In which we set our brave contributors a question, and they attempt to give a semi-structured intelligible answer. And the question is…
What are your essential pieces of Christmas popculture?
My favourite piece of Christmas pop culture has to be Die Hard.
Sure, it might not be directly be about Christmas. It wasn’t released in time for Christmas (3 February 1988 if you want to be geeky), it’s primarily about one man taking on a group of terrorists, and there isn’t any holly or a single drummer-boy to be seen.
However, in many other ways it is exactly what Christmas is about. John McClane (Bruce Willis) has travelled to LA on Christmas Eve to be reunited with his estranged wife at her work Christmas party. Love is rekindled, everyone is drinking and being merry, and snow is falling. It sounds like a Christmas card, until it gets ruined by a group of terrorists mercilessly taking everyone hostage, executing members of the group and demanding $640 million in bearer bonds. The Christmas spirit is challenged by the selfish and the greedy. It’s like the Grinch, but if he had an accent and an AK-47.
If you aren’t convinced by this interpretation, know that it reminds me of Christmas for other reasons. Without sounding too old, Christmas TV today isn’t what it used to be. I once spent hours poring over the bumper Christmas TV Guide with a pen organising a recording schedule, before telling my Dad how many VHS tapes he needed to add to the shopping list. Unbelievably, I still have the Die Hard VHS taped from ITV and it is one of my most watched. It’s my favourite action film by quite a distance; a simple concept well done. Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas without Die Hard.
Remember when I opened the …&-Friends! season with a piece on Christmas songs (and the attendant problems)? If you want to simulate the Alex-Spencer Christmas Experience (and why the hell wouldn’t you?), that came with its own Spotify playlist. I think it’s important that everyone listen to the Pokemon Christmas Bash album, however, which is both hugely, fittingly novel and surprisingly catchy.
Battling for the position of Most Prominent Festive Medium is the Christmas film. I’d obviously pick A Muppet Christmas Carol which, regardless of the Lovely Girlfriend’s crippling Muppetophobia, I have already watched once this holiday, and aim to watch again before the Actual Big Day (which gives me, what, around 18 hours and counting…).
But being entirely truthful? As usual, it all comes down to a videogame.
Four Christmasses ago, a big box-shaped present lies under the tree. The idea of a second console had been much grumbled about. Enter the Wii Sports series.
That Christmas Day, a common narrative unfolded, as it did in thousands of other households. My parents got their hands on Wii Tennis, and that was it. Before you knew it, the whole extended family had Miis and were trading tips about bowling (“no, you’ve got to press right and then curve left“). It’s one of the few times videogames have ever been allowed to dominate my family’s living room space, and everytime I come home for Christmas, the Wii comes with me.
Nowadays, Christmas Eve is nothing without the post-curry competitive bouts of Golf between my dad and Dom. Family life is organised around a quick spot of Wii Tennis. We all spend the holidays honing our skills in a series of virtual sports, until the time comes to wave a teary goodbye to everyone’s favourite little white box.
I think this is a pretty common experience. I think Wii Sports have received short shrift in the years since it first emerged. It was a thrilling novelty, to be sure, and it remains the one game a lot of the older generation will play. But I think people miss that there’s more: the classic Nintendo design that permeates both games. Things unlock slowly and in the background, not signposted or driving the addicted playing, just there. Since Wii Sports Resort entered my life this time last year, I’ve grown a real fondness for its island setting. It probably seems insane to say but the Resort island is probably one of my favourite gaming spaces ever. Forget Liberty City and Hyrule. It’s a hyper-compacted world which is only hinted at in the majority of the game, but which places the dozen activities in a real, logical space far removed from the world outside the frosty windows.
At the moment, my festive thrills are largely to be found in Resort‘s ‘Island Flyover’ mode, which puts a plane between your thumb and forefinger. It’s a very slow plane, and it’s not perfect to control. But exploring the Resort island, ticking off place markers one by one, and being rewarded with a quick two-line description (warmly, wittily simple, in the traditional Nintendo mould) is about the most relaxing gaming experience I’ve had. Pop on that Christmas playlist, melt into the sofa, and feel the Christmas spirit.
Coca-Cola holds too much sway over Christmas. They were responsible for changing Santa’s outfit from green to red, and nowadays thousands of people across the nation proclaim, “It’s not Christmas until the Coca-Cola advert has been on TV!”. Maybe if they were still using the advert I remember from my childhood, I’d be one of these people, but they keep tinkering with it for maximum saccharine impact, and it now just feels like a callous viral marketing trick, some kind of Pavlovian response we’ve been hoodwinked into.
No, for me, if you’re going to define the festive season with an advert, it’s Mr Frosty.
Mr Frosty is such fun! He makes treats for everyone! Or so the adverts would have us believe, in their 80s-tacular way. This twenty second slice of absolute cheese has remained the same for the entirety of my life, and can still occasionally be found on kids’ channels near Christmas. Each year it becomes increasingly hard to track down, but it’ll be there somewhere. To me, it’s emblematic of the ultra-commercialisation of Christmas, when a 20-year-old toy can once again be wheeled out to squeeze a bit more profit from a new generation. It wasn’t that impressive when I was a kid, and it sure as hell isn’t now. Still, if I can stumble upon it on a December morning, I know that the festive season is truly upon us.
On a more positive note, to me there is only one true Christmas film – Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. Described by a critic as “money grabbing sequelitis at its most pathetic”, it nonetheless has a hold on the festive part of my brain. I watched it again recently, to get myself in the Christmassy mood before decorating our living room, and it still holds up. It’s the film that started my still-burning desire to visit New York; in Macaulay Culkin it has a child star far more palatable and charming than any of the Disney Channel legion of clones, and it features people being hit in the head and falling over. As I noted on my blog when looking at the Jackass 3D trailer, this is Never Not Funny.