Amidst the welcome festivities of the Christmas season, let us not forget that the season has two sides. The outer world is festooned in the bright side of the holidays, but underneath is the haunted side, given to us most classically by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but also in the landscape of memory, matter, and spirit in other favourite stories. To revel in nostalgic spookiness, we will revisit five moments from The X-Files that evoke the spirit of haunted Christmas.
Beyond the Sea
The episode’s teaser has Scully’s mother and father leaving her apartment after a post-Christmas dinner visit. Scully’s dad teases her about leaving the Christmas tree up after Christmas. Later in the night while dozing on the sofa, Scully sees her father sitting in a chair in her living room, a scene she tries later to reimagine in a hotel room while on a case. His mouth is moving, but he’s not making a sound (actor Don Davis recited The Lord’s Prayer during this scene). Scully is distracted, or possibly awakened, by the ringing phone behind her. The call comes from her mom, who tells Scully that her father has just died from a massive coronary. Scully looks behind her and sees the empty chair.
‘Beyond the Sea’ originally aired after Christmas, on 7 January 1994. The loss of a family member close to a holiday is an under-examined X-Files theme. Here, we see Scully’s loss, her conflicted desire to have a haunted visitation from her recently deceased father, and the liminality and fuzzy boundaries between the world of spirit and the world of matter that reside at the heart of dreams, the heart of Christmas, and the heart of The X-Files.
Scully sees the appearance of stigmatic wounds on seemingly average young boy Kevin Cryder, perceives saintly characteristics in unlikely divine messenger and former yard man Owen Jarvis, and patently states her belief in miracles. When Scully autopsies Owen Jarvis, noting that his body is decomposing unusually and that it is also emitting a floral scent, and when she later sees a cut in Kevin Cryder’s side that wasn’t there upon previous examination, she uneasily broaches with Mulder the topic of miracles as evidence of faith. Scully challenges Mulder’s denial of the spiritual things she has witnessed, but he tells her that although he waits for a miracle every day—his own personal Christmas—only his patience is challenged. In the face of the doubt that their disconnect generates, she goes to a priest, who tells her that some things are meant only for her to see.
‘Revelations’ makes no specific references to Christmas, but the episode aired on 15 December 1995, as the final X-File prior to the Christmas break, and presents events and themes boldly important to and challenging of Scully’s Christian faith. The story deals starkly with miracles and faith, not the sugar-coated form that the minister in the final scene in the confessional suggests to Scully—the rising sun, the birth of a child—but rather the inexplicable events that defy current and future scientific explanation. Scully and Mulder investigate the death of a fake stigmatic, a minister using the phenomena of stigmata for worldly acclaim, and in the extended investigation find a boy whose stigmatic and other spiritual proclivities are as unwelcome to him as they are unlikely. This is the true measure of faith for Scully, whose Roman Catholic religion is thrown into contrast with Mulder’s religious scepticism, or rather cynicism, at the prospect that Scully has been chosen by God to protect for a time an unlikely miracle child. It is once again Scully who receives a glimpse of an otherworldly order of events and of the unsettling influence of religious faith.
Though not a Christmas episode, ‘Paper Hearts’ was the last new X-File that aired before the Christmas break of 1996, on 25 December. The playful and light music in the teaser seems like it could come from a child’s dream of Christmas. We see Mulder asleep on his sofa, awakening to see a red dot of light on his ceiling. The red dot of light then flits from place to place, landing on a sign that reads “Bosher’s Run Park”, where it expands into the words “Mad Hat” then returns to a red dot of light that leads Mulder to a wooded site where it lands on the body of a young girl. The red light dot becomes a heart shape as the girl’s body recedes into the ground, and Mulder wakes up. The temporal association of the episode to Christmas and the dreamtime magical music in an encroaching dark teaser suit the haunted other side of Christmas, as does the idea of past memory appearing in a dream.
“Dana, she needs your help. Go to her.” Scully’s family Christmas vacation in San Diego begins on an appropriately haunted The X-Files note when she hears the voice of her dead sister, Melissa, say these words to her in a telephone call that, mysteriously, no one else in the house answers. Scully discovers that the “her” in question is her – Scully’s – own daughter that she did not know existed. Vexed by dreams of the past and reveries of conversations of Christmas past, Scully is somehow guided to investigate the girl’s origins, which lead to her eventual fate. The following episode, ‘Emily’, is the more allegorical story of an impossible child whose origin and fate are mysterious; as Scully says, the creation “of a child whose only hope is to die.” Scully even receives another guiding phone call in that episode. However, the sense of personal memory and dream and the spookiness of her sister’s voice leading Scully outward from her own memories are set in the more interior, inward-looking ‘Christmas Carol’. That phone call from “the great beyond,” as Detective Kresge calls it, is a great mirror moment to Scully seeing her father’s newly apparitional self sitting in her chair, speaking, in the hours after his death almost four years earlier, wondering what his message to her would be.
How the Ghosts Stole Christmas
Mulder and Scully go into a haunted house on Christmas Eve in what might be a dream, a tremendous Yuletide imagination, or one of the duo’s occasional mutual hallucinations. In the course of their strange night, the two ghost inhabitants of the house may or may not have convinced Mulder and Scully to shoot themselves or each other. A lot of talk is given to loneliness and the fear of loneliness at the holiday season, reflected in Mulder sullenly viewing the end of A Christmas Carol before the end of the episode. When Mulder and Scully admit their own fears, not only of the present but also of the past, while wallowing on the floor splattered with their own blood, they realise that their double shooting was in their heads, and emerge clean from the house. ‘Blood-splattered floor’ is not a standard Christmas association outside of The X-Files, but Mulder and Scully becoming clean and renewed by recognising that they’ve been fine and whole all along has the redemptive spirit and release from world-weariness that characterise Christmas and The X-Files.
All five of these episodes except ‘Paper Hearts’ have significant images of blood. All except ‘How the Ghosts Stole Christmas’ are concerned with saving a child. Each episode has a measure of guidance to Scully, Mulder, or both, even as Maurice and Lyda’s attempts in ‘How the Ghost Stole Christmas’ might be considered guidance down the wrong path (although one that ultimately led to revelation). All five moments from these episodes have mysterious messages from beyond the daily realm: from the dead; from memory; from faith. All have a message of going forth to find a truth. Any of all of these episodes make fine X-Files viewing to celebrate the darker and lighter sides of Christmas.