I was watching The View recently and they had Angie Harmon (Law and Order, Rizzoli and Isles) on as a guest.
Now while I think she is a beautiful, delightfully down-to-earth person, I wasn’t planning to hang around for the interview until she said that her fondest Christmas tradition was “locking herself in a room and watching all the Alien movies back-to-back”.
She happily admitted that until she had observed that one particular ritual it didn’t feel like Christmas to her.
That may sound like the weirdest, most unorthodox pick yet for a Christmas Viewing Tradition (or CVT as we like to call it; OK as only I apparently like to call it, but call it that I shall) but it struck a chord with me since I know a number of people (including myself) who have certain TV shows or movies they must watch to make it truly feel like the festive season.
Whether it is a program they watched as a child that brings back fond memories of uncomplicated times with their families (or was perhaps the only uncomplicated part of a emotionally-fraught and difficult time of the year, which it is alas for many people), or a movie that recalls a past or present special relationship, it must be played, and they must give it their undivided attention, or Christmas simply doesn’t fully arrive for them.
For my almost 80 year old dad, it’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation starring comedy icon Chevy Chase, which came out in 1989 and has become for many people a CVT of long standing.
When dad first started watching it, I’ll have to admit that I barely tolerated the movie.
It looked crass, overblown, an excess of 80s kitsch – not in and of itself an issue since I love much of that decade’s over the top style – and bereft of any overblown storyline that would merit any meaningful concentrated attention from me on what is one of the busiest nights of the year.
But then one Christmas, and I honestly can’t remember what possessed me, I sat down, watched it from start to finish, laughed myself into the sort of coma that it normally takes lashings of turkey, pork and a thick wedge of Christmas pudding to produce, and finally understood why dad, and so many other people like him, love it so much.
Yes it relies on paper thin jokes, and very broadly-drawn slapstick but woven into that sometimes house-of-cards construction is a heartfelt story about Clark Griswold’s attempts to celebrate the best possible Christmas he can, both for himself and his family.
He is a man who is in love with Christmas, and as a fellow Christmas junkie who adores putting up the tree, slapping on the lights, and festooning an array of Christmas decorations, I found myself identifying with Clark’s festive earnestness and the chaos that resulted from it (and yes I laughed till I cried when the cat ate the Christmas lights and, um, “lit up” shall we say).
Yes I identified with Clark Griswold!
The point though is it finally made sense to me why dad loves this movie.
It wasn’t simply the obvious fact that it is set at Christmas and has a happy ending and all manner of Christmas traditions, however poorly executed, peppered through it like a thousand strewn baubles; it’s that it feels like Christmas to dad, and officially marks that Santa is well and truly on his way.
Now while I may have seen the light – a blinding mass of Christmas lights to be honest that lit up the neighbourhood – in the case of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, it’s not necessarily the show/movie that I must watch to feel like it’s truly the season I love the most.
No, that show for me is the Vicar of Dibley Christmas special, “The Christmas Lunch Incident” (which aired 25 December 1996).
The Vicar of Dibley, for those of you who are yet to experience its comedic brilliance, is a British sitcom that ran from 1994-2007 about a women vicar, Geraldine Grainger (Dawn French, one half of comedy duo French and Saunders) who describes herself as “a babe with a bob and a magnificent bosom” who is posted to the quaintly odd little town of Dibley which is populated by the sort of eccentric British characters that are a joy to watch.
Their loopy and a few handgrips away from a full grasp on reality, but they mean well, care about each other deeply in their peculiar way, and over the course of 20 episodes, create for Geraldine the sort of family she always dreamed of having.
It is funny, silly and sweet, and all those ingredients are on full glorious show in an episode where Geraldine, determined to spend Christmas day watching Jurassic Park – perhaps she and Angie Harmon need to get together one Christmas? – eating the chocolate out of all 30 of her advent calendars and listening to the Queen’s speech instead finds invited by her parishioners to four separate Christmas meals, none of which she feels she can refuse without appearing rude.
While she plans at first to only eat the minimum amount at each of the social gatherings, it soon becomes apparent that simply won’t be allowed by her hosts – local landed gentry David Horton (Gary Waldhorn) and his son Hugo (James Fleet), friends Jim Trott (Trevor Peacock) and Frank Pickle (John Bluthal), her verger Alice (Emma Chambers) and hygienically-challenged Owen Newitt (Roger Lloyd-Pack) who ends up driving her home prostrate on his tractor trailer – and she ends up eating a full Christmas meal at each place, straining even Geraldine’s prodigious appetite to its considerable limits.
The scene where she is crawling along a laneway on her way to Alice’s after two gigantic meals already is priceless and can cause me to giggle at the oddest times right throughout the year.
But what I really love about the episode is that for all the slapstick, and character eccentricities, that these people really care for Geraldine and don’t want her to be alone at Christmas, and the episode ends with everyone gathered in her home, reminding her that what she does really matters.
And that I think is what makes any Christmas-based comedy really tick – some genuine heartfelt moments woven into the fabric of the many jokes and pratfalls – and “The Christmas Lunch Incident” is one of the best examples of its type I have seen.
Honestly if I don’t get to watch this show at Christmas, it simply isn’t Christmas for me.
So what makes Christmas for you, CVT-wise? (Yep still calling it that.)