From Clea DuVall's Happiest Season to Hallmark's The Christmas House, this year has seen an explosion of gay Christmas films, a major change to a genre that has historically excluded LGBTQ+ people.
But that rule has not been true across the board. From its pageantry to its camp to its carols, Christmas has always been queer — and films, implicitly and explicitly, have nodded at that for decades.
Below, take a sleigh ride to the productions that made the Yuletide gay.
The classic animated Christmas special features several stories of mocked outsiders who find strength in their differences, including Rudolph and Hermey, an elf who would rather be a dentist than make toys. While Hermey was clearly not an out character, he was the closest thing to queer for a children's production in this era. (See also: every toy on the Island of Misfit Toys.)
Nothing says the holidays quite like Divine’s Dawn Davenport stomping on a Christmas tree and all of the gifts beneath it because her parents failed to gift her with the only thing she wanted — cha-cha heels. With a drag queen Godzilla smashing consumerism and the American suburbia in her fuzzy slippers while screaming, “Fuck you, I hate you,” at her parents, John Waters’s classic Female Trouble isn’t quite a Christmas movie, but that first iconic scene stays with a viewer forever.
Nora Ephron followed her hit rom-com Sleepless in Seattle with Mixed Nuts, a critically panned holiday ensemble flick led by Steve Martin as the head of a suicide-prevention hotline service. The film is notable for being the first movie appearance of Liev Schreiber, who portrays a transgender woman named Chris. The comedy does not hold up well in present day, but the character is memorable for a sweet romance she develops with a ukelele player named Louie (Adam Sandler).
Kate Beckinsale is Sara and John Cusack is Jonathan, who meet and begin a sweet courtship at Christmas before parting ways only to be reunited a few years later. Molly Shannon plays Sara’s lesbian best friend, Eve, who attends a bachelorette party in New York City where the main couple has a serendipitous encounter. Eve is not part of the central couple, but she’s integral to the plot.
Last year, a 2004 holiday film called Too Cool for Christmas went viral after it was discovered that there was an alternate version, A Very Cool Christmas, which featured straight instead of gay parents. Director Sam Irvin said it was a common practice to shoot different versions of films for different markets with varying levels of acceptance toward LGBTQ+ issues — which, actually, still happens today.
In the star-studded The Family Stone, everyone hates the uptight Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) when Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings her home to meet his family for a surprise proposal. But everyone loves Thad and Patrick, a gay couple trying to adopt their first child. In a family of straight messes, it was refreshing (in 2005) to see the gays keeping it together for the holidays.
The queen of Christmas movies, Melissa Joan Hart, stars in Holday in Handcuffs as a dumped waitress who has a nervous breakdown and kidnaps a customer, played by Mario Diaz, to bring home to her family as a boyfriend. If that doesn't sound gay enough, the film also features a coming-out scene for her brother Jake (Kyle Howard).
Happiest Season stands on the shoulders of Make the Yuletide Gay, a 2009 romantic comedy from Rob Williams in which Gunn (Keith Jordan), who is out at college, goes back into the closet for the holidays to appease his parents. Then his "roommate," Nathan (Adamo Ruggiero), shows up and the Yuletide, inevitably, is made gay.
Charles Dickens’s holiday classic A Christmas Carol gets a gay makeover in Scrooge & Marley. In this version of the oft-told story, Ebenezer (Ben) Scrooge is the owner of a piano bar, where he hates Christmas and underpays and terrorizes his employees. That is until he’s visited by one ghost who takes him to his past in a gay disco in the 1970s, to the present where his lesbian niece and her partner hold a heartwarming Christmas Eve party, and to the future where everyone essentially dances on his grave. Eventually, he sees the light and ends up donating money to the local LGBTQ+ center before spending Christmas with his niece.
Carol, about a soon-to-be-divorced New Jersey socialite and a mother who falls for Therese, the shopgirl who is, as Carol notes, “flung out of space,” earned six Oscar nominations, even if it was snubbed in the Best Picture category. Still, it was the first Oscar-worthy love story about a female couple in which a man does not steal focus and that doesn’t end in disaster or death for the women. In fact, the hopeful ending of both the film and the novel it's based on offer a possible happily-ever-after for Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara).
Carol begins during the days before Christmas and includes Carol and Therese consummating their desire during a road trip on New Year’s Eve. There’s a Santa hat, Christmas tree shopping, booze, family turmoil, and the glow of Christmas lights reflecting off of snowy surfaces. Watching Carol for Christmas has become a bit of a holiday tradition, especially among queer women.
Dysfunction abounds at Christmas in Love the Coopers, which stars Diane Keaton as the matriarch of the family that comes together for one last holiday season before she announces that she and her husband (played by John Goodman) are splitting. Olivia Wilde, Marisa Tomei, Alan Arkin, and Amanda Seyfried play generations in the Cooper family. Anthony Mackie is a gay police officer struggling with coming out until he gets a boost from one of the Cooper family members.
A zombie Christmas musical with queer characters sounds too good to exist, but it does in Anna and the Apocalypse. Dickinson’s Ella Hunt stars as Anna, a Scottish teen who wakes up to find herself in the middle of a zombie outbreak that is taking out everyone in her town. She, her friend Jonathan, and their badass lesbian choreographer Steph (Sarah Swire) set out to save their friends who are trapped at school, battling the undead and belting musical numbers all with the backdrop of holiday decorations.
In Ghosting: The Spirit of Christmas from Freeform, Kimiko Glenn (Orange Is the New Black) and Aisha Dee (The Bold Type) play classic holiday rom-com best friends with an unexpected holiday rom-com problem: Dee’s character dies unexpectedly and returns as a ghost. Glenn’s Kara is a tea enthusiast who begins to fall for graduate student Mae (Jazz Raycole). As the plot unfolds, their queer romance blossoms and fits seamlessly into the story.
Netflix’s Let It Snow depicts several sweet stories of love and friendship unfolding on a particularly snowy Christmas Eve in a sleepy town, one of which is a love story between teen girls that’s sure to warm hearts. Nonbinary actor Liv Hewson (Santa Clarita Diet, Bombshell) stars as Dorrie, a Waffle Town waitress and a Harry Potter stan who once shared the night of her life meeting and hanging out with Anna Akana’s popular girl Kerry. When Kerry and her friends show up at the Waffle Town on Christmas Eve, Dorrie debates how best to rekindle the magic they shared. But first she'll need to determine how best to melt Kerry's icy veneer around her friends.
From Tello Films, the romantic comedy Season of Love follows several female couples from Christmas to the new year “who discover love truly is the best gift of all,” according to the logline. Tello founder Christin Baker directs the film from Kathryn Tramell's script. Wynonna Earp’s Dominique Provost-Chalkley, True Blood and A Perfect Ending’s Jessica Clark, Emily Goss, Laur Allen, Sandra Mae Frank, and Janelle Marie costar in the movie that follows a cross section of friendships and love stories during the holiday season.
Netflix’s latest LGBTQ+ holiday movie, A New York Christmas Wedding, which features a bisexual lead character, delves into the world of do-overs and second chances when Jennifer (Nia Fairweather) second-guesses her imminent wedding to her fiancé, David (Otoja Abit).
As is the stuff of Christmas flicks, a twist of fate brings Jennifer, who’s reeling from the recent loss of her father and the long-ago loss of her best friend, Gabrielle (Adriana DeMeo), together with her guardian angel, Azrael (Cooper Koch). He conjures an alternate world in which Gabrielle and Jennifer’s father are still alive and Jennifer gets a second shot at love with Gabrielle.
On the network known for its made-for-TV movies, Lifetime’s The Christmas Setup stars real-life husbands Blake Lee and Ben Lewis, who fall in love all over again on-screen. Lewis plays Hugo, a New York City lawyer who goes to Milwaukee with his best friend, Madelyn (GLOW’s Ellen Wong), to spend Christmas with his mom, played by The Nanny’s Fran Drescher. A meddling matchmaker who also runs the local holiday festivities, Hugo’s mom, Kate, arranges for him to run into his old crush Patrick (Lee), who’s home from his high-powered job in Silicon Valley. The hitch? Hugo is offered a job in London just as things begin to get good.
What’s better than gay cowboys? Gay cowboys at Christmas! And that’s exactly what Dashing in December delivers when Wyatt (Peter Porte), a New York City financier, connects with his roots and a handsome ranch hand on his mom’s ranch/Winter Wonderland attraction when he returns home for the holidays to try to convince her to sell the place. While visiting his mother, Deb, played by Andie MacDowell, Wyatt meets Heath (Juan Pablo Di Pace) and the attraction is palpable. Cue the Brokeback Mountain, God’s Own Country gay ranch vibe, albeit with a decidedly happier ending for all.
Hallmark got into the gay Christmas movie game this year with The Christmas House, starring Jonathan Bennett (Mean Girls) as Brandon and Brad Harder as Jake, a gay couple returning home for the holidays while also anxiously awaiting a call from an agency about adopting their first child. Treat Williams and Sharon Lawrence star as Brandon’s parents in this sure-to-be heartwarming movie from the network renowned for its wholesome fare.
The first LGBTQ+-focused holiday rom-com backed by a major studio, Happiest Season is directed by Clea DuVall and written by her and her writing partner Mary Holland. It tells the story of Harper (Davis) and Abby (Stewart), who run into problems when, as they are headed home for the holidays to visit Harper’s overachieving family, Harper reveals some crucial information. The movie costars Holland, Dan Levy, Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, and Ana Gasteyer. It’s a full-on same-sex romantic comedy with all of the holiday fixings. And it also features a soundtrack of all LGBTQ+ musicians that is the icing on the gingerbread people cookies.
Happiest Season is now available on Hulu.