5 Christmas Movies from the Silent Film Era

The Christmas movies from the silent film era arrived just a few years after movies themselves did. Starting in the early 1890s, filmmakers were producing short, silent, Christmas-themed films. What we consider “classic” old Christmas movies generally goes back only as far as the 1940s. That’s the decade that gave us mainstays like It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet me in St. Louis, Holiday Inn, and Miracle on 34th Street.

But before any of that, there were short films of the silent era. Many of them adapted well known novels and short stories, while others were original stories. Given the short runtime, nascent filmmaking techniques, and—you know—lack of words, it’s no wonder that most of these aren’t on your yearly watch list. But for a peek into a bygone era of Christmas entertainment, they’re well worth a watch. Here are five of the earliest Christmas movies from the silent film era.

Santa Claus

This 1898 film is not only the first known appearance of Santa Claus on film, but it’s also one of the most innovative of its time. It’s the earliest known example of “parallel action.” That’s the technique that depicts simultaneous events by repeatedly cutting between two pieces of action. It’s also an early example of double exposure, which is when one image is superimposed onto another.

Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost

The first film adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the 1905 short “Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost.” It condensed the 80-page novella into a five-minute short. Sadly, the only remaining copy is missing about 90 seconds of original material. But it’s still fun to watch!

The Night Before Christmas

The first-ever film production of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was 1905’s “The Night Before Christmas.” The film was made for Thomas Edison’s movie production company. And it features special effect of Santa Claus riding his sleigh over hills and the moon that were shot using miniatures and a painted backdrop. For more fun tidbits about the original poem, check out Surprising Facts about A Visit from St. Nicholas.

The Little Match Girl

The Little Match Girl is a 1902 production of the short story by Hans Christian Andersen. The film relies heavily on double exposure to depict the hopes and dreams of a dying little girl.

The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus

The twelfth, and final episode in the Octavius – Amateur Detective series, this 1914 short tells the story of a mishap when a detective dresses as Santa…and so does a burglar.