The holiday movie “Violent Night”brought in nearly five million dollars on its opening night and doubled that during its opening weekend. The film cost about 20 million dollars to make, which is cut-rate by today’s standards (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” cost ten times that much) and has already grossed more than its production costs.
According to Peter Sobczynski, writing for RogerEbert.com, the story’s premise is that a tremendously wealthy family is set upon by a mercenary gang of thieves, intent on stealing millions. The family is rescued by a cursing, killer Santa Claus, who beats the bad guys to a pulp—and worse. This R-rated film is clearly not meant for families hoping to get into the spirit of the holiday.
“Violent Night” is not the first holiday entertainment to feature Christmas violence. The 1988 Bill Murray film, “Scrooged,”presented a bogus movie trailer for a sham movie titled, “The Night the Reindeer Died.” In the trailer, Santa’s north pole workshop comes under attack. Mr. and Mrs. Claus rally the elves and supply them with combat weapons to fight off the attackers—with the help of the actor Lee Majors. More recently, a blasphemous movie short was made with the same title.
A future historian might speak of how violence entered the Christmas season in 1979, the year the song, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” was introduced. In 2000, an animated Christmas television special of the same name aired. In 1988 came the facetious trailer, “The Night the Reindeer Died,” followed by the blasphemous movie short of the same name. And now we have “Violent Night,” whose producers are already planning a sequel.
Our future historian would present a compelling case that violence entered the holiday season in the latter part of the twentieth century, but he would be mistaken. Violence surrounding Christ’s birth dates back to the very first century – a violence that was more gruesome than anything the writers of Violent Night included.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Magi from the East came to pay tribute to “the one born King of the Jews.” When Herod, who claimed the title “King of the Jews” for himself, learned about this, he panicked. A legitimate king was a threat to himself and to his royal line – a threat he was determined to remove.
Herod the Great was a genius, a brilliant military strategist and a remarkable architect. But he was an evil genius. When Herod suspected (wrongly) that two of his sons were planning a coup, he had them strangled. His patron, the Emperor Augustus, once quipped in Greek, “It is safer to be Herod’s pig (hus) than his son (huios).
Herod also killed his wife, her mother, his brother-in-law (by drowning) and, during the week of his death, yet another son. Before he died, he had 70 of the leading members of Israeli society arrested and held so that they could be executed at the moment of his passing. He said that he knew people wouldn’t grieve for him and he wanted there to be tears. Fortunately, his orders were not carried out.
Of the all the atrocities Herod committed, the worst was the murder of every boy under the age of two living in or around Bethlehem. Herod thought that in this way he could eliminate the threat posed by the “one born King of the Jews.” He sent his soldiers into the community suddenly and without warning. When they left, Bethlehem wailed, and most did not even know why their sons and grandsons had been killed.
God did not send his Son into a peaceful world but into a violent one. He did not come to a society ball but to a bloodbath, as the “Massacre of the Innocents” demonstrates. Bethlehem was a beachhead, and Christmas was D-Day. No wonder an entire company of the heavenly army appeared in the skies over Bethlehem.
Evil Herod grasped what our schmaltzy Christmas cards miss: the birth of Jesus marked an invasion. Some, like Herod, regarded it as an attack; others welcomed it as a rescue mission, but no one then thought it schmaltzy. Neither should anyone now.