“‘Twas the night before Christmas…”

So, Christmas rears its brutish head once again, like a large vicious dog guarding the entrance to the dark and mysterious New Year.

Hang on – I love Christmas! I’ve no idea where that introduction came from. Perhaps because it’s been ages since I last wrote here and my writing muscles needed a stretch. I think Christmas is great; not just because food and drink happily flow forth and work is banished from the mind, but also because, uniquely, happy memories of childhood are so vividly resurrected you can almost close your eyes and be there. Inevitably, Christmas Day comes and goes and is nothing like the way you remember it, but then really it was always the anticipation of Christmas that made the day itself so exciting. Well, alright, the presents too.

Part of the traditional seasonal excitement came from the tv of course. First there came the devouring of the Christmas listings magazines (back when there were only two: the BBC’s in the Radio Times, ITV and Channel 4’s in the TV Times). Even before I realised how much I loved films, it was always the big movies that I looked for on each page. Back then of course (cue misty eyes and rose-tinted spectacles), films on TV were far more of an event: we had no video recorder, and cinema trips were extremely infrequent, so TV was really the only place to watch films. This made the big Christmas Day movie a real family event. BBC1 went through a phase of showing Mary Poppins every Christmas Day for several years I think, meaning I am now unable to watch it at any other time of the year (but I love it all the same when I do see it). They then realised that people might like to watch other family films in the post-dinner, post-Queen’s Speech slot, so things like Indiana Jones got aired there instead. ITV meanwhile would stick on a Bond film (again, these were a bit more of an event back then; they would show three Bond films a few days apart, then nothing at all for months).

Everyone seems to have a film that gets them in the festive mood; Mary Poppins is mine. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas, but the spirit of the film instantly brings out feelings of joy and merriment that nothing else quite can. This can only be a direct result of the BBC’s Yuletide schedulings, but I thank them for it, because it is a wonderful film, full of classic songs, amazing sets and great performances (I would defend the legendary Dick van Dyke with my dying breath, thank you very much). 

That’s not to say there aren’t other equally great Christmassy films, which are beloved by others in the same way. Mrs. Ark has made the watching of The Muppet’s Christmas Carol a legal requirement of every Christmas Eve. Fine by me, because it’s a fantastic adaptation of the Dickens classic, perfectly capturing the essence of the story whilst sprinkling in the usual zany Henson humour. It’s a Wonderful Life is that other enduring Christmas cinematic institution, and quite rightly tops many lists of great Christmas films. Not feeling suitably festive yet? Whack this in your dvd player close to the big day – you’ll be ready to hug every single family relative by the end.

There’s plenty of other festive films out there of course, like Miracle on 34th Street, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation… and others that escape me at the moment. And let us not forget real masterpieces like The Snowman – absolutely perfect. One of my own personal favourites is the golden-oldie Tom and Jerry cartoon ‘The Night Before Christmas’, perfect viewing for five minutes on a dark Christmas Eve teatime.

So much festive spirit! The only problem is – will there be enough time to watch them all before Christmas?

Published by Gavin Midgley

Freelance film journalist, blogger and geek.