You can forget It’s A Wonderful Life, Die Hard and The Muppet Christmas Carol – or simply move them to Christmas Eve. As far as Jayne Nelson is concerned, watching JRR Tolkien’s magnificent saga on the big day is the true meaning of Christmas…
Everybody has their own Christmas Day ritual, whether it’s visiting friends and family, playing with the kids, going for a long walk with the dog (weather permitting; this is Britain, after all) or simply vegging in front of the Queen’s Speech and EastEnders.
When it comes to my own Christmas, however, I have one request: movies. And lots of ’em.
I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, back when it was traditional for the BBC and ITV to purchase a big-name, epic film and show it on Christmas Day. This was before every household could afford VHS recorders (wow, I feel old…), let alone DVDs and streaming services, and so the idea of huddling around the telly to watch a blockbuster, as a family, was rather lovely. I remember watching Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind this way, not to mention the odd Bond movie in Christmas week. It made me feel all warm and cosy inside; this was cinema on my telly, back when it took five years for a film to go from big screen to small. With a wait like that, you really had time to build anticipation if you hadn’t seen the flick already.
Thus, in my head, an epic film is synonymous with Christmas Day. And if you can stretch that idea of an epic film out over the entire day – with breaks for food and Doctor Who, naturally – that’s even better.
I’ve marathoned all sorts of movies on Christmas Days over the last decade or so. Alien and Aliens. A Studio Ghibli selection. The original Star Wars movies. Gone With The Wind, coupled with Lawrence Of Arabia. The ones I find work perfectly, however, are the three that make up Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: truly, among the most epic works in modern cinema.
In The Bleak Midwinter
I’ll admit that orc-battles, Gollum gobbling raw fish and oliphaunts stomping on Rohan soldiers aren’t really things that scream “Christmas”. But, nasty bits aside, Tolkien’s story actually is in keeping with the spirit of the season. It’s a saga that screams of hope in the dark times, telling us that light is coming back to the world – how appropriate, when you strip the celebration on 25 December back to its earliest meaning (“We’re past the shortest day of the year and the sun’s coming back now, folks!”).
By following two ordinary hobbits on their quest to defeat their world of evil, you’re showing that, in the words of Galadriel, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” If you’re a Christian, that small person could well be little Jesus Himself, so it’s a fitting story to watch on the day of His birth. (Not that I’m saying Jesus was a hobbit, of course; that would be silly, and I’m sure His feet weren’t hairy.)
Admittedly, Tolkien wasn’t really one for Christian themes in his work – he left that to his friend CS Lewis – but the messages of Christianity are still ones that resonate in The Lord Of The Rings. In fact, they’re the messages of most religions: be kind to each other, fight the darkness, treat people equally no matter their size, don’t hunger for power, war is bad… well, you know the drill.
Okay, so that’s the serious, thinky stuff out of the way. Why else is The Lord Of The Rings the perfect Christmas marathon? Well, the films last from morning till midnight, especially if you watch the Extended Editions, so they’re utterly perfect for locking yourself indoors on a chilly, probably rainy day when you have no work to do and nothing better to be getting on with. You can lie on your sofa with your eyes glued to the telly and you don’t have to move, not even to change a channel. We do recommend toilet breaks, though.
Once In Royal Elven Cities…
You’re also full of Christmas dinner and Quality Street but you’re not willing to exercise any of it off (until your New Year’s resolutions kick in, anyway), so you can get your heart pumping faster by watching other people exercise instead. Viewing Aragorn get his workout at Helm’s Deep, for instance, is exhausting; that’ll do wonders for your heart-rate even if you’re sitting down. John McClane might crawl through some air ducts in Die Hard, but did he behead a bunch of Uruk-hai and toss a dwarf? No, he bloody didn’t!
Plus there are lots of comparisons you can make between Christmas traditions and Middle-earth, although I admit these are as daft as a brush. For instance, if you don’t fancy watching our own Queen’s Speech, you can check out pretty much any of Galadriel’s grandiose declarations (and picture Elizabeth II turning all shouty, scary and windblown after putting on the One Ring). Fancy some Christmas chuckles? Merry and Pippin’s antics are your own little Morecambe and Wise combo, right there. As for a Christmas tree: what better than a walking, talking Treebeard, eh? Although hanging baubles on an Ent probably would end with them lifting a branch and flicking you across three counties. (It’s a fantastic dare for Merry and Pippin, either way.)
But there’s one thing we think translates perfectly from The Lord Of The Rings saga to Christmas Day: the idea of Father Christmas. Who better than Gandalf himself, “Ho ho ho”-ing between bouts of worrying about the fate of Middle-earth? What is Santa Claus anyway, if he isn’t a bloody wizard?
Gandalf’s wise, he knows who’s naughty (Sauron) and who’s nice (hobbits); he’s from a race who ride sleighs (admittedly pulled by rabbits, and Radagast appears in The Hobbit films rather than the Rings movies, but eh, semantics). And he’s lovely, isn’t he? You could imagine curling up on Gandalf’s knee as a kid and telling him you’ve been good, so you deserve ALL the presents. And Gandalf would make sure you got them. Plus he’d let off some bloody brilliant fireworks on New Year’s Eve, just because he’s awesome.
Away In A Middle-Earth…
Most of all, however, The Lord Of The Rings viewed on Christmas Day is a chance to just forget everything. The last crappy year. Your stressful job, or your stress about not having a job. Your problems, your worries, your fears. The growing troubles of the outside world. Instead, by focusing on an imaginary land which teeters close to collapse but then stands triumphant and proud after an entire day of effort from a group of likeable, caring and downright heroic individuals, you can emerge happy and fulfilled.
You can rest assured that, in this universe, Good will beat Evil. And you don’t get that watching events unfold at the miserable old Queen Vic, do you?