I was reminded, via a random tweet recently, about a Christmas tradition from my childhood that I’d entirely forgotten about, and which feels as if it recasts the Christmases I’d experienced then, compared with how I remember them today.
Back in the day, my family would know that the holiday season was officially underway by the fact that the Christmas Radio Times and TV Times had been released; as the names almost suggest, both magazines were filled with television listings for the next week or so for different channels. (You can tell this is back in the day; all the BBC listings were in the Radio Times, which mixed BBC TV and radio listings, while the TV Times was filled with upcoming listings for ITV and Channel 4; other networks didn’t even exist at the time, so we didn’t have to worry about those.)
When those listings magazines were released, they were attacked by my family, or at least the three kids; we’d go through them, day-by-day, and mark down the shows we wanted to see. The three of us would use different colored highlighter pens to differentiate what was a me show, versus one of my sisters’, and vice versa. Anything that more than one of us wanted to watch, as far as I can remember, would be claimed by whoever went through the magazine first. (Almost certainly me, as the youngest.)
What’s surprising about this, for me, is how important the television was for the season. I’m not exaggerating this, even though I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t really remember this until someone tweeted a picture of this year’s Radio Times; the arrival of these listing magazines really did feel like a signifier that the holidays were now, properly, underway. Knowing what I was going to be watching, and when, somehow, meant that the Christmas period was in a shape that I understood and could plan for.
It’s not really the same, scrolling through Netflix and HBO Max these days. Maybe if someone made a listings magazine to help…