Originally published as a feature in Qmunicate Magazine’s ‘Chrismissue’, Dec 2013.
It would be fair to say that in amongst all the fuss over gift-purchasing, family-visiting and food eating, we forget the true meaning of Christmas: the Coca-Cola advert. Perhaps Sunday afternoons spent lovingly with your sofa and a festive film. Or is it the appearance on our shelves of the first single from the latest soon-to-be-obsolete X Factor winner?
In a controversial move, Channel 4 recently announced that for the first time in several years, Elf wouldn’t be scheduled in their programming in the lead up to Christmas. Whilst some of us quietly celebrated the small victory (I would rather cancel Christmas altogether than hear “Buddy the elf, what’s your favourite colour?” once more), the majority were outraged and Channel 4 faced surprisingly fierce backlash. DVDs exist, but as a nation we could not believe that a corporation would deny us of something so integral to our personal countdowns to the 25th. We want the ad breaks, dammit. We’re even willing to ignore the monthly bill we pay for Sky+ and watch at a time that is mildly inconvenient to us. It would seem that part of our festive cheer comes from having our sentimentality dictated to us.
Our social media interfaces have only recently recovered from an onslaught of messy, emotional outpourings inspired by the TV debut of the sweet John Lewis Christmas advert. If tweets and Facebook posts are to be believed, we haven’t felt a collective lump-in-the-throat quite like it since… Well, last year’s John Lewis Christmas advert. While it can’t be denied that this year’s animated cry-fest successfully pulls at the heart strings for all the right reasons, it is possible that we feel so intensely about it purely because it has become something of a contemporary Christmas tradition. An annual landmark, much like sixty seconds of Santa Claus driving an obnoxious red Coca-Cola lorry, but less divisive than the first snowfall of winter. (If you have never witnessed a passionate argument in the form of Facebook comments about whether snow is a beautiful, magical thing or merely a pain in the backside for anyone who actually wants to lead a life in December without the country being ground to a halt… Consider yourself spared). Whatever the reason, those shared Christmas traditions are becoming just as important to us as those we learned through our families. Just like the wide-spread viewing of an advert for the first time can be exciting, a movie feels like more of an event when shown on TV because… well, I’m sure live-tweeting a Christmas movie is a thing. But why?
A simple answer would be this: as time goes on, media is ruling our lives more and more. We are surrounded by headlines, movies, television, video games and music – it’s nearly 2014 and this is not a revelation to anybody. In light of this, though, it seems guaranteed that Christmas-related media is going to become a crucial part of our festivities. The internet no longer exists as this platform separate from us; regardless of whether or not it is a notion that we’re all entirely comfortable with, we live on the internet and many employ social media as an extension of themselves. Of course this is going to seep into our celebrations. Buddy The Elf has 42,000 twitter followers.
Perhaps it isn’t the content of the media we’re surrounded by at this time of year, but the timing. I offer myself as an example: I think of Antz as a Christmas film. It’s not, though. I have a memory of helping my mum decorate the Christmas tree as a child whilst Antz was showing on our television, and ever since I have associated it with fairy lights and prickly, damp-smelling tinsel. Returning, reluctantly, to the phenomenon that is Elf, let’s apply this idea. Elf hit cinemas a decade ago, at which time many of our generation would have been old enough to cement things in their mind as decidedly Christmassy but not old enough for the season to have lost all of its magic just yet. It’s unsurprising, then, that so many of us consider it a given tradition at the end of a hard year if that’s exactly what it has been for much of our lives.
Perhaps it doesn’t really matter why. No amount of technological advances is going to change the fact that we are creatures of habit and at a time when our lives are increasingly stressful and busy, we need the comfort of knowing that we can still feel the warmth of festivity. And if the Patrick Stewart version of A Christmas Carol isn’t shown this Christmas Eve, I will kick up shit.