Cinema IS Christmas!

As a person unaffiliated with any kind of religion or spiritualism, at Christmas time I am left contemplating the question that millions of other human beings in today’s secular society must be pondering at the same time –what am I celebrating? Why is this day still meaningful to me?

The easiest answers reside in notions of togetherness, family, and “good will to all men”. In other words, we are taking a brief moment to recognise the importance of our families, friends and a connection to our fellow humans. Others might say that Christmas has been taken over by the parallel mythology of Santa Claus, the old man whose paternal embrace is closer to young children’s hearts than the religious ideals to which he has been poorly aligned. Meanwhile, cynics will argue that the day (and Santa himself) is now simply a conduit for the encouragement of hysterical consumer behaviours. All these points are (in their own way) true.

And of course, many would be appalled at the reduction of this sacred holiday to anything other than its origins, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the locus of Christianity’s beginnings (although it has been postulated that both the date and the use of a tree might be remnants from either pagan rites or earlier Christian “tree of life” ceremonies).

However, I wish to boldly claim that the reason Christmas still beats in the hearts of those who have long since abandoned (or simply never recognised) its intended meaning, is that the moving image has slowly elevated (perhaps ‘transformed’ is a more appropriate term?) the holiday into something else. But what? A humanist celebration? And why the moving image?

If I think of Christmas in years gone by, especially during my childhood, one of the defining elements in framing my experiences was the little box of moving images that populates almost every living room in the Western world. Christmas movies, Christmas cartoons, the live presentation of our dear city’s Carols by Candlelight celebrations – these were the markers that confirmed it was Christmas. It wouldn’t be enough to know that my family were celebrating on this day. What defined the experience was that television seemed to literally be celebrating as well – and if TV was celebrating, that meant that EVERY house was celebrating (please excuse the simple mind of a young boy, unaware that the entire world was not a part of this religious rite).

That little box flooded our home with the iconographic power of Santa Claus, reindeer, elves, baby Jesus, Frosty the snowman, mistletoe, Bing Crosby, Christmas carols and SNOW SNOW SNOW! Indeed, here in Melbourne, Australia where Christmas Day falls in summer and averages a temperature of around 25 degrees Celsius (77F), you will still see countless shop windows all over the city sprayed with a kind of snow-in-a-bottle concoction designed to meet the iconographic expectations that the moving image has placed on Christmas.

And what are my favourite early memories of Christmas? Die Hard (1988), Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Jack Frost (1979), Bush Christmas (1947), Santa Claus (1985), a hundred washed-out black-and-white American classics, endless TV Christmas specials, some awful telemovie with Olivia Newton-John, and every single adaptation of A Christmas Carol I ever saw. Yeah, I can remember family dinners, Christmas trees and big piles of presents, but I’m not entirely sure these haven’t been filtered and enhanced by the iconography that film and television have implanted in my mind.

And I know what you’re thinking – this guy sees cinema in everything, he’s totally biased. Well you’re probably right. But today, right here and now, I’m happy to declare – Cinema IS Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

18 thoughts on “Cinema IS Christmas!

  1. I have often made it clear that I do not follow any blogs. It isn’t that I don’t read a lot of others, or follow the antics of my small group of regular blogging friends, just that I have never ‘signed up’ to do so.

    Yesterday, that changed. I had a ‘like and follow’ from a blogger called ‘curnblog’. As is my habit, I had a look at his blog, which is really a website, to see if it was something I would enjoy reading. What I discovered, was a truly epic work, on the subject of Cinema and Films. Full of expert critiques, great images, and even full length films to watch (link below). This is blogging at a new level, and with Academic skill. It makes my category pale by comparison, and I was excited to see some similar films discussed, happy to be in the presence of a master. I am now a follower of a blog.

    Just the one though, for now.

    Hi, this has just been posted on my blog, beetleypete.wordpress.com

    • Hi Pete,

      This is incredibly humbling and I greatly appreciate your kind words. I’ll do my best to live up to the generous compliments you’ve given, and I’ll most definitely be visiting your blog on a regular basis.

      Thanks again – you’ve made my day.

  2. You’re right! I never really thought about it, but it’s certainly interesting to consider. I wonder, would Hannukah have the same impact had there been several movies attached to it? Very interesting indeed. Here in Canada, the issue has become quite complicated, Seasons Greetings have become the norm instead of Merry X-mas, or festive tree instead of X-mas, in other words all associations with the Christian faith must be eradicated, so as to include all faiths. Not that I’m overtly religious, but I must admit I do find it difficult to change. Thank you for dropping by my site, I look forward to discovering your blog.

  3. I am not a Christian.. but I just substituted that with some of our national festivals and I could entirely relate to it..TV definitely keeps the fervor alive..back in those days when we were kids there was only a single channel and so we used to watch all that was dished out. Tradition intricately got linked to the same kind of programs and movies on national days year after year, but now its become very easy to just change the channel, isn’t it 🙂

  4. Terry Gilliam’s Orwellian flick Brazil is a sort of a Christmas film. A very quirky one it is, too! I’m an atheist so Christmas doesn’t really mean much – I enjoy the whole Christmas day thing, but really it’s a corporate thing now with big firms trying to wrench as much money from us as possible. Case in point; head to the Harrods website (apologies, I are English) and see some of the gifts there. Satin pyjamas only £599. A jewel glittered glasses case, only £3.5k! Bargains galore. Personally I’m going to get a bag of satsumas and a block of cheese from Santa. And why? As I’ve been a bad boy – I stole a giraffe from Chester Zoo.

  5. You are absolutely right! In this spirit I wish you a Merry Cinema Christmas, Katharina
    PS Thank you to remind me of Jack Frost, my childhood memories came flooding back 🙂

  6. Our family has all but given up on Christmas rituals, except for one. We will never give up our Christmas day trip to the movie theater! It is my favorite time of year to go because everyone is with family and friends and always in such a great mood. So you are not alone….movies are what make Christmas meaningful for me too. Happy holidays!

  7. Yes indeed – It’s Christmas because we have all those movie re-runs on the television.
    This was a kind of validation of Christmas. And even back when I was a child all those years ago – and television was introduced into our living room in 1949 – television showed the movies. It is almost an annual ritual in our family to gather around the television to see which of the many Christmas movies will be shown. Thanks for dropping by my blog and for following.

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