There’s no denying the magic of the holiday season: the look on people’s faces when you give them gifts, the twinkling of red and green lights on every house and evergreen trees, or that mysterious saucer-shaped object whizzing past the night sky at otherworldly speeds and angles.
OK, that last one is a bit of a stretch—but probably not as much as you might think.
First, some context: UFO sightings are the highest during the summer months of June and July. Data provided to The Daily Beast by the UFO Reporting Center found that July 4 takes top spot when it comes to ET sightings “as people tend to misidentify fireworks,” according to Christian Stepien, the technical director of the organization.
That’s about the same as many other UFO reporting databases. These databases also tend to report more sightings during the merriest time of the year: Christmas.
“There’s always Santa Claus and the reindeer.”
— Ron James, Mutual UFO Network
“We do have a slight uptick twice a year in the summer and around the holidays,” Ron James told The Daily Beast. James is the media relations director of Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), one of the oldest and largest organizations dedicated to studying ET sightings.
“There are a few reasons why people might be paying more attention: they might be off work, they’re doing family activities and things they don’t normally do, so there’s more possibilities for people to encounter things,” he said. “Then of course, there’s always Santa Claus and the reindeer.”
MUFON’s media relations director Steve Hudgeons concurs, telling The Daily Beast, “If there is an uptick, I can understand that because there’s a lot of people out during Christmas time shopping and doing things. They might be looking up in the air so I can understand it if there is.”
MUFON isn’t the only UFO organization to notice this holiday trend. Chris Rutkowski, a Canadian UFO researcher with Ufology Research, told CBC News in 2020 that over the past three decades of compiling data of UFO sightings, he found a “significant” increase in cases in the holiday season—with 75 sightings occurring on Christmas Day alone over that time. In some instances, they seemed to be of a most jolly origin.
“Most were simply lights in the sky, and yes, some were of a single red light flying overhead followed by a string of others,” Rutkowski said. “But others did not seem to have a reindeer explanation.”
Anecdotal evidence of this surprising holiday trend supports this idea as well, with scores of UFO reports having occurred on or around Christmas Day over the years. While many of them can be logically explained (shooting stars, swamp gas reflecting light from venus, etc.), there are those with more mysterious origins.
Cheryl Costa, an airman first class, spotted what she described as a “bright star-like object zooming from the north” across the sky while she was stationed at a U.S. Air Force base in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, on Christmas Eve 1971. She thought it could have been a meteor or an aircraft before it stopped in its tracks and hovered in the sky for a “minute or two.”
“Then it seemed to dance or dart around before it dashed toward the south at tremendous speed until it winked out,” Costas wrote.
The official National Archives of the United Kingdom even has a collection of holiday-related UFO sightings. For example, during Christmas 1983, there were reports of a pyramid-shaped object with three bright orange lights over the skies of Groombridge, England—and a very similar shaped object over Newport just two years later on the same day. On Christmas Eve 2008, there was a report of 15 “red and flickering” lights in Sussex.
Of course, many reports of UFO sightings have mundane explanations. For example, on Christmas Eve 2011, hundreds of people witnessed a group of Christmas-colored lights zooming across the skies of Germany. The glowing orbs moved with tails of green, red, and white.
Researchers later identified the lights as pieces of a Russian Soyuz rocket falling from Earth’s orbit and bursting into burning fireballs as they hit the atmosphere. Pretty cool, just not the merry Martians you’re probably hoping for.
“Tensions in mission control climbed higher than the star on a Christmas tree. ”
One of the earliest instances of a Christmas ET sighting actually occurred during a NASA mission. It was 10 days before Christmas 1965 when flight controllers received a message from astronaut Wally Schirra Jr. aboard the Gemini 6 spacecraft orbiting Earth.
“We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit,” Schirra said according to his memoir Schirra’s Space. “Looks like he might be going to re-enter soon […] You just might let me pick up that thing.”
Tensions in mission control climbed higher than the star on a Christmas tree. What could they have spotted? What if the Gemini 6 crew were in danger? Before flight controllers could respond, Stafford said: “I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit.”
It was then that ground control heard the familiar yet ethereal noises of “Jingle Bells” being played on a tinny harmonica—accompanied by none other than sleigh bells.
“Wally came up with the idea,” Thomas Stafford, a fellow crew member aboard Gemini 6, told Smithsonian Magazine. “He could play the harmonica, and we practiced two or three times before we took off, but of course we didn’t tell the guys on the ground.”
As for why Christmas time seems to bring out our inner UFO truther, there are plenty of reasons we can point to. For one, there are simply more people out and about during the holidays than normal shopping, visiting friends and family, or gawking at Christmas lights.
For James and Hudgeons and the rest of MUFON, though, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the UFOs aren’t already there—people are just noticing them more.
“My feeling is that there’s not that there’s an actual increase in phenomenon occurring. It’s more that there’s more people in a position to see and experience things that might already be there pretty much consistently,” James said.
There’s also the physical and psychological factor. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption spikes during the holidays along with ET sightings. Pair that with our annual obsession with a jolly fat man and his flying reindeer, and it could easily lead to drunken visions of sugar plum fairies and dancing lights in the sky where there isn’t really anything at all.
So whether it be Christmas magic, flying extraterrestrials, or you just having one too many egg nogs, there’s plenty of reasons to bundle up and keep an eye out on the stars this holiday season. After all, there’s a good chance you might see something truly inexplicable in the skies—twinkling merry and bright.