Premiered December 13, 1998.
It's Christmas Eve, somewhere in Maryland. FBI Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) has called his partner Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) to a stakeout of an abandoned mansion. Scully is a bit annoyed, since she has lots of Christmas presents to wrap.
Mulder tells her that on December 24, 1917, two star-crossed lovers named Maurice and Lyda killed each other in a suicide pact. Their ghosts haunt the mansion every Christmas Eve. In fact, every couple that has lived in the house since then has all died tragically on Christmas Eve. Scully doesn't believe in ghosts and dismisses Mulder's story.
Once they enter the house, Scully notices a clock that is keeping perfect time. They investigate further and notice a fireplace where the fire has just been extinguished. The agents notice a creaking under the floor boards, so Mulder lifts up the boards and discovers two dead bodies. Scully and Mulder realize that the bodies bear a strong resemblance...to themselves!
When Scully runs out of the library, a door slams behind her. Mulder opens it and discovers the doorway has been bricked over, trapping him.
Elsewhere in the house, Scully encounters a woman (Lily Tomlin). She says that Scully's life must be "awful," since she spends so much time with Mulder chasing after things she doesn't believe in. The woman states that the only pleasure Scully gets out of life is proving Mulder wrong.
Scully and Mulder soon learn that the people in the house are the ghosts of Lyda and Maurice. Will Mulder and Scully make it out of the mansion alive?
I remember seeing this creepy and festive episode of The X-Files back when it originally aired. It made quite an impression on me then and holds up well 20+ years later. There are also some aspects of the episode that have an unexpected and interesting resonance in light of references to the 1917/18 flu pandemic and our current ongoing coronavirus situation.
"How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" is a Christmas cracker of a ghost story as well as a meditation on loneliness during the holiday season or otherwise. It's also essentially a 4 person play with the not-necessarily benevolent spirits played by the delightful Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin wrecking pop-psych havoc upon Mulder and Scully's own loneliness and their fears about their worst impulses. The quality of the acting makes or breaks an episode like this and all 4 actors are definitely up to the task.
The Christmas season is literally the darkest time of the year and so we often celebrate with lights and warmth and feasting to counteract the darkness. However, that darkness also manifests in the sense of loneliness and melancholy that many experience during the season.
Moreover, there is a wonderful tradition of ghostly tales and stories associated with the holiday season with which "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" slots in nicely. There are even some direct references to the granddaddy of all ghostly Christmas tales, A Christmas Carol -- we see a clip of the Alistair Sim version of the tale on Mulder's TV late in the episode. Also, corpses under the floorboards really takes the whole tombstone with your name on it thing on it to another level in terms of Christmas Yet To Come!
I also guarantee that you will never hear Bing Crosby's version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" in quite the same way after watching this episode.
This X-Files episode is heartily recommended -- but not for the faint of heart.
4 candy canes!
J.A. Morris says:
I'm mostly in agreement with my co-blogger here. The X-Files was a show I usually watched when it aired and I remember enjoying this episode when it premiered.
I'll echo what RigbyMel said about the light and darkness that are both present during the holiday season. "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas" begins in an extremely dark place, with a story of two lovers who took their lives on Christmas Eve. However, at the end of this episode, Mulder and Scully realize that there is more goodness than darkness in the world and that having each other (even if they drive each other crazy at times) is better than having no one.
I'm a big fan of both Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin and they're great in "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas." Both actors bring the perfect amount of humor and horror to their characters and they play well off Duchovny and Anderson.
One thing I noticed while re-watching this episode:there are few traditional Christmas symbols to be found here. No Christmas trees, no Santas, no wreathes, no Nativities. We get a quick glance at Mulder and Scully's Christmas gifts at the end, but that's it. Yet this is most definitely a Christmas episode in every other sense.
"How The Ghosts Stole Christmas" is recommended to all fans of Christmas entertainment who like a little bit of darkness and horror to go with their eggnog and hot chocolate. It's especially recommended for fans of Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner.
J.A. Morris' rating:
4 candy canes!