul into a piece of literature. A good play is fun, but a great play carries a lot of love from its creator in it and why on earth would you actively throw away the ability to share that love for all but one part of a year?

Ultimately, Holiday Shows are lovely and tend to be fun but they are insufferably narcissistic and incompatible. People will enjoy them, but the argument could be made that unless you are writing or producing something truly original then a Holiday Show is not worth the time and effort. Stop making sloppy celebrations because that’s what people pretend to enjoy – make something worthy of the great tradition of Theatre that can be shared year-round and doesn’t pressure those that have a different opinion to conform. Theatre should be about celebrating new thoughts and opinions, not constantly rehashing old ones.