From the snow to the carefully colour-coordinated coats, let’s face facts; these Christmas movie tropes are setting us up for failure from the get-go.
Before we get started here, I want it on record that I am the opposite of a Grinch. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I am a real-life Buddy the Elf (minus the seven levels of Candy Cane forest and sea of swirly twirly gumdrops, I guess).
Case in point: I start blasting out Christmas music from 1 November every year, despite the aggrieved sounds I can hear my neighbours making through the walls. I fight to get my tree up as early as possible, carefully pushing my boyfriend to brink of despair as I bring the date forward each and every single year. I lunch happily on Christmas sandwiches for months on end, convincing myself I’m doing my bit for charity all the while (hey, if profits are donated to Shelter, who am I to disagree?). And I basically never take my oh-so-hygge Christmas lights down.
I have even been known to decorate my front window with hand-cut paper snowflakes, partridges and pear trees – ostensibly for the sake of the children walking by, but… well, to paraphrase Love Actually’s Keira Knightley, it’s all for me.
What I love best of all, though, is the plethora of Christmas movies that start popping up on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ from November onwards. I love them. I really bloody love them, right down to the predictable plots, impossibly cheesy dialogue, and almost obnoxiously uplifting soundtracks. I love them in all their cliché-ridden glory. In fact, maybe I love them for their cliché-ridden glory.
Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? Christmas movies are, essentially, little Frankenstein monsters. I can easily imagine producers clustered around an operating table in a laboratory somewhere, carefully cobbling together the classic festive film tropes we already know and love to create something that feels the same, but different. But mainly the same. Then, once they’ve injected it with a bolt of lightning (I’m hazy on the science), said film comes lurching into cinemas (or onto streaming platforms) and we will try to ignore the nagging feeling that… well, that we’ve seen this movie before.
And we have, you know – seen it before, I mean. Once you’ve seen one Christmas romcom, you’ve basically seen them all.
Don’t believe me? Well, here’s a checklist of all the things that happen without fail in every single festive romance. I’m pretty sure it will prove my point…
According to Met Office statistics, snow has fallen somewhere in the UK on Christmas day 38 times since 1965. In the world of Christmas romcoms, though, it snows without fail every single 25 December. Gorgeous fluffy white stuff, too, and not the yellow sludge we usually end up slipping over all January long. Cue much merriment and joy (and jealousy from all those watching from the wrong side of the TV screen).
Everyone is incredibly posh
Only the very plummiest of British accents are allowed to exist in the world of Christmas romcoms; even the likes of Colin Firth and Kate Winslet sound posher than normal. And those who veer from the Queen’s English into anything that can be described even loosely as an accent or regional dialect will quickly see that become the thing that defines their entire personality.
Think Shazza in Bridget Jones’s Diary, or former Yugoslavian Kate in Last Christmas, or “the chubby girl” in Love Actually. You know, the one who swears at the prime minister so frequently that you might be forgiven for thinking she’s auditioning for the role of Malcolm Tucker’s replacement in The Thick Of It? That one.
Essentially, if you’re not posh AF in a Christmas romcom, prepare to swear your way through the bloody shitty fucking script until the credits roll. And don’t worry about going overboard; everyone will find it incredibly fucking charming.
Unless we’re watching a period drama, you can pretty much guarantee that everyone in this flick will be upper-middle class. And oppressively white, too (although, thankfully, things are slowly changing on that front).
And living in property porn paradise
Does… does anyone live in a normal home in a Christmas romcom? Of course not! Instead, it’s all chocolate box cottages and oversized mansions and luxury apartments. Even bloody Bridget Jones lives in a flat above a pub on the edge of (wait for it) Borough Market. Alone. She lives there alone, and it’s huge, and she’s just the person who fannies around with the press releases at that point, too. How the hell is she managing those bills solo?!
There will be ice skating
There’s nothing more Christmassy than whizzing around the rink with your friends or winter bae, so you’d best make sure you can skate with at least some semblance of grace. You can’t cling to the sides and stagger around like Bambi if you’re a Christmas romcom heroine; you have to hold hands and twirl and glide like you’re ½ of Torvill and Dean.
Or, you know, you can fall over spectacularly. But only if you don’t get hurt in the process, make a hilarious noise while doing so, and get up with a big shining smile on your face. Them’s the rules.
Someone will return to their hometown for Christmas
It is known.
Where there will be an outdoor carol service
… or, failing that, a brass band of some kind. So merry, so joyous, so unlikely to stumble across IRL.
And an almost ruthless array of red buses
Ever been shopping in London at Christmas? Strike that: ever been shopping in the movie-version of London at Christmas? Then you’ll undoubtedly have seen an abundance of old fashioned red buses and black cabs pootling along through the otherwise empty snowy streets. They are the only traffic that exists. There is nothing else save those red buses and black cabs (don’t tell Uber, OK?). And, depending which point you’re at in your romcom, you’re destined to elegantly flag one down without even trying – or have one drive right on by you, veering straight through an icy puddle and covering your sad little single self in dirty water, obviously.
Single people are ridiculously unlucky
Being single at Christmas in a festive film is akin to being a social pariah; your entire purpose is to find love before the credits roll. The longer it takes you to achieve this goal, the more you will be punished via a series of cinematic misfortunes. Your bags will break and spill your shopping all over the floor, for example. You will make an arse of yourself at the office karaoke party. You will wind up drunk and home alone at least once, dancing to The Killers or singing All By Myself (see The Holiday and Bridget Jones’s Diary for proof). And it’s not just their dignity that the single stars of festive films will be losing, either, because…
The heroine will lose her job
She’s a dedicated and hardworking woman, sure, but the spirit of Christmas has somehow caused her to lose her job. Maybe she’s been fired. Maybe she’s been made redundant. Maybe she, much like Bridget Jones, has quit in the most spectacular fashion. Either way, she’s going to be nipping down the unemployment office before too long.
… or her deadbeat partner
If it’s not her job, it’s the guy she thought she was destined to marry someday. She lurves him, but he just isn’t into her – thus paving the way for a newer and better love interest (and some romantic ‘who will she choose?’ themed jeopardy later on, obviously).
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And speaking of that new love interest…
He’s handsome, sure, but he’s also gruff, closed off to the point he’s bordering on rude, and seemingly entirely disinterested in our heroine. Also, Christmas. He probably hates Christmas as much as she loves it (or vice versa; either way, it’s a point of serious contention).
Essentially, it’s pretty much a case of hate-at-first-sight. If only something – say, the spirit of the season – could bring them together and help them realise they’re staring true love in the face, eh?
Apologies if you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community, but the world of Christmas romcoms has traditionally only had room for happy heterosexual couples.
Yes, things are changing (albeit very slowly), but you’re still far more likely to watch a film about a woman finding long-lasting love with actual royalty and becoming an actual princess than you are a woman falling for another woman.
Add ‘boyfriend is a genuine prince’ to the list of Christmas movie clichés, please. Or mysterious doppelgänger, I guess, in the case of The Princess Switch.
Romantic misunderstandings abound
We, the audience, might know that our two main characters are perfect for one another. We know it in our bones. Still though, there will be a spectacular misunderstanding that drives them apart for a little added (our catchword of the day) jeopardy.
Maybe one of them believes the other is going back to an old relationship or leaving town. Maybe one has peeked at the other’s phone, spotted a message out of context, and come to all the wrong conclusions. Maybe they’ve been spun a load of lies about their beloved by an ex (hey there, Daniel Cleaver) and it’s built up into the sort of argument that ends all arguments. Or maybe it’s something even more drastic.
Either way, there will be a mid-movie breakup. And then they’ll get together again come the end when they realise that actually communicating with one another is… well, is wholly preferable than assuming the worst and never talking about it. Go figure.
Stalking/borderline obsessive behaviour will be classed as ‘romantic’
Yes, fine, I’m thinking very specifically about the handwritten cards in Love Actually. Quite honestly, though, how many love interests haven’t been almost frighteningly persistent in their pursuit of a romcom heroine, eh? In fact, Netflix is even bringing out a Christmas romcom about… well, about catfishing. A woman gets catfished, and winds up in a fake relationship with the person who catfished her, and (I can only assume) falls in love with him somewhere along the way.
It’s all just a bit… gross, isn’t it? So, if there’s one Christmas romcom trope that has to die, it’s this: toxicity. Because it isn’t sexy, and no means no.
Everyone is wearing carefully colour-coordinated coats
Face facts, people: outerwear is big in Christmas romcoms. Big. Huge! Vanessa Hudgens wears an array of gorgeous coats in The Knight Before Christmas, Cameron Diaz dons that shearling number in The Holiday, Martine McCutcheon will forever in our minds be wearing her character’s red coat in Love Actually – the list goes on and on, forever and ever.
Every single festive heroine owns at least 15 coats. Every single one of them carefully coordinates them with her outfit. And almost every single one of them has thousands of pins on Pinterest. I guess we all need bigger wardrobes, eh?
There will absolutely be a Christmas singalong at some point
It just isn’t a Christmas movie until someone belts out a festive tune. Trust us on this one.
Someone is probably dying of an incurable disease
Apparently there’s nothing more festive than a terminal diagnosis of some kind (see The Family Stone, or Stepmom, or Last Christmas – although I guess that last one at least offers up a twist on the trope). Don’t worry, though; this stark reminder of life’s fragility only serves to enhance the film’s festive message, because…
There will be a big family/found family dinner
Everyone will come together around a table, eat incredibly impressive-looking food, and have a lovely time. The lights will be particularly warm and glowy, too, so they will all look positively perfect (especially if Nancy Meyers has anything to do with it!).
And the bells will ring at the most opportune moment
Church bells, hand bells, jingle bells – you name ‘em, we’ve got ‘em. And you better believe these bells will start peeling as our love interests lock lips for the film’s big romantic conclusion.
We wouldn’t have it any other way, quite frankly.
Images: Getty/Netflix/Rex Features/Universal
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.
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