This is an ancient riddle that has plagued the viewers of television for decades. The answer has become even more complicated now that the choice of channels offered on satellite and digital has ensured that noticing the usual suspects is more difficult than ever. Gone are the days when the choice of four terrestrial channels almost dictated a schedule that the entire family would have to adhere to whilst digesting a huge meal in front of the log fire.
I for one did not get excited about Advent Calendars, hated Christmas shopping and was consistently disappointed with what I received on the day itself. What gave me solace, and perhaps still does, is the arrival of the bumper issue of the TV guide which lays out a delightful smorgasbord of entertainment for the next two or three weeks. This meant that I could spend the entirety of Christmas immersed in a constant supply of movies whilst remaining almost permanently inebriated.
But I digress into nostalgia. So what does make a Christmas movie? Must it be family viewing, or are there post-watershed versions? Does it even have to be about Christmas, or can it be simply used as a backdrop. Perhaps it is sometimes a contextual coincidence that it even appears? I asked my modest list of friends on the book of face what their favourite Christmas flick was and found myself bombarded with suggestions ranging from the relatively recent to the classic and cheesy:
Linda: “Santa Claus the movie with Dudley Moore x.”
Matt: “Elf. No question!”
Mel: “Polar Express…Classic movie…”
Chris: “Santa Claus The Movie. Great Film. Dudley Moore such a legend.”
Tim: “Gotta be elf, great movie!”
Colum: “Harvey. Can’t beat a bit of Jimmy Stewart.”
Becky: “Elf for now, but Santa Claus the Movie as a child!”
Peter: “Miracle on whatever street, followed by Diehard.”
Adam: “Cool Runnings!”
The above are genuinely the first nine replies I received and I was surprised first and foremost by the myriad of opinions. There are three votes each for Elf and Santa Clause -The Movie, a token vote from a rabbit-loving friend, and one or two films that only have a slight connection to the theme of Christmas. If you had asked me I think that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Home Alone would jump to my mind. What this all reveals is that the term ‘Christmas movie’ is not as black and white as first appears and outside of the obvious there are other categories that one’s favourite Chrimbo flick can fall into:
Number one: There are those movies that evoke strong memories of contentment and happiness. Images of falling snowflakes outside the window as the family sits cocooned warmly inside. Their eyes slowly drooping as the Seven Dwarves march along the screen chanting their hypnotic lyrics. These movies are often rooted in childhood memories and are associated with family viewing and a general consensus of opinion. For me, these are often classic animations such as The Snowman, or Pinocchio.
Number two: There are those that are ‘associated’ with the festive season and simply seemed to always be on, whether related to Christmas or not. A movie that springs to mind in this category is The Great Escape, which was consistently on every year and even became a cultural irony as to what guidelines to follow when pinning down the Christmas movie criteria.
Number three: There are the movies that come around at Christmas and when they start you are simply quite happy to sit back and enjoy in an annual family reunion of entertainment. For this there are no criteria. It comes down to luck, timing and perhaps a slice of open-mindedness when something ‘a bit before one’s time’ appears on the box.
So whether it is watching ET whilst attempting to digest in excess of two-thousand calories, or Gremlins on in the background as everyone has a drunken argument over whether or not Dad had collected his two hundred pounds when passing GO, it seems that the Christmas movie has no concrete criteria. No factors and no objective reasoning can be applied. It is simply an immovable British constitution that will live on throughout this generation and the next.
Personally, I am hoping that Planes, Trains and Automobiles will make an appearance next time around.