I do struggle with the commercialisation, the social/emotional pressure to be with people with whom we might not choose to spend our time, to do things (in a way) that might not sit comfortably, for everything to be ‘perfect’, the false ‘bonhomie’, and so on….
So why do I enjoy watching Christmas films?
I think I’ve finally peeled away the layers and figured it out – and what I enjoy about them actually has little to do with Christmas as such…
I know lots of Christmas movies are rather ‘sugar-coated’, ‘schmaltzy’, unrealistic and full of fantasy – positioning Christmas as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’.
This can grate on me and the reality is that Christmas might be a great time for some but, for plenty of others, it really isn’t.
Anyone who’s experienced a major loss – someone they love has died, a relationship has broken down or they’ve lost their job or home, for example – can find it horribly tough.
And when these films harp on about the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas – what exactly is that?
Is it about the religious significance of the birth of Christ? About Christmas wishes having some special power? The time we ‘should’ be with family? Or simply a time when we all try to think of others before ourselves?
For you, maybe it’s something else entirely.
And, if it is about being kinder, for example, why only at Christmas? What about the rest of the year?
When I look past all this, though – the ridiculous fairy-tale romances and the weird and wonderful Christmas wishes – I find that what really speaks to me is the refocusing and redemption that are so often the key underlying themes.
The journeys taken by the characters are often accompanied by a visitor – some mysterious, wise guide, mentor or sage: Santa, fairy godmother, stranger, spiritual guru or ghost – such as the ghosts of Jacob Marley and then Christmas past, present and future in ‘A Christmas Carol’.
‘A Christmas Carol’ is one of my favourites and, perhaps, the ultimate Christmas story. Scrooge has lost his way in life, lost his grasp on what’s important.
In ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (another favourite) the visitor is an angel called Clarence who earns his wings by helping the central character, George Bailey, who is contemplating suicide because he thinks he’s messed up and doesn’t realise just how much he’s loved, valued, and all the good he’s done in his life.
Of course, it helps my enjoyment that a lot of the story-telling involves flashbacks, exploring the ‘what ifs’ and, sometimes, time travel – each of which pulls on the desire we all have at times to rewrite the past or escape the present – and to design a different future. And there’s usually a happy ending, too.
I watched ‘Mark Kermode’s Christmas Cinema Secrets’ on BBC4 this week (it will be available on BBC iPlayer for a few weeks if you’re interested in seeing it yourself) and he shared similar thoughts – highlighting, amongst others, themes of reconciliation, reconnecting with what’s important, change and healing.
As we watch these films I think we often wonder what happened to our own plans and dreams and wonder about the ‘what ifs…’ re decisions we’ve made in the past.
I believe it’s important to remember that we were each doing our best (whatever that was) at the time – with who we were, juggling conflicting priorities, what we knew and understood and priorities as we saw them then.
OK, we might like to think we’d make different decisions now – but that’s as we are now, with the benefit of hindsight and everything else we’ve learned about ourselves and the world since then.
And it’s not just about being true to ourselves, deciding what we want, and what we want to change, but also very much about valuing what we already have.
We can’t change the past but we can decide to be different in the here and now.
And we can change how we make our decisions in the future – based on who and what we think are really important – and not just at Christmas…