My husband and I recently re-watched the Game of Thrones finale, and I was struck by this line from Tyrion Lannister:
“What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.”Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones
He said this to support his choice in successor to the iron throne, a choice which was controversial to many viewers, but this post isn’t here to argue about that. (Even though I was one of the many people scratching my head… But that’s neither here nor there.)
I do happen to agree with what he said about stories. We use storytelling all the time in our lives. Everyone uses stories, not just the writers of the world. Politicians paint narratives of issues only they can solve (or narratives about the threat of their political rivals). Sales people use stories to market to consumers. Narratives shape the sports we watch, the businesses we support, and the people we chose to elect to office. Stories are all around us.
So it stands to reason that with the holiday season being a significant part of many peoples lives, that plenty of stories would be told about this time of year. The art of fiction around the Christmas season is as old as Christmas itself and it’s taken different forms throughout the years. Popular Christmas carol, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year says “There’ll be scary ghost stories”, a line which confuses modern audiences who keep ghost stories mostly regulated to the month of October, but made perfect sense to generations long gone. For many in the Victorian Era, telling ghost stories together was a common Christmas Eve tradition, one that was passed down from centuries of people utilizing the longer, colder nights to tell ghost stories. One of the most famous Christmas stories came from this tradition- A Christmas Carol. And prior to writing A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens had written another Christmas supernatural story in which the protagonist is visited by a goblin on Christmas Eve and shown the past and future. Where’s that movie?
But it seems in the year 2021, the form that many of our popular stories take is cheesy love stories thanks to Hallmark and Lifetime.
All you have to do is google “Christmas Love Stories” and you will quickly be inundated with Hallmark movies and many books specific to the Christmas Love genre. They are a genre of film and fiction all their own.
Love stories about Christmas aren’t a new thing. O.Henry’s classic 1905 short story, The Gift of the Magi, tells the story of a young husband and wife and their goals to get each other Christmas gifts despite the fact that they are struggling financially. You likely know how the story goes- they each sell something precious to themselves to be able to afford to buy the other a gift. And it turns out, each of the gifts they give each other, can’t be used because they sold the things their gifts were meant to enhance. But through their sacrifices for each other, they appreciate how invaluable the love they share is.
Not particularly being a fan of the sappy Hallmark Christmas fare, but loving a good spooky story, I think we got the short end of the stick when it comes to the form our most popular Christmas stories take today. But then again, the Victorians didn’t have indoor plumbing, so maybe it’s all a wash.
And I understand the appeal even if those Hallmark movies aren’t for me. Those movies always have pretty holiday aesthetics, they aren’t too heavy, and you kind of know what to expect as they all follow the same formula. They are comforting, feel good movies that put a lot of people in the holiday spirit.
Maybe that’s why most of us end up watching the same movies year after year. Even though we already know them well, we continue to make them a major part of our holiday traditions. Growing up, it was never really Christmas in my family’s home until we had watched Miracle on 34th Street and Laurel and Hardy’s 1934 film, March of the Wooden Soldiers.
So this year as we gather with family, we might not sit around a fire telling ghost stories like the Victorians did, but when we watch The Santa Clause together for the thirty-seventh time, we continue a rich tradition of passing the winter nights in storytelling.
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