I have so many fond childhood memories of Christmas in Britain, many of them filled with traditional British items like mince pies, Christmas crackers, presents under a twinkling tree and of course Christmas television. Christmas growing up always started with finding a stocking hanging on my bedroom door handle, and ended with the family around the television.
The classic scene I picture now when I think about British families and their relationship with the television at Christmas time is The Royle Family, slumped almost horizontally together on the sofa and arm chair wearing paper hats from their Christmas crackers, armed only with a remote control and a glass of alcohol.
At some point the males of the Royle family depart for a pint down their local, which funnily enough in real life takes more effort than you’d think. My brother and I discovered this the hard way one year.
After an hour of walking we had succeeded in doing a pub crawl without entering a single drinking establishment. We headed home and had a pint there with mum and dad in front of the television.
Luckily for The Royle Family, their local is open on Christmas Day and it is a tradition that many do stay loyal to in Britain. Nearly as loyal as they stay to the tradition of collapsing on the sofa in front of the TV after a late Christmas lunch.
I blame the turkey. The turkey and all the trimmings, combined with generous helpings of Christmas pudding, brandy butter and cream and custard. And of course the alcohol that accompanies a good Christmas lunch, irrelevant of whether it is consumed at home or in the pub. That’s what sends British families to the sofa in their millions on Christmas Day. Stuffed stomachs and woozy heads. Oh, and family.
It’s one of the few days of the year that families feel obliged to congregate en masse together and millions of Brits are forced to tolerate their in-laws for the entire day. Plonking the family down in front of the television at the end of a very long day of holding tongues and practicing extreme tolerance and patience is actually a way of preventing millions of mini wars breaking out behind closed curtains in British streets.
And TV producers know it. They know they have a captive audience on Christmas day. Everything is shut (for some unlucky souls even the local pub) and families need distraction for the sake of national peace. So TV program makers make it their mission to produce Christmas specials and the nation waits with baited breath to view them.
In fact, Brits are actively planning and scheduling their Christmas TV viewing weeks before the turkey hits the oven. The British media helps by publishing a mass of articles relating to the Christmas scheduling battles.
The ultimate British TV Battle is that of the Soaps which peaks at Christmas when long running series such as EastEnders and Coronation Street pit against each other to see which once can create the most festive drama. And by festive drama I mean families sitting together eating their Christmas lunches, unaware that a major disaster is unfolding with every forkful of turkey they cram in their mouths.
Soap Christmas celebrations involve, at the very least, misery and personal tragedy, and at worst, death and mass destruction. Luckily these Christmas soap specials don’t depict the average British family’s Christmas.
Christmas is also a time when beloved series make a comeback with one-off Christmas specials (as is the case with The Royle Family). Despite making no regular episodes for years Only Fools and Horses typically popped up at Christmas time with a stand alone viewing spectacle of Del Boy and his plonker brother, Rodney. These Christmas Day specials got bums on living rooms seats at an astonishing rate and had the nation laughing their Christmas socks off.
And of course, popular, classic shows get their look in at Christmas time too. In recent years, Bruce Forsythe’s familiar face hits the screen annually as Strictly Come Dancing airs for its Christmas dance off, getting would-be ballroom dancers at home off the sofa, convinced by the Christmas tipple in their hands that they can move better than the celebrities on the box.
Classic, long running series like Doctor Who have also got in on the Christmas act and broadcasts Christmas specials that has sci-fi fans jabbering excitedly whilst pulling their Christmas crackers.
And lastly, but certainly not least, no British Christmas day is complete without the viewing of the Queen’s speech. Families gather en masse (but less en masse than a decade ago) in front of the TV to hear what the head of the British royal family has to say to her subjects across the globe.
It’s a common scene shown in TV programs: a family sitting in front of the TV watching the Queen’s speech with snores emanating from a corner of the room where grandma or grandpa has succumbed to the overindulgence of turkey, stuffing, mince pies and Christmas wine. Which I think is about where this piece started and a good place to wish you all a fun filled, TV scheduling hassle free, merry Christmas.
Amanda van Mulligen is a Brit who is slowly learning how to be Dutch. She has lived in the Netherlands since 2000 and finds that raising three little Dutch boys with her Dutch husband results in daily cultural conundrums and linguistic lapses – but she wouldn’t change a thing. You can find out more about her adventures parenting abroad at Expat Life With a Double Buggy.