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How watching a bit of old school TV can help to make the run up to Christmas more enjoyable
*This article was inspired by the fact I saw my first piece of Christmas propaganda today (an advert for Christmas dinner at a nearby hotel) and it's still only mid-September..!
It seems quite fashionable to be down on Christmas these days. Indeed, it's almost impossible not to hear phrases like "It gets earlier every year" and "Everything is so commercial now" being uttered in the months leading up to Christmas. I suppose this is quite understandable really as the pressure to get Christmas 'right' is far greater than it once was, and the marketing which bombards impressionable people – especially children – can be incessant and, in truth, pretty mercenary.
However, despite the fact it is arguably more stressful and commercial than it once was, Christmas is still something which my girlfriend and I just can't seem to get enough of. We love it all: watching classic Christmas films, going to see a show or pantomime, decorating the tree, looking round Christmas markets, walking out in the snow, playing Charades with friends and family; truly, we just adore it.
My enthusiasm for the season stems directly from my childhood. My Mum was perhaps the key figure in all this as she was like a real-life version of Bob Cratchett from A Christmas Carol: underpaid, under-appreciated and over-relied upon. Despite this, Mum's exuberance for wrapping presents, putting up decorations and having people round for games was infectious. My Dad on the other hand was more like Ebeneezer Scrooge, minus the personal wealth and redemptive epiphany.
However it wasn't just my Mum who installed a deep love for all things Christmas within me, it was the telly too. Like most kids, I absolutely loved watching TV in the run up to Christmas: the sit-com specials, the Two Ronnies Christmas shows, The Snowman, and of course, the big never-before-seen-on-terrestrial television film on Christmas day afternoon.
It all seemed to make Christmas feel even more special.
Some years ago, my girlfriend and I were reflecting on this and – quite by chance – both mentioned that we remembered watching an obscure children's television series in the mid-1980s which made us feel really Christmassy at the time. After putting a few searches through Google, we eventually found the name of the programme we were reminiscing about: The Box of Delights, a six-part Children's BBC adaption of John Masefield's much-loved book of the same name.
Suddenly it all came flooding back: the First Noel theme tune, the snow covered locations, the Boy's Own-type adventures, the magic and mystery of Patrick Troughton, the picture postcard setting of 1930s Britain, the steam trains...
Without any hesitation, we ordered a VHS copy of it from Amazon. Our aim was to watch it in episodic form, just like we did when we were kids.
It arrived in the post around two months before that year's Christmas: perfect timing. The following Sunday, after a nice roast dinner and with the living room fire crackling away, we slotted the tape into our front-loading video player and pressed PLAY.
Just watching the opening credits left us with massive grins on our faces. The tinkling music, the animated gallery of characters, the spinning box – it was all just so evocative! Needless to say, the special effects looked quite laughable by today's standards, but everything else was just as we remembered it. Watching it made us both feel like we were ten years-old again!
Suffice to say, watching the Box of Delights (on DVD now) has become a solid Christmas tradition in our house. We do it every year, even though we now know the script by-heart and can't help wincing a little at the special effects, such as they are. We watch it not because it is good (although it is), we watch it because it evokes something within us that feels like – or perhaps even is – the child-like wonder we both experienced in simpler times. The magic of this long forgotten gem is that, after watching it, Christmas seems anything but stressful or commercialised; it simply feels magical and innocent.
This Christmas will be only the second one we have been fortunate enough to celebrate with our baby daughter. She will be less than sixteen months old so it's fair to say the the adventures of Kay Harker et al will be lost on her. However, I literally cannot wait for the day when she will be old enough to snuggle up with her mum and me (after a nice Sunday roast, naturally) and start enjoying this tradition in her own way. To see her experience the magic which we both enjoyed as children will give me such a warm feeling inside and no doubt make the child-like wonder in me resonate even more.
We may even see if we can get my Mum round to watch an episode or two...