Have Yourself A Sentimental Christmas

Christopher Fowler
Unlike the US Superbowl ads, which have a wildly celebratory tone, here in the UK we've lately developed a grotesquely over-sentimental streak about Christmas, centred mainly around ads for supermarkets. And like everything else here they offer up a paradox; no longer about flogging oven chips or peas, they're about vague concepts like loneliness and friendship, as opposed to the Regent Street Christmas lights, which instead of being about vague concepts have this year hit a new low with a repeated image of Ben Stiller's eerily photoshopped face and some tinsel, advertising a Disney sequel and to hell with the whole idea of Christmas. On TV, along with the usual minute-long ads featuring tears and hugs, this year we have a randy CGI penguin selling a department store and now, from Sainsburys, a supermarket chain, we go to a new level, using the concept of 'lions led by donkeys'
and the mass deaths of a generation. Sainsburys have recreated of one of the British/German trench warfare Christmas truces. Personally I have no problem with this, even used to sell groceries, as the war was a century ago and is part of history and public record - just as in the 1960s I had no problem with Benson & Hedges selling fags off the back of the Battle of Rourke's Drift. But clearly it has upset some people, as these sample online comments show: 'May I suggest that next year, the Sainsbury's Christmas advert takes a sentimental approach to Herod's slaughter of the firstborn, where we find that the baby boy Jesus is spared from a cruel and agonising death by a spear-wielding temple guard because he happened to have a delicious box of mince pies in his crib?' And: 'Is this the one where the British supermarket plays a german supermarket at Christmas and loses?' (German store Aldi currently thrashing Tesco in the UK). 1415881098743_wps_65_Sainsbury_s_Christmas_AdvBut actually the commercial is not recreating an single event from the war (there were multiple examples of the truce) at all. Rather, it's recreating a version of events from a movie without acknowledgement, which is of course what advertising people do best. Just as Benson & Hedges was actually parodying the version of the Rourke's Drift battle in the hit film 'Zulu' in the sixties, so Sainsburys is parodying the French hit 'Joyeux Noel', which is still one of my favourite Christmas films (our American cousins favour 'It's A Wonderful Life', which I haven't seen - I'll watch it this year.) So here's the 'Joyeux Noel' trailer, and you'll see that Sainsburys ad agency went for a virtual shot-for-shot recreation (except for the arrival of the opera singer, as that would have been hard to explain in a minute. If you watch the full movie, keep a box of Man-Size Scotties next to you). Christmas, since the late invention of Santa Claus and its co-option by Coca Cola, is fair game for non-denominational advertising, and why shouldn't it be? And Sainsbury's agency has carefully critic-proofed itself by donating some money to a good cause, so that's okay. But it's interesting that instead of kiddie-friendly cuddly toys, the supermarket in question has opted to use images of a war at Christmas, truce or no truce.
By 2045 I fully expect Sainsburys' Christmas ads to feature Hitler and happy concentration camp prisoners being sent Sainsbury food parcels.


snowy (not verified) Sat, 15/11/2014 - 15:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Right, in that case I'd better get the sprouts on.

Anybody else got any lesser known Xmas film recommendations?

Fiona (not verified) Sat, 15/11/2014 - 17:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My personal favourite isn't an old film, it's Rare Exports with a very different take on Santa!


For sentimentality I always go for Love Actually, mainly for the scene with Emma Thompson when she realises her husband has bought a gift for another woman.

I'm such a happy Christmas soul.

Vivienne (not verified) Sat, 15/11/2014 - 21:18

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There's a German film they show every year on television, but it may be New Year rather than Christmas. Freddie fronton is the butler to some grand German woman, everyone else in the family has died so he has to take all their parts at the annual feast and gets more and more drunk as the courses and toasts progress. Not too sentimental.

Christopher Fowler Sat, 15/11/2014 - 22:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That sounds good. Freddie Frinton always played drunks. 'A Christmas Story', obviously, and 'The Children' for a proper anti-Crimbo vibe.

Helen Martin (not verified) Sun, 16/11/2014 - 06:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sorry to break into the conversation, but I have just received a message from Dan Terrell's wife. Dan, or 'Terry' as she called him, died earlier this week. She says that he was in terrible pain, and as you remember from her summary, that is not surprising. I will pass on the sympathy of those here who 'knew' him, but if there are any particular messages the e-mail I gave earlier will get it to Mrs. Terrell - who is a lovely lady and completely overwhelmed at the moment.

Jo W (not verified) Sun, 16/11/2014 - 08:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Such sad news about Dan Terrell,Helen. Requiescat In Pacem.

chazza (not verified) Sun, 16/11/2014 - 12:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

How long will it be before supermarket giants buy up cinema chains for the sole purpose of screening large scale adverts for their products only? Since they will be required to be certificated by the BBFC, what adverts will be rated 18 only?

J. Folgard (not verified) Mon, 17/11/2014 - 18:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I hope Mrs Terrell will be supported by family and friends, people who will help cherish and care for her husband's memory. Reading his words here was one of those small but reliable comforts every evening, when perusing the site after a day's work, where every voice is good company. He'll be missed.

Mark (not verified) Tue, 18/11/2014 - 15:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hope it's not inappropriate to get back to the topic, but the German film Vivienne mentioned is called "Dinner for one" and something of a New Year's tradition in Germany.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is surprisingly dark, not at all what I expected when I finally watched it a couple of years ago. Rare Exports is a good one too, but somewhat disappointing, especially if you already know the youtube clips it's based on.