Santa’s daughter finds herself having to take over the family business.
Noelle Kringle was told as a child that her job would be to spread Christmas cheer while her brother Nick takes on the duties of Santa Claus. When Nick finds the job too stressful, Noelle suggests he take the weekend off. After doing so, Noelle gets blamed for Christmas being in jeopardy, so their nerdy cousin Gabe takes over as Santa. However, he makes things worse by assigning kids to the nice list based on his own algorithms.
Noelle finds a reluctant Nick in Arizona and eventually manages to bring him back after he hears about how bad things are. After seeing that Noelle has spread joy to those that she has met, Nick tells the others that she should be Santa. Although a bit hesitant, the others accept Noelle as Santa, and although she struggles at first, she is inspired to do her job and spread joy.
When Noelle Kringle was a little girl, her father, Kris Kringle, would return to the North Pole every Christmas night to happily celebrate with the family. He reminds Noelle’s older brother Nick that he must begin his Santa training to take over for him one day. Years later, Kris passes away five months before Christmas and Nick has yet to perfect his training. Noelle continues to give him her Christmas spirit support while also making her famous Christmas cards. With the pressure too much to handle, Noelle tells Nick to get away for the weekend so that he can relax before the big day. Seven days later, the reindeer return to the North Pole, but Nick is nowhere to be found. When Noelle admits that she told her brother to get away, all the elves turn on her for essentially ruining Christmas. The elves have no choice, but to appoint Noelle’s cousin Gabriel, the Kringle’s tech support, to fill in for the year.
While moping in her room, Noelle discovers that Nick has been looking through her magazines (her only window to outside the North Pole) and realizes that he must be in Phoenix, Arizona. She takes the sleigh and reindeer with her childhood nanny, Elf Polly, unintentionally coming along and they end up in Phoenix in the middle of a mall. The manager, Helen Rojas, plans to have her evicted, but when the customers all appreciate the presence of the reindeer, especially a Petco employee she has a crush on named Dan, she allows her to stay as long as they tend to the reindeer. Polly stays while Noelle continues her search for Nick. After running into so many “naughty” people, she finds an ad and meets with a private investigator named Jake Hapman. Jake, a single dad who has just divorced, decides to help Noelle despite her strange apparel.
Meanwhile, in the North Pole, Gabriel uses statistics for gift giving and reasons that there are only 2,738 nice children in the world and plans to give all the naughty ones a notice telling them to do better next year, much to the horror of the elves and Mrs. Claus. Noelle meets Jake’s son Alex who expresses a desire to cook, but is afraid of telling his dad who is terrible at it. Noelle promises that if he is nice he will get his Christmas wish, which is to spend Christmas with his whole family. While out searching, Noelle discovers that she has an inherent ability to decipher if somebody is naughty or nice and can pick up any language including American Sign Language after speaking with a homeless deaf girl. A brief interaction with a woman about her yoga pants has Alex decipher that Nick is working at the local yoga studio. Noelle and Nick happily reunite, but get into an argument about being Santa, ending with Noelle storming out.
Noelle’s favorite reindeer, a small white one named Snowcone, arrives with a letter from Mrs. Claus, telling her about what is happening at the North Pole. Noelle has Snowcone sniff out Nick to a yoga retreat at the Desert Botanical Garden. While he refuses to talk to her, she leaves him the letter. Nick meets up with her and Polly at the mall the next day and Noelle has him continue to train by being a mall Santa. While Nick discovers the text message being sent to children from Gabriel, Jake discovers that Noelle told Alex about his Christmas wish, something that is awkward for him as his ex-wife remarried. Noelle breaks down and reveals that she is Santa’s daughter, causing him to leave. When Nick is accosted by the actual mall Santa, Noelle intervenes and accidentally hurts a police officer, resulting in her getting arrested and later hospitalized for psychological evaluation.
Polly meets with Jake who reveals that she is, in fact, an elf and asks for his help in getting Noelle released. They successfully do so with Jake seeing the sleigh and reindeer fly and Noelle, Nick and Polly return to the North Pole before Christmas Eve. While meeting with the elders, Nick reveals that he has decided that Noelle should be the next Santa, as the Santa Covenant technically does not mention gender, and the elves agree after Noelle gives an impassioned speech. Noelle takes off for the night to deliver presents where she encounters numerous mishaps. She begins to feel down, but after returning to the homeless shelter and meeting the deaf girl again, Noelle feels empowered and her Santa uniform (which previously was too big for her) conforms to her. She finishes her entire route before giving Helen tickets to Hawaii for her and Dan and dropping Jake off at his ex-wife’s house to be with Alex.
Noelle is celebrated at the North Pole as Gabriel happily returns to tech support, Nick opens up a yoga studio and Polly becomes an elf elder (something Noelle “slightly” regrets). Noelle admits that she is proud to continue her father’s legacy for being the 24th generational Santa.
The film opens on Christmas Eve. Kris Kringle/Santa Claus (Bryan Brendle) enters a house to deliver presents. He is found by a little girl, Noelle (Oakley Bull). Kris jokingly asks the girl not to tell that she saw him, but we quickly learn that he is playing along, as Noelle is Kris’s daughter. Her brother Nick (Owen Vaccaro) and their mother (Julie Hagerty) get together for their presents. Kris gives Nick a Santa hat, taking the time to reveal that he is picking Nick as his successor. The family is excited, but when Noelle asks what her job will be when she grows up, Kris states that she will essentially spread Christmas cheer to help Nick do his job properly. Noelle accepts but is visibly disappointed.
In the present, Noelle (now played by Anna Kendrick) works alongside Nick (now played by Bill Hader), who has taken up the mantle as Santa since their father passed away five months ago. Nick isn’t particularly good at his job, constantly doing things like crashing the sleigh. They also work alongside their nerdy tech-based cousin Gabe (Billy Eichner). Noelle takes Nick through the ropes of being Santa, such as getting into chimneys, guiding the reindeer, and determining which kids are naughty or nice and what gifts they get. Nick gets so tired and stressed out, stating he could use a vacation. Noelle then suggests that he take the weekend off and pick any spot in the world to hang out and unwind. Nick likes the idea and takes her up on it.
The North Pole finds that Nick is missing, and they freak out at the prospect of Christmas going on without their Santa. When it’s discovered that Noelle gave Nick the idea, everyone turns on her and shuns her, leaving her upset. The Christmas judges then pick Gabe as the new Santa per their guidelines. While talking to head elf and former nanny Polly (Shirley MacLaine), Noelle figures that Nick has gone to Phoenix, Arizona. They go to the sleigh and argue over going off to find Nick, but they accidentally get the reindeer to fly off and take them on a sleigh ride outside the North Pole. Once they arrive there, they are taken into custody. Gabe and Mrs. Kringle soon find out.
Noelle and Polly have to meet with a manager, Helen Rojas (Diana Maria Riva), to drop charges for supposedly soliciting on the grounds where they landed. Unfortunately, they can’t get the reindeer to move, and Polly has to stay behind to watch them while Noelle goes off to find Nick by herself. She comes across a private investigator named Jake Hapman (Kinglsey Ben-Adir) to help her find him. Noelle tells the truth but comes off like a crazy person. Jake is cynical due to his divorce and having to share custody of his son Alex (Maceo Smedley). After helping Jake out with contacting Alex, she finds Helen and Polly, and then helps Helen connect with a handsome Petco manager that she has a crush on. This lets Noelle get store credit, and also a temporary place to stay.
Gabe begins to take over the naughty-or-nice determination using his new app FALALA. He believes that only less than 3000 kids in the world can qualify as nice due to a bunch of petty mistakes that slide them closer to the naughty side. The rest of the North Pole is not happy with these calculations.
Noelle goes to Jake’s apartment and meets Alex. She gives him the store products as payment for the investigation on Nick. Jake says that no other major hospital, morgue, or prison has seen Nick, so they figure the last places to look are the shelters. She meets a deaf girl named Michelle (Shaylee Mansfield) and her mother. She charms the little girl and finds herself communicating in sign language, despite never learning it. They don’t find Nick there. She continues hanging out with Jake and Alex, eventually finding that Nick is teaching at a yoga studio. On the way to find Nick, Jake expresses his insecurities as a single father to Noelle after they drop Alex off with his mom.
Noelle arrives at the yoga studio and shocks Nick when she shows up. They are excited to see each other until Noelle tells him that the situation at the North Pole is serious. Nick has little interest in going back, even as Noelle stresses how the pressure is on her to bring him back. She goes back to Polly and is found by her pet from the North Pole, a small reindeer named Snowcone. He brings her a message from her mom to tell her how Gabe is ruining the way they run things at the Pole. When they try to run back and find Nick at the studio, they find it closed until after Christmas. Snowcone helps Noelle track Nick to a park where they are doing silent meditation, which becomes less silent when Noelle tries to bring Nick back. He rebuffs her again until she leaves him the note from their mom.
Nick runs to the mall to find Noelle and Polly. He wants to help her but feels that he doesn’t have the “twinkle” that makes Santa who he is. They pose as a mall Santa and elf to bring joy to kids. However, Nick finds it hard when he is met by grumpy children who found out they were naughty through Gabe’s app. Meanwhile, Noelle tells Jake the truth about herself and her brother, but he doesn’t buy it and leaves her. The other mall Santa that actually works there shows up, which leads to Noelle fighting him and a security guard, which gets her arrested.
The situation at the Pole gets worse, and the word of kids being denied presents becomes big news. Noelle is put in a psych ward due to her supposed delusions. She expresses her sadness over her lack of purpose as an adult and living in the shadow of her father and brother. She is bailed out by Jake, who is not happy that Noelle knew personal things about them (through magic), but is still thankful for her efforts to make Alex happy. Nick and Polly then reveal the flying sleigh to a surprised Jake (and the doctor). Jake lets Noelle escape on the sleigh.
The trio return to the Pole to have Nick reassume his duties. However, Nick announces that he wants to pass on the mantle to Noelle. There are protests due to the thought of having a female Santa, but the elder elves decide that Noelle embodies all that makes a Santa – someone who inspires and spreads Christmas cheer. After delivering a heartfelt speech on what Christmas means to her, Noelle is officially declared the new Santa.
Noelle begins her duties, but gets very nervous as she prepares herself. She messes up several times, such as going to the wrong houses, and it brings her spirit down, making her think she is not as capable of doing the job the way her father did. She stops at the shelter and accidentally wakes up Michelle and her mom. Michelle acknowledges Noelle as Santa, and soon, the other patrons do too. This lifts her spirits and enables her to do her job better. She finishes by taking Jake to spend time with Alex and his ex-wife, as the boy had wanted the whole time.
With the North Pole doing much better, Noelle says that her life is even better now that she gets to give gifts instead of receive them.