It just isn’t Christmas without Macaulay Culkin repeatedly getting the better of the Wet Bandits. Or Will Ferrell, in full elf costume, slugging back a two-litre bottle of Coke. Others can’t do without seeing A Christmas Carol in black and white with the scratchy sound. Then there are the animated specials; we don’t tire of Boris Karloff as the Grinch, or watching the stop-motion magic of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
But why do we just keep going back, year after year?
Constantine Sedikides and Tim Wildschut, researchers at Southampton University in England, released a paper in 2017 about nostalgia and what it means to us. They discussed why we can’t let certain things – like Christmas traditions – go. “Nostalgia helps people find meaning in their lives, and it does so primarily by increasing social connectedness (a sense of belongingness and acceptance), and secondarily by augmenting self-continuity (a sense of connection between one’s past and one’s present),” they wrote.
The pull of nostalgia is great, says David Cheoros, executive director of Metro Cinema, which will feature a series of Christmas-themed movies throughout the month at the Garneau Theatre. “It’s about making you feel as you once felt,” he says. “Movies are great at that.” And, when you have aunts and uncles over whom you see once a year – and conversations are forced and painful – Cheoros says a Christmas movie is the perfect solution.
“I think there’s huge pressure to spend quality time with the family at Christmas. A Christmas movie ticks off all the boxes, without the requirement to actually talk.”
But why do some Christmas movies work, every year, and why do some movies fade away from view? Is there a magic mix? “If I was to pitch a Christmas movie, it would have to have a generational connection,” says Cheoros. “I think a child has to be at the heart of it. And then, that child has to have the agency to transform others. And it has to have a kick-ass song that you can’t get out of your head.” There are some Christmas movies that are overtly about the season, and some that “become” festive films simply because they were set in the holiday season – think Love, Actually or Die Hard.
When it comes to Metro members, there are three Christmas movies they request to see more than others; A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim; Jimmy Stewart starring in It’s a Wonderful Life and Ferrell’s modern classic, Elf. “They are the trifecta,” says Cheoros. And, yes, people do come to Christmas screenings at the theatre in ugly sweaters. But no one has gone full elf, yet.
“I have yet to see a pair of yellow tights at an Elf screening, but I hold out hope,” he says.
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This article appears in the December 2018 issue of Avenue Edmonton.