The most wonderful time of the year – what makes a Christmas classic?

It’s that time of year again – the fairy lights are on, the mulled wine is flowing, and its finally acceptable to start blasting out Christmassy tunes before that 9am lecture. The festivities are getting into swing, which means that, love them or loathe them, the plethora of Christmas films on channel 4 can’t be far behind. Every year, cinemas are full to bursting with new releases trying to claim their place in the canon, but it takes a certain something to make one stick. What is it that makes these films Christmas classics? And why do we watch them every year, without fail?

Image: Universal Pictures
Image: Universal Pictures

Firstly, there’s the feel-good factor. Maybe I’m just a relentless optimist, but I’m definitely partial to a Christmas film with a happy (if ever-so-slightly cheesy) ending. I’d say that – judging by the stellar success of films like Richard Curtis’ Love Actually – that British people as a whole are possibly a little more sentimental and soppy than they might like to admit, especially around Christmas. The mix of characters and situations in this heart-warming comedy, coupled with its quotability and star-studded cast make it an obvious hit, not to mention the excellent soundtrack (and Hugh Grant’s fabulous dad dancing to The Pointer Sisters’ ‘Jump (For my Love)’).

Secondly, the majority of Christmas films seem to share a kind of magical or fantastical undertone, reflecting the prevalence of the surreal elements of the season – Father Christmas, flying sledges, and elves’ workshops don’t come without some acceptance of fantasy. That being said, a Christmas classic doesn’t necessarily need to be overly ebullient; films like It’s A Wonderful Life, and Scrooge depict incredibly unhappy characters who have their views on life turned around by spirits, perpetuating Christmas hopes of changes for the better, and reiterating the importance of family and friends.

Image: Liberty Films
Image: Liberty Films

There seems to be a sort of cultish fervour around Christmas films, especially the ones which have been popular with audiences worldwide for years. Chris Columbus’ ‘Home Alone’ is, perhaps, the ultimate Christmas film: slapstick humour, adventure, and a strong (if a little dysfunctional) family bond, wrapped up in the package of a jovial seasonal comedy. This formula is clearly effective, as Home Alone is the highest grossing comedy film of all time, and is still shown worldwide every Christmas, every year, 24 years after its release in 1990.

Watching the same Christmas films every year adds to the sense of tradition surrounding the whole season; you wouldn’t go through Christmas without decorations or mince pies, so why should our favourite films be any different? The films that have stood the test of time, year after year, perhaps now act as cultural additions to, and signifiers of, the Christmas season, being shown on television almost daily in the few weeks running up to Christmas day. They announce the arrival of Christmas, and provide the perfect excuse to lounge on the sofa after one too many mince pies, all while getting you in a festive mood with their (generally) cheery plots and catchy Christmas songs – what more could you ask for? The classics have a well-deserved place in our hearts, and the ones that are lodged tightest will remain Christmas favourites for years to come.

Hannah Tomes

Image: New Line Cinema

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