The Christmas season takes a spooky turn for many in Orange County and beyond.
Kevin and Megan Valantine were looking for a way to keep the Halloween season going for just a bit longer. November showed great promise.
“What if we did like a spinoff of our regular event?” Megan recalled thinking out loud with her husband, Kevin. “Something that’s fun … spooky Christmas.”
The Rancho Santa Margarita husband-and-wife team making up ValAntine Productions founded Creep It Real OC in a Laguna Niguel senior center in 2019. Since then, they’ve expanded, moved and added a second event, Creep It Real Festive. Now based at the Heritage Museum of Orange County in Santa Ana, the Creep It Real events continue to show demand among both vendors and guests.
Kevin noted a nearly 50 percent increase this year in guest attendance from last year’s inaugural Festive event, which took place on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday following Thanksgiving Day. This year, Creep It Real Festive took place on Friday and Saturday the week before Thanksgiving.
“I definitely feel like the turnout was stronger,” Megan said.
The couple is seeing a growing trend of melding the Halloween and Christmas seasons. Over the last several years, the Los Angeles-based Season’s Screamings quickly grew from a small pop-up event to a much larger one at the Pasadena Convention Center. Though it didn’t take place this year, the holiday-horror concept continues to gain momentum.
In naming their event, the Valantines didn’t want to limit the theme to Christmas only – they wanted to leave the door open for vendors, cosplayers and guests to get creative with how to creep up the holidays. And they have. From cosplayers and characters, ranging from Creep Kringle, who offered a ghoulishly lavish photo op with a much darker version of Santa, to Belfy the Creepy Elf, the inspiration was limitless.
“Now there’s all these horror films that are coming out,” Megan said. “I think we’re on the groundbreaking level where this is gonna become a bigger thing.”
Films like Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) – which even inspired a theming overlay for the Halloween and Christmas season at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion – have likely contributed to this spooky Christmas trend.
“I really think that that movie (‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’) has really allowed for that gap to bridge … and for those things to seemingly feel allowed,” said T.J. Dawson, co-founder of WestBeat Sings, a traveling a cappella group based in Anaheim. “It feels like it’s more acceptable to allow Halloween to creep into it .… There’s a group of people who love Christmas but they really love Halloween … they’re kind of like a Halloween all-year-round kind of thing.”
Dawson said WestBeat Sings developed the Scareolers in 2016 as a Haunted Mansion/“The Nightmare Before Christmas”-themed caroling group in Downtown Disney for the holidays. They’ve continued to perform there, as well as at the Disneyland Hotel and special events inside the Disneyland Resort parks for the Halloween and Christmas seasons. They have also been a key entertainment attraction for Creep It Real Festive.
Scareolers perform at Disneyland. This news segment aired on KTLA 5's Morning News on Oct. 20, 2017.
“We do everything from malls, tree lightings, it’s all over the place,” Dawson said.
The Scareolers have a set list including twists on old Christmas classics – including changing lyrics from “run, run Rudolph” to “run, run Zero” and “Santa’s gotta make it to town” to “Jack Skellington’s gotta make it to town” in Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run.” They also sing Halloween favorites like “Ghostbusters” and “Thriller.”
“Our ‘Hocus Pocus’ mashup of ‘Come, Little Children’ and ‘I Put a Spell on You’ is a really big one,” Dawson said.
Costuming and characters are another big part of the Scareolers experience. They started with costumes that Dawson had from when he directed a musical of "The Addams Family” but have since created new ones designed for new characters.
“Our fans have really loved the fact that every year we’ll debut a new character,” Dawson said. “Every other person has brought their own name to the character and backstory and how they died. When they come up on set, they can incorporate that into their introductions.”
For example, there’s the bride who goes by Mourn-A-Lot – inspired by the iconic tombstone names in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.
“Her makeup design has tears,” Dawson said. “She obviously died on her wedding day.”
Mike Stanley of Aliso Viejo and his family, who go as Stanley Haus for the Halloween season, made national news in 2021 for featuring an elaborate and highly detailed pirate ship in their front yard, an homage to Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. This year, they went with an equally elaborate Haunted Mansion/“The Nightmare Before Christmas” theme. The Stanleys also helped decorate parts of Creep It Real Festive both years.
Stanley said he’s definitely seeing a growing trend in spooky Christmas events, prop sales and merchandise.
“I’ve noticed that Halloween has slowly become more of an adult holiday than a children-oriented holiday and with that comes commerce, and so to keep the party rolling they’ve made it a year-long holiday with events scheduled throughout the year rather than just October,” he said.
After each Halloween season, Stanley sells all of the props and animatronics he and his adult son, Wyatt, have created. He said “The Nightmare Before Christmas” props have been very popular when it comes to sales.
“I’d say it has its own built-in fan base,” he said. “It’s a beloved movie that’s been out for 30 years so the fans that were there from the beginning are in a position in life where they have disposable income and can purchase props and art. And they have inspired the next generation to watch the movie so it starts all over again, so it keeps growing year after year with new fans regardless of the holiday.”
But as the Valantines noted, spooky Christmas, or Creepmas as its sometimes called, isn’t only about “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The horned and very un-merry European folklore figure designed to scare misbehaving children, Krampus, has also played a role in helping spook up the holidays. There was also a Christmas horror/dark comedy of the same name that was released in 2015 and starred Toni Collette.
Not to be outdone, Dr. Seuss’s grouchy character, the Grinch – of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” fame – has made its way into spooky Christmas culture as well. Anaheim collectibles shop Bands for Arms – called The Grinchmas House for the holiday season – has been hosting photos with the Grinch Friday through Sunday from 5-9 p.m. with fun, Grinch-y decorations and meet-and-greets. It runs through December except for the last week.
Krampus has played the starring role of more than one holiday event recently, including Night of the Krampus, a pop-up taking place at Sassafras Saloon in Los Angeles.
Jacqueline Menjivar is a producer of the event through event and production companies Witches Brew Events/ Midnight Souls Production. They’ve done two previous spooky Christmas events, including a market and what was called Krampus Tavern at the Globe Theatre in Los Angeles. This year’s Night of the Krampus took place on Nov. 19 and Dec. 1-3, 8-10, with a mix of burlesque entertainment, cocktails and costumed characters, including Krampus.
“We are thrilled with the reception Night of the Krampus has received,” Menjivar said. “Guests love the more intimate and immersive atmosphere we can achieve at the Sassafras Saloon. It’s unlike anything we have ever done and we are utterly obsessed.”
She said they’ve seen an uptick in spooky Christmas events in the last few years.
“I think given its proximity to Halloween, that the mainstream is becoming more and more aware that the fun doesn’t have to (stop) after Oct. 31,” she said. “Krampus for us represents the naughty side of Christmas. We love to be able to pay homage to classic folklore in the most unexpected form – burlesque.”