The Secret Anti-Christmas Symbolism in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

After you’ve seen a number of Christmas movies, the formula starts to become apparent. These films often focus on families, Santa Claus, and themes of kindness and generosity. One film stands as the ultimate anti-Christmas movie: Rosemary’s Baby.

A poster for Rosemary’s Baby | LMPC via Getty Images

The horrifying story of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

On the surface, this 1968 horror film might not appear to have much to do with Christmas. Rosemary’s Baby centers on Rosemary Woodhouse (played by Mia Farrow) and her actor husband, Guy (played by John Cassavetes) as they move into a new apartment and adapt to their surroundings. The duo make friends with an elderly married couple who live in the same building, Roman and Minnie Castavet (played by Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon).

One night, Rosemary has a surreal dream where she is surrounded by her husband, Roman, and Minnie. During this dream, she is raped by the devil himself. She later finds out she’s pregnant, but has no recollection of conceiving the child with her husband. Afterwards, Guy’s previously unsuccessful acting career takes off.

Ultimately, Rosemary learns Roman, Minnie, and many other people in her life were secretly part of a cult of Satanists. The cult made a deal with Guy – he would become a successful actor if he allowed his wife to be impregnated with the Antichrist. Rosemary’s surreal dream was real – she was actually raped by the devil. In the final scene, Rosemary is horrified when she sees her grotesque son, but decides to care for him.

How the film subverts the Christmas story

A painting of Christ’s nativity | Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Rosemary’s Baby takes many elements from the biblical story of Christmas and subverts them. Mary, the mother of Christ, is a virgin, whereas Rosemary, the mother of the Antichrist, is sexualized early in the film. Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, Rosemary is impregnated by the devil through rape.

In the gospels, Mary is informed of God’s plan for her before Joseph. In Rosemary’s Baby, Guy is aware of Lucifer’s plan from the beginning, while Rosemary learns of the devil’s plan after it’s too late. Mary is honored to be the mother of Christ, while Rosemary is horrified by her son.

In the final scenes of Rosemary’s Baby, the cult take on the role of an evil version of the biblical Three Wise Men. They come bearing gifts for the Antichrist, but the gifts are not gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In fact, one of the Satanists gifts Rosemary’s son an inverted cross, a symbol associated with Satan.

Symbolism in the setting of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby | Paramount/Getty Images

Some of the symbolism in Rosemary’s Baby is related to its setting. For example, Rosemary gives birth to her baby in the spring. This is a reverse of the American Christian tradition of celebrating Christ’s birth in the winter.

An enclosed garden plays an important role in Rosemary’s Baby. In Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture, Carolyn Merchant notes how enclosed gardens have been used as a symbol for Mary’s virginity. In the film, Rosemary and Guy explore an enclosed garden in their apartment complex. They learn that the garden contains marijuana, which has historically been called “the devil’s weed.” The presence of the devil’s weed in an enclosed garden is a perfect representation of how Rosemary is a Satanic version of Mary.

Rosemary from Rosemary’s Baby | ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The film also changes Christian lore to make its version of the Antichrist a more complete inversion of Christ. In the New Testament, the Antichrist is merely an evil leader who gets his power from the devil. In Rosemary’s Baby, the Antichrist is the son of the devil, making him more of a parallel to Christ, the Son of God.

Biblical stories have been the basis for many classic films. However, most movie fans would tell you there’s no classic adaptation of the Christmas story. Rosemary’s Baby is an adaptation of the Christmas story – in the most grotesque way possible.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.