What Christmas television reveals about Britain

While I’ve never been one for high-minded cultural criticism, the Christmas TV schedules can give us an interesting insight into the society we live in. Christmas and TV have gone together perfectly since forever, and the festive season is always a time of huge films, soap opera deaths and speech-giving monarchs. We crave that familiarity and tradition at Christmas, to such an extent that it’s easy to predict what sort of stuff is going to be on even before that Christmas Radio Times comes through the door.

We live in a time when more people shop online than go to church on Christmas day, and ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’, rather than ‘Peace and Goodwill to All Men’, is the slogan of the period. You don’t need to look through rose-tinted glasses to see that our national traditions are slowly dying. Everyone’s heard their Grandad’s story of only getting a tangerine for their sole present – compare that sort of Christmas to today’s, where legions of kids will wake up to ipads in their stockings on the 25th.

The point is, Christmas is changing, and we look to our televisions as an immovable anchor in an unrecognisable world. The Euro may be tanking, but Doctor Who will still be on. Kids are growing up too fast, but doesn’t the Queen look good for her age? And so on.

I always hate people doing ‘back in my day’ stuff, and I’m not saying that change is bad. If our traditions never changed then we’d still all be gathered round the TV on Christmas Day to watch The Black and White Minstrel Show. It’s just a fact that despite all the excitement and rumours that surround the Christmas schedule, it’s always the same basic formula, and we need it, even if we don’t realise it.

Just look at Eastenders, (or any soap) for example. There’s always a huge fuss made over a shock death, a shock return, a shock affair – it has pretensions of being new and exciting, but it’s just the same Christmas episode that we’ve seen for the past 10 years. We like to think we’re watching something new and daring, but what we want (and what we’re getting) is enjoyable, predictable entertainment.

Christmas isn’t a time to start watching The Wire – we don’t want to have a copy of SparkNotes at hand to comprehend our festive shows, we just want to sit in a Turkey coma with a glass of sherry, and be entertained.

Christmas should be a time for heritage and tradition, and nowadays, the best place to find it is in the TV guide. On Christmas Day in 2050, God knows what presents kids will be opening, and what their ideas of ‘Christmas traditions’ will be. It’s a worrying future, but we can rest easy in the knowledge that The Snowman will still be on the telly, and at least one aspect of Christmas won’t have changed.

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