Every year, towards the end of November, millions of people gather together and celebrate a day many have been counting down to since the end of the last holiday season. I’m talking, of course, about the annual premiere of holiday specials on pretty much every television channel you can find. Though this phenomenon is traditionally limited to mainstream television, even Netflix has joined in on the fun by uploading Christmas movies for every audience, and even creating a few potential classics of their own like The Christmas Prince and The Princess Switch. These holiday special viewing blocks brought in about 217 million viewers in 2015, and have reached millions more in the years that follow. The specials even help drive up cable viewing in an era when many people have canceled their subscriptions in favor of signing up for online streaming services. What is it about Christmas movies that draws so many people in?
The nostalgia factor certainly plays a significant role in increased viewership. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, pretty much every person alive in the US today has spent childhood inundated with the spirit of the holiday; from radio channels playing solely Christmas music for a month, to shopping specials, to Christmas TV. A lot of these movies were indelible parts of the childhoods of many, and many try to carry on the bonding tradition they started as kids with their own children. The fact that programming doesn’t change much from year to year also helps matters exceedingly. Traditionally, if a Christmas movie does well one year, the television channel will rerun it a few times the next year. The repetition makes the movie memorable, and the year-long gap between reruns ensures that audiences don’t get bored of it Families can share the experience of watching a specific Christmas movie for the first time across generations, in a way they can’t share the experience of watching a favorite movie in the cinemas for the first time. This sense of cultural nostalgia is a powerful driving force towards Christmas programming during the holiday season.
Another element of Christmas movies that makes them generally delightful to watch is the inherent escapism of holiday programming. Generally, there are two broad categories of Christmas movie, of course with some variation within each: the rom-com, and the holiday heist-caper. You can definitely find the first type on the Hallmark Channel, which spews cheesy, forgettable heterosexual romance after cheesy, forgettable heterosexual romance every year around the holidays. However, a lot of classic holiday films, such as “Love, Actually” and “The Holiday” fall into this category as well. Even some children’s movies, such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Santa Clause 2” contain an element of romance. For a lot of viewers, this type of Christmas classic provides a formulaic comfort; you always know that a Christmas rom-com is going to end with the sort of happily-ever-after that you don’t see in other films, or in real life. The second category of Christmas film, the holiday heist-caper, is a trope you generally see in children’s classics like the “Home Alone” series or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” but it also provides an important experience for its target demographic and the parents who join them in watching these films. The movies contain shenanigans by the dozen, often held together by a message about the “True Spirit of Christmas” (whatever that means). They’re unrealistic, often clever and hilarious and contain a message about the failings of Christmas consumerism. What’s not to love?
Regardless of why you watch them, or choose not to, Christmas television programming is an important part of the holiday season for many families across the United States. They allow them a rare opportunity to pass down the experience of watching a piece of media for the first time. More importantly, they bring people together, one way or another. Isn’t that closeness what the holiday season is ultimately meant to be about? So, if you can this holiday season, find a loved one and try out a new Christmas movie for the first time. See what you like about it, and what you don’t, and take the chance to enjoy one another’s company in a world that often moves too fast for simple pleasures. Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, Christmas television is here to stay. Why not enjoy the nostalgic comfort the programming provides?