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Are Christmas TV specials really so special anymore?

Why were Christmas specials created in the first place, and why are things now starting to change?

By Leah Roberts, Third Year, German

As December 25 approaches, Leah Roberts asks how much time this particular Christmas tradition has left in the streaming age.

One of the first Christmas specials to air in the UK was the 1965 Doctor Who episode “The Feast of Steven.” The episode received around 1m fewer views than the season average, but still drew 7.9m viewers. More recently, Doctor Who’s 2017 Christmas special was watched by 5.70 million, making it the third lowest overnight viewership for Doctor Who at Christmas, but still the sixth most watched programme of the day across all channels. Of the ten most viewed programmes that day, nine were on the BBC, and six were Christmas specials.

For many families, sitting down and watching Doctor Who together on the 25th may be tradition, but this is shockingly being broken by the BBC this year, with the series airing its festive special on New Year’s Day for the first time since David Tennant’s regeneration in 2010. Christmas specials on Christmas Day make sense, of course, but why were they created in the first place, and why are things now starting to change?

Twitter / @bbcdoctorwho

Unsurprisingly, the history of Christmas specials is largely undocumented, but one could take a solid guess in saying that these specials were first introduced as an attempt to get more people tuning in to watch the box on a day where it would otherwise be switched off. However, this phenomenon is not a worldwide thing: in Germany, for example, there are no current TV series that air an episode on Christmas Day.

Humans are habitual creatures, and whilst Japanese people maintain the odd tradition of eating KFC on Christmas, we do something arguably just as odd by watching a TV programme that never usually has anything to do with Christmas. It’s just tradition; it brings the family together after a busy day. But with Doctor Who changing things up this year, and Christmas specials on a whole changing due to streaming sites such as Netflix, that tradition may not have much time left.

Twitter / @denkimouse

Now that we can watch almost anything at any time, families just don’t tend to sit down and watch things together as much anymore. If you miss an episode of your favourite show, you can catch up online, instead of stockpiling VHS tapes as my parents used to do. Christmas is always a busy day and perhaps we’ve found it’s no longer worth it to carve out an hour in front of the telly, when it could be spent doing something else. A Christmas special isn’t quite so special when it can be re-watched on any day of the year.

As the reign of Netflix continues, we may become more and more overwhelmed with the choice of Christmas films and series available to us and the element of excitement of waiting for this special episode may be ruined. For example, the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Christmas special, was released on December 14 and the newly-released Christmas films have been on the platform since the beginning of the month.

Twitter / @sabrinanetflix

With everything being available to watch at the click of a button, gone are the times where we need to wait till the 25th to reacquaint ourselves with our favourite television shows.

Featured Image Credit: IMDb / Doctor Who / BBC

Would Christmas be the same without festive editions of our favourite shows?

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