There has always been a clear connection between Christmas (or the holiday season) and horror. The greatest Christmas story ever written, The Christmas Carol, is a ghost story that obsesses luxuriously about death, in which a young boy almost starves and Scrooge’s servants squabble over who gets to pawn his stuff. In fact, the original original Christmas story is at least a little dark; you might recall that it eventually revolves around the threat of infanticide.
Santa has also been a mainstay of horror. There’s the murderous guy dressed as Santa in Silent Night Deadly Night and Black Christmas, and then of course there’s Krampus and other evil-twin derivatives of Santa like Belsnickel, Pere Fouettard, and Hans Trapp.
But the truth is that we don't need Krampus and his ilk; Santa Claus is scary enough as it is, although the most insidious union of Santa and genre is with science fiction, not horror. A little analysis reveals that the cheesy studio Santa comedies of the 1990s and early 2000s, notably The Santa Claus and Elf, have surreptitiously revealed the true parameters of the Santa story are dystopic.
In The Santa Clause the elves fly around in jet packs and work in a workshop to rival any James Bond villain's. This is the birth of Santa Claus as techno-oligarch. See below a scene that inadvertently explores the disturbing political repercussions that such advanced elves might injudiciously wield as an apparently paramilitary posse of "Santa's little helpers", complete with armbands, harass and otherwise abuse an official of the law.
Keep in mind that these elves are serving a new Santa (Tim Allen), who is replacing the old Santa, dead as a result of a treacherously ice roof. In this way The Santa Clause examines the transfer of power, peaceful or otherwise, from the regime of one Santa to the next. The Santa Clause series in general is the Brave New World or 1984 of Santa-related stories -- the tale of a technocratic regime consolidating its power through careful application of consumer goods.
Elf, however, goes even farther. In a key sequence, the elves are assembled (in uniform) to work on "the latest in extreme graphic chipset processors", they are forced to recite the "code of the elves". Firstly, "extreme graphic chipset processors" are already produced by companies like Intel, Radeon and NVidia. Santa's efforts to produce these consumer goods and distribute them for free is almost certainly a bid to destabilize the tech-market. If Santa did not enjoy a privileged status as a beloved seasonal imp, his subversive attacks would not be tolerated. The "code of the elves", moreover, is rife with Orwellian applications. See below.
The "code of the elves" is here revealed as a rigidly dogmatic hermeneutic designed, as so many dystopian and totalitarian creeds are, with an eye towards fostering an environment that admits no critical analysis. "Every day" is to be treated like Christmas, and "singing loud for all to hear", a clear reference to the kinds of propaganda historically circulated by the Soviet Glavlit or the American "Committee on Public Information" during WWI.
But Santa's goals are not merely economic, but are sometimes outright colonial, as in the inflammatory masterpiece Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Please note: the film is not called Santa Claus Makes Friends with the Martians, or Santa Claus Learns To Be More Diverse from the Martians. The operative word here is "conquers".
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians also hinges on questions of propaganda and groupthink. It begins with Martian children watching the broadcast of an interview with Santa from their planet, which eventually results in the "kidnapping" of Santa by Martian politicos, though it can be read as Santa arranging his own kidnapping. Santa then sets up a second workshop on the red planet, and recruits Martians to work for him. It even results in the creation of a second, Martian Santa, who continues his work in his stead. What is this if not the creation of a dummy state, a colony, to be administrated under the shiny leather jackboot of Santa himself?
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has what is ostensibly a happy ending, with the "good" children of Mars getting their own presents -- but this also means that they have become the recipients of Santa's relentless economic destabilization of the market. At the end of the film, we are made to ask how long it will be before Santa broadcasts his "code of the elves" from loudspeakers on the Martian surface? In fact, how long before Santa has forced his techno-oligarchy on all the planets in the solar system, and beyond?
We do not have space here to examine all of the dystopic applications of Santa Claus, and there are many. There is the question of whether Santa's totalitarian dictate that we provide him with milk and cookies represents collusion between Santa's workshop and the junkfood-industrial complex, and furthermore, whether the Keebler elves are in on it or not. There is also the issue of how Santa manages to have access to everyone's homes through what he euphemistically refers to as "the chimney". And make sure not to forget that Santa's whole intelligence apparatus, which "sees you when you're sleeping" and "knows when you're awake", is transparently sinister even without the added creepiness of having a voyeuristic elf watch every move you make from the vantage of a shelf.
The question we must ask ourselves, then, is "qui bono?" Why would Santa want to distribute free plastic crap to children, save for that they possess the most malleable minds and are most open to dramatic restructurings of society and economy?
I'll leave you with one final thought. What happens with Santa comes to collect? What will we be asked to relinquish when the day comes that Santa is here, not to give, but to take? When he demands, not just a plate of cookies, some milk, and our undying belief in him, but our veneration, our labor, and even perhaps our flesh itself?
Then, there will be only one holiday commandment: do what Santa wilt shall be the whole of the law.