I have problems feeling Chirstmassy. It is a thing that is quite difficult for me, for many reasons, including the darkest time of the year, and well, and about eleventy billion other things.
But even for the terminally unchristmassy, some things help. And one of the things Ive been missing, so far from home, has been the idea of Christmas television – of taking the Radio Times and a big fat marker pen and sitting down, going through it slowly and systematically as I do every single year. Actually no, thats not true. In certain quarters of my family, there was a more specialised method. Red for MUST WATCH. Blue for MAYBE. Black for ITS ON, SO, YOU KNOW, IF WERE BORED. Oh, and there was also a special green pen for things my mother would really like and we could all watch together. I look forward to doing the whole traditional process again, some year soon. It is the Very Serious Procedure of The Marker Pens.
Do I end up watching most of those things? No. But thats not the point. The point is that the ideal of sitting around, curled up in front of a fire with people you love and being entertained – or entertaining each other while watching something wholeheartedly terrible, most usually – is my tradition.
Christmas TV in the US is a lot more scattershot. Lots of TV, obviously, but nothing that seems like something you would want to circle with any colour of pen, let alone red. In the UK, television is attracted to Christmas like a magnet in the US, it is repelled. It is a tellyhole. All the big series disappear, not to reappear until weeks or months later. This year, because TV-people are scared of the winter olympics, some huge things wont return until mid-March. And in the meantime? nothing. NOTHING.
However. Luckily? My Beloved and I discovered a whole new world of menus on our television that we hadnt previously known were there. Menus leading to menus, splitting off into subsets and mini-menus offering episodes of TV, films and, beyond that, a whole world of unmitigated rubbish that couldnt be more pointless if it tried.
Or so we thought. Today we discovered it has greater depths of pointlessness than we ever imagined possible.
See, one of my favourite things about American Christmas television traditions – or rather, my one favourite thing (but its so good I dont need to try and find any other favourite things, and besides, they dont seem to be quite as into Big Christmas Television Traditions as I am) is the Yule Log.
For several hours on Christmas morning, one channel (or more) is given over to the yule log. Its a looped film of a fireplace, close up, with seasonal music playing softly in the back ground. It goes on for hours. Literally: HOURS. The high point of the action is when the yule log, having broken down to a pile of glowing almost-embers gets replaced by wait for it ANOTHER yule log! Yes, a disembodied hand comes in from one side of the screen, places another hunk of tree on the fire, then retreats once more. Its thrilling stuff.
And the idea is, you see, you can have it on, quietly in the background, fulfilling the function of a crackling log fire but without any of the nasty side effects like heating the room, its occupants, or releasing that annoying pleasant smell that real fires have a nasty habit of insisting upon. ALSO, you dont have to do anything so terrifying as to actually turn the TV off. Its still on, its just not as distracting as it might usually be. The height of pointless! But my favourite thing was that this was, at the end of the day, a real fire. It was a real fire that someone had bothered to train a camera on for a bunch of minutes, and then looped over a never-ending parade of over-sentimental crimble music.
So I was, of course, quite ridiculously overexcited when I discovered a whole menu of other similar Christmassy moving screensavers I could have on my television whenever I wanted them. Its great, its like having a whole new view without having to move off the sofa – or a whole new window without having to lift the entire flat off its foundations and transport it by truck to somewhere more scenic, which, frankly, is expensive. Instead, I can just click a few buttons and have a perfect scene of christmas joy, sitting in the corner of my tiny flat.
There is a winter woodland, with a babbling brook and the sound of trees gently swaying in the breeze, and soft showers of snow falling off one particular branch and suspiciously regular 12 second intervals.
And then there is a snowy version of Yosemite, which looks just like Yosemite did when I was there in October, but with a covering of CGI snow smeared over the top in some kind of cheap microsoft paint software.
And then there is a yule log, whose flames burn too bright and consistently for any real fire.
But, most eerily, the last remaining screen has one of the most odd screen saving options was a screen simply called CHRISTMAS DAY. Clicking on it, the viewer is presented with a family living room. It has a burning fireplace, a happy tree, and a complete gaping lack of human life.
The thing is: leave the babbling brook onscreen while youre trying to do something else? Youll occasionally look over and wonder at the calm, babbling nature of brooks. And then need the toilet.
Leave the fake version of Yosemite onscreen, and youll end up just staring at it, because its just a ridiculously beautiful place.
But leave the supposedly calming CHRISTMAS DAY screensaver sitting on your enormous television screen?
You will look over at it, the first few times, thinking OK, thats nice, its a nice family living room. But then, after a while, you start thinking Seriously, where are the family? Why is the fire burning? Why is the room so terrifyingly, neurotically super-clean? Where are the children for whom those presents are wrapped? WHAT is going ON?! and, by the time youve been sitting trying to enjoy your screensaver for about 23 minutes, youve come to the unhappy realisation that the family to whom the living room belongs have been murdered and are presently lying and bleeding out just off camera.
Which is, you know, great, as happy holiday-spirit-filled Christmas tradition-tv goes, and everything.
To be honest, Id still kind of prefer Wallace And Gromit.
Circled in RED.