Some make an annual tradition of going to the movies on Christmas Day. We at The Tyee would like to extend this ritual to the month of December, which we’ve declared the month of comfort watching.
What do you like to watch on winter nights? Do you live for the 1964 stop-motion animated film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Are you more of a Love Actually person on Christmas Eve, or do you throw on Die Hard while reclining by the tree?
I loved the 1987 movie A Muppet Family Christmas when I was a kid. There was something wonderfully predictable about how every character slips on a patch of ice while walking through the door of Fozzie Bear’s family farmhouse. I remember watching it with my aunt, delighting in the Kermit-Miss Piggy relationship and the expansive web of chosen family that comprised the muppet bunch.
These days, however, every quaint attempt I make at showing it to my four-year-old son backfires spectacularly. “This is terrible!” he declares, 30 seconds in. “I hate it!” I get it: the 20-something YouTube influencers of 2022 convey information very differently than Jim Henson’s production team of the 1980s. Nothing endures like inter-generational friction.
I want to know what you’re comfort-watching this season. Email me, Tyee senior editor Jackie Wong, by Dec. 12, to tell me about your comfort watch. We’ll compile your submissions and publish them as part of a reader story during the holiday season.
Please keep your submissions to 300 words in length. We love to read place-based scenes from your life, and to learn about what you were doing and who was around you at the time. Entries may be edited.
For inspiration, kick back with these comfort picks from our team.
The unironic magic of Christmas
I was six in November 2003 when Elf began to cast a syrupy warm glow on the holiday season in my family. My parents had spent the fall carting me and my classmate to our daily swim practices at the University of Alberta pool, and we would greet his mom with pink noses and frozen ponytails when it was time for her to drive us home. I nursed a minor but obvious crush on my friend, and my parents were eager to nurture the shared fondness. I sat at the kitchen table while my mom called his to ask if he’d like to see Elf that Saturday after practice.
The afternoon was sweet but I remember little about the movie itself, the memories pushed aside by my embarrassment at my dad bringing my toddler sister along on our “date.” Yet in the 19 years since we have watched Elf at least as many times, making it the unspoken usher of Christmas in our family. It is always best enjoyed no earlier than Dec. 1 with family in pajamas and our dog laying across our laps on the couch. When life drew me elsewhere, sharing it with roommates, friends and partners became a small initiation into my Christmas rituals. Even in the throes of final exams and papers, watching Elf on my tiny laptop screen was a comforting, 137-minute escape into the holiday spirit.
The tale of Buddy, a human man who is adopted and raised by Santa’s elves in the North Pole, is unwaveringly earnest. On a quest to find his birth father in New York in his full elf outfit, Buddy is naive and trusting, convinced every department store Santa is the real thing and that candy, candy corn, candy canes and syrup are the four main food groups. Elf is not a perfect movie and its treatment of a character with dwarfism is ableist. Somehow being able to come back to it December after December has made its failures clear and allowed its triumphs to deepen in my mind. As a child it was a heroic story fuelled by the unironic magic of Christmas. Now watching it with older eyes alongside younger cousins, I ponder how to keep that sense of wonder alive in my life and in theirs.
— Moira Wyton
Cozy, cozy murder
When I was about 10, I became convinced in the middle of the night that someone had climbed onto the second storey balcony of our house with a chainsaw, and was getting perilously close to making the next step and breaking through my bedroom window. After waking my dad and brother up, we instead discovered that a wasp’s nest had developed under the soffit of the roof.
By the time I was in my teens, what we had always referred to as my “overactive imagination” collected a more formal diagnosis: generalized anxiety disorder. For me, this feels a bit like something from Ratatouille, except that the rat in my chef’s hat keeps himself busy whispering descriptions of the storyboards from as-yet-unfilmed movies from the Saw franchise.
And perhaps this is why the British TV show Midsomer Murders is my seasonal comfort watch. The show has been running since 1997 with the same basic premise: a hotshot visiting archaeologist/unpopular folk music festival organizer/wealthy sculpture park founder is murdered in a terribly campy, improbable fashion. A wry but happily married middle-aged detective chief inspector and his smart, single young detective sergeant investigate. More people die in increasingly implausible ways.
The show is set in a fictional, picturesque area of England featuring towns with names such as Badger’s Drift and Whitcombe Grange. The killer always has a particular grudge and is always caught, right at the end of every episode. The cops spend very little time in anything resembling a police station, and there’s never any trial: the killer confesses and then the DCI saves the day and goes home to kiss his wife, who reminds him it’s his turn to make dinner.
It other words, it’s murder, but in a quaint-to-the-point-of-absurdity wrapper. Perfect for the type of person who, as a 10-year-old, misunderstands wasps as a raging chainsaw killer.
— andrea bennett
‘How about a friend?’
They don’t tell you this when you become a parent, but Christmas is not actually that fun with babies and toddlers. All the activities you rely on to get out of the house and talk to other adults are closed and the sleep deprivation doesn’t let up, despite the extra pressure to make Christmas happen. Throw in cold and flu season, and you have a recipe for sniffly, holly-bedecked misery.
My husband and I first started binge-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy as we tried to survive Christmas with babies, and heck if it wasn’t balm for our exhausted souls.
Many actual Christmas movies can feel too emotional, or emotionally manipulative, if you’re already in a fragile state. But a rollicking fantasy adventure is just the right amount of escapism (this is also why Die Hard works at Christmas). Throw in the weight of the fellowship (“I never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an elf!” “How about a friend?”) and the friendship between Sam and Frodo (“I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you”) and you’ll siphon off enough emotional fuel to make it through the toughest holiday.
Christmas with kids becomes much easier when they’re old enough to understand who Santa is and help make cookies. But in my house, we still watch Lord of the Rings every Christmas, competing to deliver the best lines. It’s tradition.
— Jen St. Denis
The damn thing is a revelation
I started watching Andor, the new Star Wars television series almost by accident. The prequel, of sorts, to the feature film Rogue One, which I didn’t really like wasn’t of much interest, but for some reason I decided to take a look, and holy smokes! The damn thing is a revelation.
Eschewing the goofier stuff of Jar Jar Binks and aliens with googly eyes and weird manners, Andor is grim, dirty, unfun and absolutely riveting.
In short, the first season (the second is currently in production) tells the tale of Cassian Andor and his come to Jesus moment as a budding revolutionary.
It’s not exactly a comfort watch for the holiday, more a discomfort watch, really. But over the last few weeks, I’ve been looking forward to the weekly drop with the breathless giddiness of new love.
Every episode, thus far, has outstripped my expectations. It simply gets better and better. Who would have thunk that Star Wars could be reinvented to speak, sometimes agonizingly to the current moment? The wonders of the universe never cease to amaze.
— Dorothy Woodend
Beautiful scenery, beautiful pasta
What I look for in a comfort watch is nothing too challenging. I’m not wanting supernatural battles royale with soundtracks that alarm the dog. I just want to be transported to some other place less broken, more sunny, thoroughly inhabited by people who obey their hearts when they make decisions, which always work out beautifully.
This is why my partner and I have watched every episode of the two seasons of the show Searching for Italy, in which U.S. actor Stanley Tucci eats his way through his ancestors’ land, top to bottom. Along the way we meet up with joyful chefs and farmers and artisans eager to whip up something and offer it to Tucci for his assessment. They, and we the audience, lean in to study Tucci’s whimsical face for the payoff. That would be the moment his eyebrows rise, his smirk melts into a grin, and he says “Oh God. That’s really good. That’s ridiculously good.”
Or something much like that. This may occur in an ancient underground vault or on a terrace high above an olive grove lit by golden sunlight. Every locale is eye-poppingly perfetto and more so because you’ve done no schlepping to get there. Tucci, not Anthony Bourdain, is the food-loving travel buddy I want right now. Tucci’s on no mission to solve his own problems or the planet’s. He’s completely at ease with himself and so would be a relaxed companion when the train ran late, or the bags were lost or the passport got stolen. But, of course, that never could or would happen. Pure. Escapism.
— David Beers
Please tell us what you’re comfort-watching this season and why, and we'll include it in a collection of readers' choices for the holiday season to be published later this month. Email me, Tyee senior editor Jackie Wong, by Dec. 12.
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