Mental Health and Wellbeing Matters: rewatching Christmas films

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In our latest mental health and wellbeing piece, how Christmas movies help one of our writers get through the festive season.

Welcome to Mental Health & Wellbeing Matters, our regular spot on the site where we chat about things that may be affecting us, or those around us. A little place where we can natter about things not always been okay. This week, Jake wants to have a chat about the quiet importance of Christmas movies to him. Over to you, Jake…

Christmas is, of course, a time for traditions. Turkey, tinsel and terrible jokes are the order of the day. But one tradition that, in my house at least, takes precedence over all others is rewatching copious Christmas films and specials, usually in a ridiculously specific order. For me, this is not only a tradition – it is the fabric of my festive season and I look forward to it even more than the day itself.

These DVDs, which gather dust for the rest of the year, have come to represent a safe sanctuary for me. In fact, the reason I am writing this article is, after some recent setbacks, I am at least comforted by the knowledge that these films lie in wait, knowing I can wallow in the whimsy and regress back to my childhood.

Childhood is, I suppose, the theme that runs through any Christmas DVD collection. Rewatching these DVDs takes me back to a safer, more innocent time, that unique feeling of knowing exactly what is going to come up on the screen, to the extent of knowing the script. I think by now I can quote the majority of the first two Home Alone films by heart.

This, I think, is at the heart of most Christmas collections. No other DVDs in my home are as special to me as the films I save for Christmas Eve (those being, for anyone interested, Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas, the beautifully written Lost Christmas starring Eddie Izzard, and finishing with my childhood favourite Spot’s Magical Christmas). In a year that has really taken its toll on my  and I’m sure a lot of people’s mental health, these films are elevated to near mythic status, being irrevocably intertwined with the season in which we watch them.

These last few years, of course, binge culture has blossomed and we expect every episode of every series to be available at the touch of a button. This is why I hold my festive favourites so dear. Because they demand a certain schedule. In a time when everything is still so up in the air, the comfort blanket of knowing I will watch Die Hard on December 1st, then the sequel, then Lethal Weapon and so on, it helps stabilize an otherwise uneven and frightening world. I even have funny little traditions like not watching Home Alone 3 all the way through, but I always skip to the slapstick scenes and watch those. One day, I might even watch the first 50 minutes to find out why those burglars are after that microchip.

The stereotypically sweet, saccharine storytelling also helps. It’s amazing how, at any other time of the year, such cliches in films are derided, yet all you need is to see Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth snogging in the snow in Bridget Jones’ Diary, or James Stewart extolling the virtues of being alive at the climax of It’s A Wonderful Life to get that warm, festive glow. Is there anything more triumphant than Sergeant Al Powell’s character arc in Die Hard? These are seminal scenes, embedded into the cultural consciousness over many, many years. It is why, I think, it is so difficult for new festive films to make any real impact, because no matter how good they are, it takes years to induct them into the Christmas cycle (the most recent Christmas film in my collection, for example, is Aardman’s delightful 2011 animation Arthur Christmas).

As someone who has struggled with mental health, especially this year, the serotonin induced by my festive favourites is as vital as ever. The lack of solidity these past two years, the world as jelly, never stable and always shifting, these DVDs are a respite from all that.

Incidentally, not that I want to turn this article into a list of recommendations – although do swap your favourite seasonal specials in the comments – I have to give a shout out to the wonderful Mischief Theatre here, whose work has done more to cheer me up and make me laugh in these last two years than anything else. For me, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is one of the funniest Christmas specials going, and The Goes Wrong Show is an absolute delight that richly rewards rewatches.

So with Christmas just round the corner, get a nice mug of hot chocolate, kick back and forget the woes of the world for a while by immersing yourself in your collection of seminal seasonal stories.

Thanks for reading. You all take care, and this column will be back next Wednesday as always.

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