Well folks, it’s mid-November and we’re going into Christmas phase one. Greggs is selling mince pies, KFC now has gravy flavoured mayonnaise, Costa is putting something even weirder than usual in your latte. Christmas celebrators are planning how to pitch their Christmas lists, non-Christmas celebrators are wearily explaining their indifference, all whilst Christmas organisers are quaking in their boots as they calculate the logistics of the approaching yuletide festivities.
Soon enough, Christmas is going to be on TV and the Christmas aesthetic will be pasted onto everything. Christmas radio, Christmas specials, Christmas series, Christmas everything. There’ll be Christmas adverts, companies of all kinds bombarding us with a parade of happy families with laughing children and money to spend on things that they definitely need (and you need too). But that’s just the small fry, the heavyweight companies will be practically upstaging the actual TV with their competition to have the longest, saddest and most lavish Christmas advert.
If you simply can’t wait for all that fun, you’ll find that TV channels dedicated entirely to Christmas movies have been airing for a while now. There’s more than enough material for them to justify their existence, they’ve been making Christmas movies for over 100 years (take a look, they did a silent movie adaptation of A Christmas Carol in 1910). If you can think of a concept for a Christmas movie, it’s probably already been done. These channels are good background TV to do the ironing to and they’re excellent for tactical recording, but they’re also a crash course in truly terrible movie making. Low-budget CGI movies, no-effort TV movies, weird scenes that scared you to death as a kid, shockingly overplayed cliches, annoying characters, cringeworthy dialogue, all manner of rubbishness in abundance.
Through all this media, the idea of Christmas is hammered into your head for the best part of a month. What does it tell us? Christmas originated as a Christian religious celebration, but it’s snowballed into this massive common festival and absorbed many other traditions into itself. It’s colossal, complex, and varied, shaping a period of the year around itself. When you get right down to it, Christmas is really a celebration of what we have: our wealth of material possessions and the wealth in love. By nature, Christmas is a holiday that is truly not celebrated equally. Indeed, it often leaves us stung by our own poverty or shocked by our extreme excess.
Christmas onscreen is filled with wistful aspirations. Sometimes it embodies our hope for wealth and fun during the festive period and we find ourselves wishing that we could have these idealised things. Sometimes it is about realising that love is the most important thing, but this too is something that many people are unfairly deprived of. The virtuous Christmas message of contentment with your lot, a staple onscreen, can be the worst of all. It can be a mask for our pride. We may forget that even contentment can be an aspirational luxury, for some of us are embroiled in misfortune and hardship even at Christmas.
It is good to celebrate for a time. It is good fun to let Christmas onscreen take you away to an imaginary world, but you must just remember that it is dangerous to view reality through the aspirational lens it forces to your eye. For those of you who resist the aspirational aspect here is an opposite risk: cynicism. Christmas media is in many ways a cynical affair; it can’t really be denied. All that can really be said is this: don’t let it discourage you, it’s worth enjoying Christmas onscreen. Just as those Christmas pounds we pile on drive us to turn back to our health come January, so can these fluffy fantasies turn our eyes back to reality with new insight once they leave us.
Illustration: Verity Laycock