Holiday horror is a particular animal. It’s not for everyone. As much as everyone becomes a horror fan throughout the month of October, many people pull away from genre around the holidays. For some, it just doesn’t fit. Christmas is a time of love and laughter, of spending time with family and creating warm and lasting memories. Why would you want to mar all of that with serial killers, monsters, and stabbings?

For me, though (and I suspect for some of you as well), Christmas horror has become a vital part of the season. It has helped me connect with the holiday when the more classic traditions have failed. Over the past few years, Christmas has changed. I don’t know if it’s something about me, or something about the holiday, or just me getting older, but I no longer experience the holiday season in the way I used to. Warmth has been replaced with stress. The pressure and expectations that I put on myself to enjoy and experience Christmas in a certain (more traditional) way have led to me being unable to connect with it at all. I don’t know what the deal is, but for whatever reason, Christmas just feels different to me.

At first, that sucked. It made me sad. I felt broken somehow, and left out in the cold. When everyone else was celebrating, I felt like I had lost something. I felt empty and disconnected at a time of year when I had always felt energized and engaged. Seriously—my huband once called me a “Christmas Nazi” when I (very innocently and sweetly, I swear) pointed out that he was putting the lights on the tree incorrectly. And then one year, that excitement just kind of evaporated. Who cares where the lights go? Does it even matter?

It was a real bummer. And then something shifted. I found myself pulling my holiday themed horror movies off the shelf. Instead of White Christmas, it was P2. Instead of A Muppet Christmas Carol, it was Christmas Evil. And suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad anymore. I was still engaging in the holiday, just from a different angle. Christmas was still here, and I could celebrate it any way that I wanted.

Christmas-themed horror movies have allowed me to connect with the holiday again and to keep me from feeling isolated from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. I still watch some of the non-horror Christmas classics, but when the schmaltz fails, the horror wins. Movies like Black Christmas (any of them—take your pick), Krampus, Better Watch Out, and Dial Code Santa Claus have made it possible for me to participate in the holiday season in a new way, when the old one started failing. Sure, it’s not how a lot of people celebrate Christmas, but once again, horror has given me a place where I otherwise feel like I wouldn’t fit in.

And I value that immensely. Because as horror fans, that’s what we do. We carve out our own space. We find our people. We engage in the weird and bizarre things that make us happy and we create our own traditions.

As a result, Christmas now feels low pressure and enjoyable. Not because I am finally “getting into the spirit of the holiday,” but because I realized that this holiday can have many spirits. Sometimes it’s family and the warm fuzzies and other times it’s slashers and stalkers. Once again in my life, horror made me feel less alone. I don’t have to feel isolated from the holiday season because I have a new way of celebrating and experiencing it. Sure, it’s a little weird, but aren’t we all?