Christmas on TV, or Christmas in films, is absolutely nothing like Christmas in real life. They just aren’t the same.
Not because we don’t all meet an over-grown elf and find out he’s our long-lost brother, or save a work Christmas party from an evil Alan Rickman. I’m not even talking about Christmas miracles, old men turning out to be the real Santa Claus or the ability to problem solve using festive spirit alone.
In TV Land Christmas is more magical and more meaningful. Really, it doesn’t compare with the high-pressure reality of the festive period itself. Our version of Christmas gets watered down by demanding gift lists, huge credit card bills and things like Black Friday, irritating family members and having to battling it out with your colleagues for a few precious days’ annual leave.
Christmas TV, on the other hand, would have us believe that December is a much lighter, brighter, icing sugar-sprinkled affair. And if disaster or misfortune gets in the way of the celebrations, there is always some form of happy ending.
We love the idea of Christmas that we remember from TV and film – and we fall for it year after year, forgetting it’s not a reality.
Take Christmas shopping. Each year I set out, imagining myself in a snowflake-covered Richard Curtis film, wandering the near-empty pavements, as a brass band plays We Wish You a Merry Christmas in the background. Love Actually might even poke fun at over-the-top Christmas wrapping, but in reality our gifts never get that much love and attention. You’re more likely to be caught in a scrum outside John Lewis and retreat, traumatised, to the Tube before you even make it as far as the jewellery counter. If only Mr Bean really was around to give us a hand.
And matters of the heart. Thanks to pretty much every Christmas special and festive film in existence, we all dream of a little romance on 25 December, a Christmas fling, eyes meeting beneath the mistletoe. But the reality is a much more sobering affair. More break-ups take place in the two weeks before Christmas than any other time of year while the post-festivity period sees the number of couples filing for divorce soar (turns out EastEnders’ Den and Angie are the most realistic TV Christmas couple). Plus there is actual scientific proof that as Christmas approaches and the temperature drops, so do our standards, so that we have someone to cuddle – just until the sun comes back out.
I much prefer telly’s version of Christmas, and it’s easy to see why, but festive TV is better than the real thing for more reasons than those alone. It might give us unrealistic expectations of the yuletide fun coming our way, but it also provides us with a fast-track to the feelings of joy and goodwill to all mankind that we crave.
The better, brighter and more heart-warming Christmas of TV Land reminds us to give thanks for the important stuff, for family, friends, our health and our happiness. More often than not in late December we sit down in front of it with those family and friends. It’s not the season of catch-up TV or watching on-demand on your lonesome – Christmas is for event telly that you want to watch live and together.
And watching perfect or moving Christmases on TV reminds us to take stock, forget about the burned sausages, the wonky tree and the red wine stain on the sofa.
It gives us the space and time to take a step back from the frazzled, manic-ness that Christmas can be and have our own, if slightly more low-key, feelings of festive joy.