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12 Facts About The Christmas Chronicles That Santa Claus Wants You To Unwrap

For many, the holiday season isn't complete without some Christmas film classics. Families across America settle in to watch nostalgic films that have been around for decades: "Elf," "Home Alone," "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," "It's A Wonderful Life" and others. More recently, a new holiday classic has joined their ranks: "The Christmas Chronicles," starring Kurt Russell.

"Chronicles" premiered in 2018 on Netflix, where over 20 million people tuned in during its first week to watch Russell take on the role of Santa Claus; reviews for the film may have been mixed, but its popularity soon yielded the sequel "The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two" in 2020, shining a spotlight on Russell's longtime partner Goldie Hawn as a wise, playful Mrs. Claus (as teased at the conclusion pf the first film). The duo had starred in a couple films at the beginning of their relationship (1984's "Swing Shift," "1987's "Overboard") and even appeared in one together when they were in their late teens/early twenties (1968's "The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band"), so the "Christmas Chronicles" films felt like two legends coming full circle, Hollywood royalty transitioning into holiday institutions.

No matter how many times you've seen the "Chronicles" films (and, judging by Netflix numbers, it's a lot), there are likely some details you may have missed. With that in mind, below is a gift from Santa himself: Little-known facts about a franchise that has become the newest Christmas movie tradition.

A special language was created for the film

While David J. Peterson might not be a household name, there's a good chance his work has been heard in your home. Peterson is an in-demand conlanger (someone who constructs and creates languages) for Hollywood. Viewers have heard his work in such film and TV projects as "Game of Thrones," "Doctor Strange," "The 100," and "The Witcher."

One of the ways the "Chronicles" films create their unique reality is by presenting a language that the Claus family, elves, and other denizens of the North Pole use to communicate. It's a clever conceit, made particularly effective since it utilizes sounds and inflections which bring to mind older, established modes of speech. It almost sounds like a Germanic Japanese

Peterson calls it 'Yulish,' and it is non-past tense, featuring inflected nouns and a drop in intonation when stressing syllables. Peterson has even created a pronunciation guide, in case you want to stay up late on Christmas Eve and greet the big guy in his native tongue.

Kurt Russell felt that the inclusion of Peterson's new language helped him tap into the mythology of his Santa character. "If you do anything that's historical, especially the Bible, and you do it in an original language, it gives it a sense of authenticity," he said in a 2020 interview about the films. "When I saw that, and I read this script, I thought, elvish will give this a sense of authenticity."

Real reindeer were used as animation models

The CG animation crew for "The Christmas Chronicles" was incredibly busy, seeing as how they had to create flying reindeer, elves, and all sorts of complicated effects shots. But while flying sleighs and toy-building elves are open for flights of fantasy, reindeer are (somewhat) based in reality, so the "Chronicles" producers and directors Clay Kaytis (on the original) and Chris Columbus (on the sequel) wanted photorealistic animals. 

Method Studios in Vancouver was tasked with the creation of Santa's reindeer, and were asked to use the real animals as photo-real inspiration. In order to create reindeer that interacted naturally with the scenery around them, still and video footage was collected for the designers working behind the scenes. According to Animation World News, to make sure they got the lines of sight correct, several Method Studios supervisors "served as reindeer stand-ins" during filming, ensuring actors and reindeer were able to interact naturally on screen. That old CG standby, ping-pong balls on sticks, was typically used to hold the place where elves would eventually stand.

"It was really, really funny. They would have a ping pong ball on a stick or on a wire, and it would just be sitting on the ground. So I'd stare at nothing and talk to nothing most of the time," recalls Darby Camp, who plays the Pierce sister Kate in the films. "It's so awkward and funny because I'll say something and just stand there, looking at nothing. But it's so cool to see what the elves look like at the end, and just think to myself, "That was nothing and now there's an elf there.'"

Kurt Russell took his role as Santa seriously

The role of Santa is a big deal — after all, he's a larger-than-life character, as well as a symbol of magic for arguably the most beloved of holidays.

Kurt Russell knew all this heading in, and was accordingly determined to give it his all. Russell took his Santa duties so seriously, in fact, that he and Hawn personally wrote over 150 pages of backstory while preparing for the second film. 

According to Columbus, even though the stars knew those pages would not be used in the actual shooting script, Russell and Hawn used them to give their characters extra depth. After the success of the second film, however, "Chronicles" producers seem open to inclusion somewhere down the line.

"When Kurt and I sat down to talk about what would happen in the second movie, we really wanted to dig deep into the mythology of Santa's relationship with Mrs. Claus," Columbus said in a 2020 interview. "So, there's an entire backstory that maybe someday will see the light of day.

Russell has said that a lot of his self-imposed backstory has revolved around research into the actual person the real Saint Nicholas was. "He was a bishop," Russell told CBS Sunday Morning in 2020. "The question is, through the myth and the legend, how is he still around? How is that possible?"

Take that backstory, mix it with two old-fashioned actors who were raised in the Hollywood system, and you get a dedication to the Claus family to which fans have clearly responded. 

"Kurt takes this role incredibly seriously, It may sound silly to some people, but Kurt approaches Santa Claus as if he were a Method actor," Colombus has said. For his part, Russell says he and Hawn are accustomed to such dedication — but leave their characters on the set. "We're pretty old school. We do what we do at work, and then when you come home, it's not ruling your life."

Kurt Russell was once a mall Santa

In some ways, it feels like Kurt Russell has been fulfilling some sort of personal destiny by taking on the Claus role. Speaking with Jimmy Fallon in 2018, the Hollywood vet discussed a strange experience he had while taking his young grandson to a mall in Colorado with Hawn. When they arrived at the mall, Santa had finished for the day, leaving their grandson disappointed.

Determined to put a smile on the face of the boy, Russell found the woman organizing the mall Santa visit and asked if there was a costume he could borrow.

"I got into what I thought was a good Santa mode," he recalled. "And I was a mall Santa for about an hour and a half." 

The pair also have a long-held affection for the holiday, and all the entertaining that frequently comes along with it. "I just can't even tell you; it's more than Christmas," says Hawn. "It's a fantasy: the snow and the kids and all the stockings hanging from the fireplace. And Kurt in his Santa suit."

Russell adds: "After we have Christmas Eve dinner we always have somebody read 'The Night Before Christmas,' and then we track Santa's movements on the app. Right after that, you start getting things in shape because at any point he can show up."

Santa's village set was bigger than the Harry Potter sets

Movie fans will undoubtedly recognize the name Chris Columbus — he has directed such classics as "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Home Alone" and "Adventures in Babysitting," and produced everything from "The VVitch" to 2005's "Fantastic Four" to "Pixels" and "Scoob!" He also served as director of the first two Harry Potter films, so after serving as producer on the first "Chronicles" film, when he stepped in to direct the second, he was determined to lean even more into the fantastical elements of the North Pole.

"I want people to immerse themselves with the world of Christmas in a way they have never had the opportunity before," Columbus said in a 2020 interview. "I took this as seriously as the world of 'Potter.'"

As such, Columbus and his crew went to great lengths to make Santa's realm feel immense, lived-in, and breathtaking.

"[The North Pole was] like a real village. They're not just storefronts; you can actually go into each store," Camp told The Hollywood Reporter. "It's really magical, and when you're there, it feels crazy. It's like, 'Is this real? Am I dreaming? Am I actually in this magical place?'"

"Santa's village is the biggest set that's been built for one of my films," Columbus explained. "Even bigger than the Great Hall on 'Potter,' which was the biggest set on those movies at the time."

Goldie Hawn wanted to create a more magical Mrs. Claus

In most Christmas tales, Santa gets the majority of the screentime. But when Goldie Hawn made a quick cameo at the end of the first "Chronicles," hope sprung that a sequel would allow her to create a bigger, more developed Mrs. Claus in a sequel. As it turns out, she had similar hopes.

"Mrs. Claus deserved to be a little more than relegated to the kitchen and making cookies," she said in a 2020 interview. Collaborating with Columbus and Russell, they envisioned a Mrs. Claus with "magical powers and healing powers and she was an alchemist, and she would make potions, and she could see in her cauldron."

As far as her personality, Hawn originally saw Mrs. Claus as more of a ... well, a Goldie Hawn-type character, as she perfected in early films like "Butterflies Are Free," "Cactus Flower" and "The Sugarland Express." 

"My instinct was that she was very benevolent, very kind, and Chris gave her a little bit more gravitas. It wasn't as pixie-esque as I may have seen her," Hawn told The New York Times.

Kurt Russell designed his Santa costume

In just another instance of Kurt Russell being deeply invested in his Claus character, the actor helped design the Santa suit he wears in both films. In an unorthodox break with convention, Russell envisioned Santa in a more modern, sleeker suit with "tight pants, he didn't want loose pants... he had to approve the boots.. and the jacket was very important, that it cinched in the waist," Hawn told Screen Rant Plus in 2020.

Similarly, the Mrs. Claus costume was intended to be more "modern [for] someone that had a little bit of chic," she continued. The coat designed for Mrs. Claus was more elegant with a hand-stitching, stylistically influenced by a traditional Russian shuba coat. "I knew we were going down the right track with the look of Mrs. Claus when Darby, who was about 11 in the first one, immediately said, 'Ugh, I love that coat,'" Russell recounted. In fact, Darby loved that coat so much, she got her very own in the second film.

Darby Camp was excited to work on something her friends could watch

Darby Camp plays young Kate in both "Christmas Chronicles" movies, and the films mark the first projects that were age-appropriate for her peers. 

Camp was only 11 years old when she acted in the first film — but at that point, all she had done was adult-oriented fare, including arguably two of the most "adult" series of the past decade.

"The Leftovers" was a critically-acclaimed, weighty series about the aftermath of something akin to a rapture. Running from 2014-2017, it tackled themes of self-harm, murder, theology and betrayal — for starters. Camp appeared in one episode, as a younger version of Emmy-nominated Ann Dowd's caustic character. "Big Little Lies" was another critically-acclaimed, albeit more popular with audiences, series that ran from 2017-2019. Although it dealt principally with a murder, there was plenty of infidelity, abuse, and well ... lies that got it there. Camp appeared in fourteen episodes as Chloe Mackenzie, a world-weary first grader with a front row seat to her mother's Karen-esque worst impulses.

"Some of my friends are actually like, 'I don't believe you,'" Camp said in a 2018 interview, talking about how some people her age don't believe that she's actually a working actor. "Well, you can't watch anything of me, but go tell your parents to."

Kurt Russell gave Judah Lewis car advice

Judah Lewis plays the grumpy, vaguely criminal Teddy Pierce, brother to Kate, in "The Christmas Chronicles" movies and in the first flick Santa meets him as a 17-year-old who has begun stealing cars and finding other ill-advised ways to act out in the aftermath of the death of his father. Luckily for Teddy and Santa (and Christmas), Teddy's skills with a car come in handy when they steal a car, trying to evade police in a 2014 Dodge Challenger.

But Santa wasn't the only gearhead in the car; Kurt Russell is quite knowledgeable about the subject and spent most of his time while not filming advising Judah Lewis on the best vehicle for his recently-licensed co-star. 

"I was getting my first car, and we spent hours talking about different cars and him telling me, ya know, different stuff he had driven," Lewis told Build Series. "Kurt is such an incredible role model and how he conducts himself, and it's a lead by example sort of thing."

Lewis wanted Camp to play his younger sister

Even before the "Chronicles" films, Lewis and Camp were experienced actors with several high-profile projects on their resumes. While the two had never worked together, they'd both been in projects directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who died in 2021. Camp worked with Vallée on "Big Little Lies," while Lewis was featured in Vallée's 2015 Jake Gyllenhaal-starring "Demolition."

When Judah Lewis read the script for "The Christmas Chronicles," one of his first questions was who would play his younger sister. He recalls thinking "”Okay, but they gotta get somebody really, really good to play my younger sister, like it can't be like a child actor. It has to be somebody who can really pull it off,'" he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. "And in conversation with people I went, 'What about Darby Camp, I mean that's somebody who can really actually play this role for all of its truth?'"

Camp eventually landed the role, and Lewis was pleased, especially considering what Columbus had to say about the tone of the films. "We're not making a children's movie," he said, recounting the producer's words. "We're making a movie that we all love and believe in, and it's going to be appropriate for children."

The stars spent almost a month filming in a sleigh

Because of the magical nature of the "Chronicles" series, many scenes involve CG characters and magical sequences, requiring a talented special effects team. When the actors weren't spending their days speaking to ping-pong balls where there were meant to be elves, they would be filming in a sleigh, typically before a green screen. 

As difficult as it might be to imagine spending days on end in a small sleigh, getting thrown around, Camp, Lewis, and Russell say they actually spent far more than just a few days in Santa's sleigh. According to Camp, "If you put it all together, it was maybe a month, or a few weeks, of working in the sleigh."

Camp reported that the tiny sleigh felt more like being "on a rollercoaster." "Working in the sleigh is always a super cool experience," she said. "It's on this gimbal thing, and it can go up and down or side to side."

Camp brought an Elf on the Shelf for her costar

In the "Chronicles" films, Kate Pierce is obsessed with Christmas; in the first film, she wears a Christmas sweater with the words "Joy" written across the front, a small Christmas tree lights up her bedroom, and a string of Christmas cards hangs across her door. Much of this love for Christmas is tied to the death of her father, with the trappings of Christmas allowing her to feel closer to him and his memory.

Camp has said that she is more than a bit like her character; she loves Christmas, and has taken joy in watching her grandma dress up like Mrs. Claus to read stories to underprivileged children (Camp has been known to join in, dressed as an elf). One of her favorite Christmas traditions is the "Elf on the Shelf" dolls; when she learned that young co-star Jahzir Bruno (who plays Jack, the son of Tyrese Gibson's Booker, in the second movie) had never seen one before, she brought one for him to set.

Jahzir had some reservations about the sneaky elf. "'This is sketchy,'" she recalls him saying. "There are these little elves that follow you around and watch you? Nah, I'm good."