(As I mentioned in my post announcing this rewatch project, there will be spoilers!)
Season 3, Episode 8: A Very Supernatural Christmas
Image and episode summary from Wikipedia:
When a being dressed as Santa Claus begins killing people after dragging them up the chimney, the Winchesters head to Ypsilanti, Michigan to investigate. Sam suspects that an evil version of Santa—many world lores tell of those who punish the wicked during Christmas—is at work. He notices that over both victims' fireplaces are the same wreaths made of meadowsweet, a herb often used in pagan rituals to lure gods to a human sacrifice. The brothers track down the makers of the wreaths, a pair of pagan gods posing as the apparently perfect Edward (Spencer Garrett) and Madge Carrigan (Merrilyn Gann). However, they are captured as intended human sacrifices. When the Carrigans are distracted by a neighbor at the front door, the Winchesters break free. Knowing that the gods can be killed by evergreen wood, they stab the gods to death with branches of the Christmas tree.
Throughout the episode, the brothers debate celebrating Christmas after having skipped the tradition for years. Dean wants to celebrate because it will be his last chance, while Sam does not for the same reason. Flashbacks accompany this, depicting a young Sam (Colin Ford) and Dean (Ridge Canipe) on Christmas Eve of 1991. With their father out on a hunt, the brothers are staying alone in a motel room until he returns. Sam, having read his father's hunting journal, is finally told the truth by Dean about what their father does. Later that night, Dean steals gifts from a nearby house to make it look like their father dropped off presents. Knowing the truth but appreciating what Dean tried to do for him, Sam gives him the gift meant for their father—the amulet necklace that Dean has worn ever since. As the episode ends in the present, Dean is surprised to find that Sam has decorated their motel room with Christmas paraphernalia, now wanting to celebrate with him.
Hooray a Christmas episode!! Christmas is my favourite holiday, so I was super excited the first time I watched this. And of course it isn’t just a Christmas episode…it’s a very Supernatural Christmas, haha.
Well everything looks nice…we open on a lovely little Christmas scene from one year ago, with a child greeting his grandfather. The decorations are up, the tree is lit, and at the end of the night, Grandpa is dressed up like Santa Claus. How sweet. The little boy creeps to the top of the stairs and spies his grandfather-as-Santa putting presents under the tree. But then there’s a strange noise…which the kid interprets as reindeer. But then the strange noises continue, and Grandpa knows it isn’t Santa. He goes to the chimney to investigate, and the little boy watches from the stairs as his grandpa – dressed as Santa – is yanked up the chimney screaming. And then a blood-stained boot falls out of the chimney.
I love the title card for this episode! So cool!
Now in present day, Dean (as an FBI agent) is interviewing a mother about her husband’s disappearance. It sounds just like what we witnessed in the opening scene. Dean confirms that the doors were locked with no forced entry. Sam comes out from looking around inside the house and Dean promises they’ll be in touch. The woman stops them, saying the police said her husband might have been kidnapped, but she wonders why they haven’t called or demanded a ransom. Three days before Christmas…that’s sad.
As they walk to the car, Dean asks Sam if he found anything in the house. Sam found a tooth in the chimney, leading Dean to wonder what could drag a man up a chimney.
Back at the motel, Sam is doing some research on what they might be looking for. Sam tries to make a joke about Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins, but it goes over Dean’s head.
Dean tells Sam that there’s another guy who disappeared in a similar fashion. So what are they dealing with? Sam has an idea: evil Santa. Dean says it’s crazy, but Sam talks about different versions of Santa Claus in different cultures and lore.
Dean is not impressed with the theory about Santa having a shady brother punishing people. There is no Santa, he reminds Sam.
“Yeah I know. You’re the one who told me that in the first place, remember?” Sam says.
Dean is silent, and Sam gives up for now. But Dean says both victims visited the same place before they were snatched. Don’t give up on your theory, Sam!
The brothers visit Santa’s Village – a cute little Christmas town. Dean tells Sam that they should have a Christmas this year, with a tree and everything. Sam doesn’t seem thrilled. Sam reminds Dean that they weren’t exactly Hallmark moments for him, and Dean is surprised. When Sam refuses, Dean calls him a Grinch.
We flashback to Nebraska, Christmas Eve, 1991. Young Sam and Dean are alone in a motel room. Sam is wrapping a present for their Dad, and Dean scoffs, asking where he got the money for it. “Steal it?” he asks.
Sam says Uncle Bobby gave it to him. Awww!!! I love knowing that Bobby has always been there, looking out for Sam and Dean.
Sam asks Dean if Dad will be here. “It’s Christmas”. Dean promises that yes, Dad will be there.
When Sam asks where he is, Dean says he’s on business. Sales stuff. Sam says nobody ever tells him anything and Dean tells him to quit asking then.
Sam asks if their dad is a spy. Dean says yeah, he’s James Bond. Sam wonders why they move around so much, and Dean tells Sam it’s because everywhere they go, people get sick of his face. Sam says he’s old enough for Dean to tell him the truth.
“You don’t want to know the truth. Believe me,” Dean says. Sam asks if that’s why they never talk about their mom and Dean snaps, telling Sam to shut up and never talk about her. He goes to leave, telling Sam he’s going out. Poor Sam.
Back in present day, Dean interrupts Sam from his memory.
Sam tells Dean they’re looking for someone walking with a limp who smells like sweets. Dean wonders how it knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but Sam doesn’t know.
They see an old man dressed up as Santa talking to kids, and Dean seems to zero in on him as the possible Anti-Claus.
When an elf approaches them, asking if their child wants to take a picture with Santa, Dean tells her that Sam wants to have his picture taken. When she tells them that no kids over 12 can go up to meet Santa, Sam tells her they only came to watch…real smooth!
She says ew and leaves. Dean laughs at Sam and then they turn to see Santa limping away. They decide to follow him. They stake out his trailer and later that night, Sam passes Dean some coffee to caffeinate.
Dean asks Sam why he’s “the boy that hates Christmas”. Dean admits that they’ve had some bumpy holidays as kids, but he says they’ll do it right this year.
Sam tells him to knock himself out if he wants but not to involve Sam.
They see the Santa looking out his window, then closing the curtains. Dean wonders what’s up with Saint Nicotine. They get out of the car and approach the trailer, and when they enter, they find nothing Santa watching porn, drinking, and holding a bong. The boys start singing a Christmas carol (lol they don’t know the words) and slip away.
Meanwhile, at another house, a child comes downstairs when he hears noises from the roof. Thinking it’s Santa, he comes downstairs, but it isn’t Santa that comes out of the chimney! The boy watches as something exits – we don’t see it’s face, which is wonderfully creepy – and marches up the stairs, carrying a sack. It enters a room and we hear a scream, which abruptly ends, and the creature comes back down the stars, carrying the sack, which clearly has a writhing body inside. With the frightened child watching the whole time, it reaches towards the child, taking a cookie, then disappears back up the chimney.
What a great scene!
The next day, Sam and Dean, as FBI agents, are interviewing the child’s mother. Sam asks where she got the wreath above the fireplace, which surely seems like a random, inappropriate question given the events.
Outside, Dean gives Sam a hard time about it, but Sam tells him the house they investigated yesterday had the same wreath.
Bobby tells Sam that the wreath probably had meadow sweet: most powerful plant in pagan lore. So Sam says they aren’t looking for the anti-Claus. Meadow sweet was used in human sacrifice, like chum for gods. Dean wonders why someone would use it for a Christmas wreath. Despite Dean asserting that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, Sam tells him that much of Christmas tradition comes from pagan lore.
Sam thinks they’re dealing with a pagan god – a god of the winter solstice. And when you sacrifice to this god, you get mild weather in return. Given the mild winter they’re having in the middle of winter in Michigan, that seems plausible. Sam says they need to determine who’s selling the wreaths.
Sam and Dean enter a Christmas store and start asking about the wreaths that have been purchased from the shop. When Sam describes it, the salesman tells them he’s all out of those wreaths, and that Madge, a local woman, makes them. And she gave them to this guy for free. Interesting.
Back at the motel, they talk about it being suspicious that this woman would give these wreaths away for free. Then Dean reminisces about a wreath he stole from a liquor store, haha.
Sam calls him out – why does he want to do Christmas so bad? Dean asks why Sam is so against it, but Sam says he doesn’t get it. Dean hasn’t talked about Christmas in years.
“This is my last year,” Dean says plainly. That explains it. Sam says he knows – that’s why he can’t.
“I can’t just sit around, drinking eggnog pretending everything’s okay when I know next Christmas you’ll be dead. I just can’t”. So that explains Sam’s aversion to celebrating this year.
This is such a good, sad, powerful scene. They aren’t fighting, they aren’t yelling; they’re speaking plainly and honestly.
We see another flashback. Young Dean comes back with dinner – snacks. Sam says he knows why Dean keeps a gun under his pillow and why they lay salt down everywhere. Dean tells him to shut up but Sam pulls out their Dad’s journal. Sam asks if monsters are real. Dean thinks about it and says he’ll end him if Sam tells Dad that he told him any of this.
Dean tells Sam that they have the coolest Dad in the world. He’s a superhero. Monsters are real and Dad fights them. That’s what he’s doing right now. Dean tells him almost everything’s real, but when Sam asks if Santa’s real, Dean says no.
Sam says if monsters are real, they could get him. Or their dad. But Dean promises they won’t. Sam says he read that the monsters got mom and if they did that they could get dad and then they could get him and dean.
Dean comes to sit beside him and tells Sam to trust him, they’re fine. He asks Sam if he’s okay and Sam whispers yeah. Dean says again that Dad will be here for Christmas like always. Sam says he just wants to go to sleep. Dean keeps watch over him while Sam turns his back and cries himself to sleep. Dean promises it will all be better when he wakes up. He promises.
What a scene! The actors playing young Sam and Dean did a great job, and when you realize that this is the moment that Sam really finds out what’s going on and what their dad does, and that Dean is the one who has that conversation with him – not their father – it’s really something. And we see how Dean has been Sam’s protector practically his whole life.
Back in present day, the brothers approach a festively-decorated house, where the woman who makes the wreaths lives, Madge Carrigan.
They knock on the door and are greeted by a sweet lady and tell her that they were admiring her wreaths, but the store is sold out. They ask if they could buy another one, but she says that’s all she has. When Dean asks why meadow sweet, she says it’s because of the smell. Her husband comes to the door, in an old man cardigan and pipe, offering them peanut brittle, but Sam turns it down. They seem like the sweetest, friendliest couple.
Back at the motel, Sam does some research and learns the couple recently moved and had a bunch of pagan stuff in their home. Apparently Bobby is sure that stakes will take this thing out, so that night, the boys go back to the Carrigan house. Dean breaks in and the boys each have a wooden stake.
Dean remarks on the plastic covering their furniture. Suspicious! They skulk around the house, which is so wonderfully decorated for the holidays, and Sam finds a locked room off the kitchen. He calls Dean over and they get inside. It turns out to be the basement, which is definitely the scene of some horrible crimes. There is blood everywhere, and bones, and some body parts and weapons. Bad things happened here.
Sam sees a bag hanging on a hook and goes over to investigate. The brothers are attacked by the Carrigans! These two folks are stronger than they look. We get a glimpse of their true faces before they knock Sam out.
When they come to, the boys are tied to chairs in the Carrigan’s house. Sam says he guesses they’re dealing with Mr. and Mrs. God. The Carrigans come in, still speaking as sweetly as ever, and Mr. Carrigan knows they’re hunters. He doesn’t want the boys coming back with more hunters, and Madge says they used to take over 100 tributes a year and it’s much less than that now.
They tell Sam and Dean they’re sticklers for ritual. And you know what kicks it off? Meadow sweet. Madge places some around each boy’s neck while Edward holds a sharp knife and bowl. He cuts Sam’s arm, and says back in the day they were worshipped by millions. Now this Jesus is the hot new thing in town. Madge talks about how they assimilated, getting a mortgage, playing bridge. She cuts Dean too and he calls her a bitch. Madge tells him to say fudge.
Edward approaches Sam with something that looks like pliers. He goes for Sam’s nails and Sam tells him not to but he pulls off a nail. YUCK! I couldn’t watch that part.
They continue with their ritual. Next? A tooth. Edward picks the plyers back up. Merry Christmas Sam, Dean says.
Edward approaches Dean with pliers and tells him to open wide, but Dean is saved by the bell! The doorbell rings and they reluctantly go to answer it. It’s a neighbour dropping off a fruitcake! The Carrigans turn down a caroling invitation and head back to the kitchen to continue with the ritual. When they get there, Sam and Dean are gone! Phew! They’ve managed to escape and try to shut the couple in the kitchen. The stakes are in the basement. What do they do?
Sam and Dean block the kitchen doors and pull down the Christmas tree. They rip some thick branches off as makeshift stakes.
The kitchen has gone quiet. Suddenly the couple attacks! Sam and Dean fight back and Sam manages to stake Madge. While Edward is distracted, Dean gets the upper hand and stakes him too.
“Merry Christmas”, Sam tells Dean.
Back at the motel, in a flashback, Dean wakes up Sam saying Dad was there and dropped off gifts. Dean says Dad tried to wake Sam up like a thousand times. He tells Sam to open his presents. There’s even a little Charlie Brown Christmas tree lit up! Sam unwraps a Sapphire Barbie and Dean jokes that Dad probably thinks Sam’s a girl. The other gift is a sparkly baton. Sam knows that Dad never showed and asks Dean where the toys came from. Dean admits that he took them from a house up the block and he didn’t know they were chick presents.
Dean says Dad would have been there if he could. Sam pulls out a gift and Dean won’t take it, saying it’s supposed to be for Dad, but Sam says Dad lied to him. He offers it to Dean. And guess what it is?? The necklace that Dean wears to this day. The Samulet origin story!
Dean is touched.
In present day, Dean enters the motel and Sam is drinking eggnog and decorating a tree! He’s made Christmas for Dean! There’s even Christmas music playing!
Dean asks Sam what made him change his mind, and Sam doesn’t answer (but that memory must have been Sam’s). He tells Dean to try the eggnog, handing him a glass.
Funny story about this scene: apparently that eggnog Jensen (Dean) drinks in this scene was, unbeknownst to him while filming, made quite strong. So his reaction when he takes that sip is his true, genuine reaction.
Sam tells him to sit down for Christmas stuff. They exchange gifts: Dean gives Sam his gifts from the gas station, and Sam has something for Dean.
Sam gets two dirty magazines, and shaving cream. Dean gets motor oil (I think) and a candy bar. “Fuel for me and fuel for my baby.
They cheers and wish each other a Merry Christmas. It’s a sweet moment, but it starts to feel sad as we remember that this is Dean’s last Christmas.
Sam looks at Dean, tearing up, and looks away. He asks Dean if he wants to watch the game and Dean says absolutely. Sam turns on the TV and the camera pulls back and we the viewers watch them through the motel window, as the snow starts to fall.
– Pagan gods
This is one of my favourite episodes. It does a great job of combining the monster of the week element with the overall storyline, because we know that Dean is running on borrowed time this entire season, and having Christmas feature so strongly in the monster element of the episode serves to remind the brothers that they don’t have more Christmases or holidays together to look forward to.
And everything about final that scene is perfect: the way they look at each other (the mix of happiness tinged with the sorrow from knowing that they’re perhaps letting themselves ignore the reality of their situation for the moment), to the Christmas song playing (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, the original lyrics of which are quite sad), and the cheap motel that Sam has tried to make festive for his brother. I love it so much.