The 12 days of television

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This is a time of year when the differences between the land of my birth and my present home here in the States are perhaps at their most distinct. There is one particular comparative aspect that I want to focus on: holiday television programming.

I don’t know what Americans perspectives are regarding TV during the holiday season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they considered it repetitious and boring. American TV is at its most barren — or brilliant, depending upon your viewpoint — at this time of year. Every year, without fail, all the networks trot out seasonal staples such as "It’s a Wonderful Life," along with each and every version of "Miracle on 34th Street," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "A Christmas Carol"’ There’s "Elf," "Polar Express," "The Santa Clause" trilogy, "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (and all of the other Rankin/Bass sibling shows) and everything from "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown" to "Are You Drunk, Charlie Brown?" (OK, perhaps not that last one.) I can understand why Americans are fatigued by the same old, same old on TV each and every Christmas.

I, however, LOVE IT!

Very few of the aforementioned titles were a part of my seasonal television experience back in England. Even though I’ve been stateside now for over 14 years, and therefore most likely seen many of these 14 times, I still enjoy them immensely. They’re not only a part of the fabric of my Christmas, they are another touchstone in my lexicon of those things I consider pure Americana — alongside 1956 T-Birds, apple pie, neon lights and interstate billboards.

In England, Christmas TV is very different. While in America most of the regular shows shut down for the season, in the U.K. they see the holidays as the perfect opportunity to produce a regular show Christmas special!

Our favorite TV characters are suddenly thrust into seasonal scenarios with strings of twinkling lights, bunches of mistletoe, and brightly wrapped gifts all around the set. The end result is usually rather enjoyable, which leads to a fresh batch of eagerly anticipated Christmas specials almost every year.

Similar to a delicious Christmas pudding, though, like most anything can be further enhanced by copious amounts of flaming alcohol and whipping cream, the final product is ultimately determined by the quality of its ingredients. For the first time this year I had the opportunity to watch quite a lot of British TV online. I’m disappointed to report that with a very few exceptions, the ingredients were pretty stale.

It was a strange experience, toggling between U.S. and U.K. Christmas T.V., not least of all because I had to recalibrate my cultural compass every time I switched from one to the other.

Christmas in America is unavoidably more schmaltzy than its British counterpart. But, even with that said, this year I genuinely preferred the traditional American TV-watching over the largely contemporary British equivalent. To put it another way, for me, the American televisual Christmas cake won out over the stodgy, uninspired, and a bit tasteless British Christmas pudding, at least this year.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for the past 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer, hiking and biking when the weather's good, and when the weather's rotten, writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett.

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