It’s Christmastime again, so ‘tis the season for me to read and watch a buncha Christmas specials and use them to reflect on what Christmas means to me just like Stevie Wonder does in the very song which inspired this series. And, just like Stevie Wonder sings about, “All these things and more, darling (all these things and more) / That’s what Christmas means to me, my love,” Christmas means a lot of things to me, too. This time Harley Quinn, the Clown Princess of Coney Island, provides my avenue for reflection as I ponder what Christmas means to me (my love!) care of Harley Quinn Holiday Special #1! Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Mauricet (“Bad Toy”), Brandt Peters (“Get Yer Cheer Outta My Ear”), and Darwyn Cook (“K!llin’ T!me”), Harley Quinn Holiday Special #1 was originally published on 10 December 2014. I love Harley Quinn! I love Christmas! And I’d say, “I love them together even more than I expected” but I absolutely expected to love Harley Quinn at Christmas a lot so I was very correct in my assumption!
This comic includes three stories. “Get Yer Cheer Outta My Ear” finds Harley plagued by a humbug, a Christmas critter who crawls in your ear and hums Christmas carols nonstop for two whole days. “K!llin’ T!me” is a New Year’s Eve tale where Harley embarks on a comedically convoluted quest to kill Father Time and save everyone from aging after she finds her first grey hair. But it’s “Bad Toy,” the issue’s first story, which most captures what Christmas means to me.
Despite saying she was going to get all of their 100+ furry friends spayed and neutered, the story opens with Harley telling Big Tony, “I just wanted some little ones. I didn’t think there would be so many,” as they look at the twenty new puppies and kittens cuddled up to their mommies and nursing on the floor. The building Harley owns on Coney Island houses a Freakshow, a burlesque act, Madame Macabre’s House of Wax and Murder, several tenants, and has an entire floor dedicated to the pets – mostly rescue animals – Harley’s adopted. Tony tells Harley, “Kiddo, we’re at capacity as it is.” So they devise a plan where, dressed as Santa’s helpers, Harley and Tony go to the mall to help people take their packages to the car, chat with them to see who would be good pet parents, hide the doggos and kitties in those shoppers’ bags, and let them be taken (unsuspectingly) off to a good home. It’s hard for Harley to say goodbye but she does what has to be done for the kittens and puppies to have happy, healthy lives.
Except letting go of her favorite li’l pug puppy Aboo proved harder than she thought.
So Harley heads to the police station and forces the officers on duty to look up the license plate of the person she sent Aboo home with so she has their address.
Then she breaks into their home on Christmas Eve for an extended goodbye play session and cuddle with Aboo.
Harley falls asleep under the Christmas tree with Aboo in her arms…and is woken up on Christmas morning by Cindy – presumably the most spoiled little girl ever – who’s excitedly dragged her father and Aunt Linda downstairs to open presents. Cindy leaps onto Harley, pulling her hair and squeezing her in a death grip as she screams, “MINE! MINE! MINE!” Her father struggles to separate her from Harley as he says, “Cindy, let go of the home intruder so Daddy can talk to her.” As Linda carries Cindy’s wriggling body out of the room Cindy yells, “You give her back or I will make every single day of my life a living hell for you both! Do you hear me?” When Cindy’s father has Harley alone in the kitchen he begs her to stay and play with Cindy. He’s at his wits’ end. Cindy is “uncontrollable.” He has no idea what to do. So he offers to pay Harley six thousand dollars to stay with them for a day or two, explaining, “I’m trying very hard to give her everything I can, but she’ll blame me if I take you away, and she won’t give you up unless you…well…I need you to be a very bad toy.”
Of course Harley Quinn is the perfect person for the job! It’s like a surprise Christmas present for her – an invitation to cause chaos! And OH MY GOSH do things get chaotic. Following Cindy’s lead, they kick and smash all her Christmas presents. Redirecting Cindy’s desire to set the tree on fire, Harley suggests they eat all the Christmas candy instead (and then burn something later). Collectively, Cindy and Harley eat ninety candy canes along with six candy bars, three giant chocolate Santas, and half a fruit cake. Naturally, vomiting follows and they giggle as they throw up together. A second round of mutual vomit gurgles up when Linda tells them they’re having “turducken” for Christmas dinner and, covered in each other’s puke, Cindy and Harley are off to the tub for a bubble bath.
In the tub they chat and joke, fart and giggle, and then their conversation starts to become more real. Noticing their clothes on the bed after their bath, Harley says, “How sweet. Your mom washed our clothes!” Cindy says, “She’s not my Mom. She’s my Mom’s sister.” Then Cindy begins to open up to Harley. The chaos they caused together made Cindy feel safe with Harley. She connected with her. As a result of this space of safety and trust Harley created, Cindy opens up to her. What follows is a beautiful scene which illustrates the special sort of power Harley Quinn has as a character.
We don’t see scenes like this with other superheroes as other superheroes lack a) Harley’s degrees and training as a psychologist and b) her compassion and empathy (and absolute disregard for the expectations of societal norms) which direct her professional skill. Harley listens as Cindy shares the story of her family’s trauma, losing her mom on Christmas morning a few years ago when she went out to return a tie her father didn’t like. As a result, Cindy hates Christmas and acts the way she does to punish her dad. Cindy blames him and Santa for the death of her mom – her dad didn’t like the tie and Santa brought the wrong once, causing her mom to leave Christmas morning to exchange it when she got hit by a bus. Harley listens. She empathizes. And she helps Cindy reframe what happened.
Harley tells Cindy, “Probably the hardest things for someone your age to understand is that things happen sometimes for no good reason. The very definition of an accident is an unforeseen event without an apparent cause. You both have emotional trauma, a kind of wound that causes lasting damage to your psychological development.” Cindy says, “Ummm…I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” Harley continues, “Oh. I, uh…sorry. What I’m trying to say is that for you two to get along, you have to both learn to forgive each other…and what better day to do that than today? You still love your Dad, right?” In a quiet voice and with tears in her eyes Cindy says, “Yes.” Harley continues, “And y’know, deep down, your Dad misses your Mom too, right?” Cindy says, “I hear him cry at night. It makes me so sad.” Harley asks, “Would you both like to stop all of this and try to be happy again?” Cindy says, “Yes, I want it to be like before my Mommy died.” Harley says, “Then it’s time for you and your Dad to give each other the best gift possible. Forgiveness.”
I love Harley Quinn. I know her character has far more depth and is far more heroic than the wider pop culture audience ever gives her credit for. Psychoeducation is regularly a part of her comics, too (when she’s in the hands of the right authors), which I love, respect, and appreciate. But this scene still caught me by surprise. How honest. How powerful. How beautiful. Can you think of a better frame for Christmas than giving forgiveness, the best possible gift?
Forgiveness is a journey, one we may take with another but one we must take inside ourselves. It can be hard. It often is. We hold on to so many things. Whether it’s something as “simple” as being angry for someone cutting you off in a parking lot crowded with holiday shoppers (which may or may not have happened to me this very afternoon, coincidentally as I was contemplating forgiveness and this post as I did my own Christmas shopping) or something as complex and overwhelming as the deep trauma Cindy and her family experienced, we are all filled with wounds large and small and we all must figure out if/how/when/what we’ll forgive. Forgiveness is scary, too. It’s scary because no matter what we’re forgiving, big or small, forgiveness transforms us and change can be scary.
But such a transformation is also magical. Forgiveness is magical. As novelist Terry Goodkind captured so perfectly, “There is magic in forgiveness. Magic to heal. In forgiveness you grant, and more so in the forgiveness you receive.” Christmas is a magical time of year. So often we’ll hear this refrain. Christmas is magical. The magic of forgiveness is a natural part of the magic of the holiday season. For so many reasons (though not universally as Christmas can be very hard for some, something we should always strive to be mindful of in our own Christmas joy and celebration) we just seem to be happier at Christmastime. We’ve got the holiday spirit. We sing along to Christmas carols, watch Christmas specials, and smiles come easier. It is a magical time of year! That movement within us which allows all that makes offering and receiving forgiveness a little easier.
The song “Junkman’s Christmas” frames this movement as the meaning of Christmas. Peter Mayer, the longtime guitarist for Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band, tours on his own when he’s not with Buffett. Around the holidays, he likes to do a Christmas tour playing his original Christmas songs alongside some standard holiday classics. For many years (eight in all), I worked with Peter and his band, bringing them into my hometown for their Stars & Promises concert. Over those many years they came to feel like family, the sort of family you only see at the holidays and whose visit you always look forward to. When he plays “Junkman’s Christmas,” he introduces it with a story and sets this idea – taking broken, cast aside things and making them new – as the perfect analogy for what Jesus came into the world to do. When we offer and receive forgiveness, we take the broken, wounded, discarded parts of ourselves and we heal them. We make them new. To hold and heal our wounded parts…there’s nothing like it in the world :). For me, it’s the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had!
The magic of Christmas is, in part, the magic of forgiveness and the beautiful, healing transformation it brings. When Cindy asks Harley how they can forgive each other and get back to the way things were, Harley says, “Well, the usual way would be about a year’s worth a’ therapy, but maybe we can kick start the process.” Returning to the chaotic, Harley chases Cindy downstairs with an ax. In “threatening” Cindy, Harley creates the space for Cindy to let her father save her, it gives her a reason to run to him, to see him as her hero again, as he protects her.
It is something both father and daughter appreciate. This story beautifully illustrates the potential magic of Christmas, the magic of forgiveness. This story also serves as a brilliant microcosm for Harley Quinn as a character. Ever since I began reading her comics (and watching her show (and paying attention when I watch her films)), I’ve struggled to see why so many see Harley Quinn as an antihero or even worse, still a villain. I won’t digress (if you’d like, you can read about why I think she’s a hero in the comics here or in the movies here) but suffice it to say I think she’s as much a hero as any comic character out there. There are many reasons people don’t agree with me, and that’s ok :). I think a big one is we, as a culture, often tend to conflate chaos and evil. Chaos is, by definition, confusing, disordered, and unpredictable. But it isn’t evil. It isn’t even bad, unless we are connected to/supportive of the system(s) being toppled or subverted by said chaos (or if you, like me, have an anxiety disorder and those parts which hold our anxiety get triggered by such disorder). We can forgive ourselves if such subversion always tends to feel like it’s bad or evil or wrong. Heck, society conditions us from the moment we’re born to accept it’s norms as “right,” “just,” and/or even “ordained by God.” That’s seldom, if ever, true – it’s certainly never the whole truth. Harley Quinn as a character, as in this story, rides the waves of chaos in the subversive service of fun, change, compassion, and sometimes even in the name of the magic of Christmas.
Forgiveness, and all the magic it brings, that’s what Christmas mean to me (my love!). Christmas is a time to open our hearts and love, to spread wide our arms to welcome and hold everyone we meet. In such loving embraces, it’s so much easier to offer and receive forgiveness. ‘Tis the season, after all. And, like Harley Quinn, when we have a loving collection of natural supports around us, this feeling can last all year long. Merry Christmas, dear reader, and Happy Holidays! May your season be full of warm hugs, loving connections, and Christmas magic!
If you’re in the mood for more pop culture reflections on what Christmas means to me check out:
A Very Doctor Who Christmas “Voyage of the Damned” to find the Tenth Doctor on board a spaceship version of the Titanic seemingly destined to meet the fate of its namesake and read about how Christmas means happily holding layer upon layer of meaning, religious and secular, cultural and personal, accumulated over thousands of years.
A Very Doctor Who Christmas “A Christmas Carol” to see the Eleventh Doctor, Amy Pond, and Rory Williams’ version of the Dickens’ classic play out on Sardicktown in the year 4398 – with flying sharks! – and ponder how Christmas means a time to be with those we love and celebrate all the ways we are connected, over the holiday season and always.
A Very Doctor Who Christmas “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” to see my stirring defense of one of Doctor Who’s most derided Christmas specials (I don’t care what anyone says I LOVE IT and I think it’s one of Doctor Who’s BEST CHRISTMAS SPECIALS EVER) where the Twelfth Doctor and Nardole’s adventure is basically Doctor Who + a superhero movie + a Hallmark movie = a reminder that Christmas means improbably happy endings.
A Very Doctor Who Christmas Titan Comics’ The Thirteen Doctor Holiday Special which follows the Thirteenth Doctor, Yaz, Ryan, and Graham as they travel to the North Pole at the urging of an elf to try and rescue Santa’s workshop from the tyrannical rule of Krampus and illustrates how Christmas means believing.
When She-Hulk Met Santa Claus! in The Sensational She-Hulk #8 tells the tale of the time when She-Hulk met Santa Clause and they teamed up to try and find the evidence needed to convict one of New York City’s most infamous serial killer and ended up underscoring how Christmas means justice.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special drops us in the midst of Peter Quill, Nebula, Rocket, Groot, Astro, Kraglin, Mantis, and Drax rebuilding Knowhere when Mantis and Drax decide they need to find the perfect Christmas gift for Peter which reminds us all Christmas means presents in the best possible way!
The Star Wars Holiday Special looks at the SINGLE MOST MALIGNED STORY in alllllll of Star Wars history, canon, and pop culture, and I argue there’s something good, something special mixed up in that mess. This shows us how Christmas means family time, awkward and uncomfortable as well as the fun and joyful.
 Terry Goodkind, Temple of the Winds (New York: Tor Fantasy, 1997), 487.
4 thoughts on “Harley Quinn and Chaos for Christmas! – A “What Christmas Means To Me” Reflection”
Really great write up. I’m going to have to see if I can find this holiday special.
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Thank you! It’s included in the New 52 collection ‘Harley Quinn Vol. 3: Kiss Kiss Bang Stab’ which also has a pretty fantastic Valentine’s Day special, too.
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Another reason I’ve always liked the idea of being Ms Quinn then, other than looking hotter than hell, is that I’d get a floor full of animals, but I’d never let them go. Oh, and I was planning on becoming a clinical psychologist until I got sick. I don’t look that awesome in my glasses though, which is a real shame. I need to find me a Mr Potato Head. I could do with some new teeth to match.
You’re right, there is a lack of deeper emotion, emotive connection and empathy in the superhero realm.
I think the film adaptations with Margot Robbie brought HQ into the mainstream but for the earlier fans, it seemed to do her character’s reputation a bit of damage.
I loved reading about what you enjoy about the character and storylines, and the poignant meanings you take from it like around forgiveness. “When we offer and receive forgiveness, we take the broken, wounded, discarded parts of ourselves and we heal them” – that’s a beautiful way of phrasing it. Christmas does seem to bring out the brighter side to the majority of people and fill them with a little cheer. I’ve had a few difficult Christmases, but there have been a few I’ve really cherished, too. And you’re right about the power of forgiveness and the healing that can come from it. It’s not easy but it can be priceless if you can find a way to do it.
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Thank you so much for the beautiful comment, Caz! It means a lot. Can you imagine the supportive cuddles you’d have with a floor full of animals?!? One of my favorite Harley Quinn comics is where she finds this animal shelter that plans to put down a bunch of pets they couldn’t find homes for and she breaks in to rescue them, taking all the animals home with her! And I love how most of the profits from her “Vigilantes for Hire” business goes to caring for her animals and the other tenants in her building.
One of the things that fascinates me about Harley Quinn is how bendy/permutable she is as a character. The films, the comics, the cartoons, they each seem to have Harley which is unique to them while also being definitively her…if that makes sense. It does in my head, anyway XD.
It makes sense you were planning on becoming a clinical psychologist before you got sick, too. One of the things I love about your writing is how you weave professional knowledge, personal stories, empathy, and compassion through all your posts. So I clearly see that therapist part of you in your writing! It’s something I connect with in your pieces, too.
This was one of those pieces which really came to mean a lot to me as I wrote. I thought it was just gonna be a fun little Christmas reflection but the comic took me to deeper places than I expected and I was proud of how it all came together. So I love knowing that resonated with you!
I’m familiar with the mix of difficult and joyful Christmases as well. Here’s hoping this Christmas has some easily found and beautiful moments of joy for both of us.
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