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Christmas soap specials: only watch the soaps once a year? Catch up on everything you missed here

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Kayleigh Dray
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I don’t care what anyone says: Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without EastEnders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale looming over the festivities like Marley’s ghost.

It doesn’t matter that the soaps – quietly comforting in their nostalgia, despite their penchant for misery and despair – play little to no role in my TV schedule for the rest of the year. And it doesn’t matter that my tastes tend to favour glossy big-budget productions such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Chernobyl, Succession and Game of Thrones. Because my opinion has very little to do with anything. Come Christmas day, my mum is in charge of the remote control, and what she says goes. (Democracy has no place in the family home on 25 December, quite frankly.)

Every single Christmas, it’s the same. I return home – laden with presents, of course – to spend time with my family over the holidays. We open presents in our PJs, squabble over who has to clear up the wrapping paper, before shoving the roast in the oven. The next few hours tend to pass in a blur: my sister and I cart presents upstairs and pretend we’re tidying them away, while my mum gets on with lunch. In a household of vegetarians, it’s not long before we’re sat at a table groaning under the weight of all the food piled atop of it, and eating pretty much everything within reach.

Once the nut roast has been well and truly demolished, we wash it all down with a healthy smattering of chocolate coins, Quality Street, and doorstops of cheese balanced precariously atop cream crackers. Then we’ll go for a walk, if we can summon the energy, before plopping ourselves on the sofa with distended stomachs and food seeping from our ears.

tv remotes in front of the christmas tree
Christmas soap specials 2019: This is not a democracy.

It is at this point that my mum is suddenly overcome with a surge of energy. Feverish with excitement, she spreads the TV guide out on her lap (as in, yes, the special printed bumper edition every household cherishes over the festive period), runs her fingers down the page marked CHRISTMAS DAY, and then informs the rest of us that – for the foreseeable future – we will be watching the soaps.

What she really means, of course, is that – for the foreseeable future – she will have to fend off confused questions from myself and my sister. Having missed out on some 200+ episodes in between festive episodes, we are always at a loss as to what’s going on.

“Wait… isn’t Ian married to Jane?” we asked during EastEnders’ 2018 festive offering, as the infamous Beale began snogging Jean ‘Sausage Surprise’ Slater on the screen before us.

“They broke up,” my mum replied, waving at us to be quiet.

“But when did that happen?”

“A while ago.”

“So when did he start dating Jean?”

Albert square street sign, eastenders set
Christmas soap specials 2019: the Albert Square sign, iconic.

Mum loves us, and she likes having us home for Christmas, so she does her best to keep smiling during these exchanges. But you can always tell when she’s on the edge, as she will suddenly hit ‘pause’ on the remote (you can do that with TV now), sigh – rather pointedly sigh, actually – and settle back to answer all of our questions.

This year, however, things are going to be different. I’ve done my research. I know everything. And I’m here to share my wisdom with all of those Stylist readers who only ever watch the soaps at Christmas, too.

Suffice to say, there are spoilers ahead. Get ready for the Christmas soaps survival guide to end all Christmas soaps survival guides…

EastEnders Christmas special

When’s it on?

If you’re home for the holidays, you’ll probably be settling down to watch at least one of the following EastEnders episodes – if not all three. It is Christmas, after all!

Christmas Eve – 8.30pm, BBC One

Christmas Day – 9.30pm, BBC One (it’s a late post-watershed timeslot, which can only mean we’re in for a wild 90-minute ride!)

Boxing Day – 8.30pm, BBC One

What’s happening?

Alright, remember Phil Mitchell? Him and Sharon (yes, that same Sharon) are married – again – and living in Albert Square. What Phil doesn’t know, though, is that Sharon has been having a clandestine affair with some guy called Keanu. To make matters even more dramatic, Keanu is dating Phil’s daughter Louise (confused yet?) and BOTH Sharon and Louise are pregnant. Could he be the father of both babies? And will Phil clobber him to death with a wrench at The Arches when he finds out? Probably. Especially as the actor who plays Keanu is exiting the soap this Christmas…

What else is going on? Well, Linda – that’s Danny Dyer’s wife – is battling alcoholism, and he’s struggling with anxiety, so that should make for cheery viewing. Martin Fowler is no longer the cheery-faced market stallholder we saw last Christmas: over the past few months, he’s broken up with Stacey, had an affair with his ex-wife Sonia, and been working as a henchmen for some shady character called Tubbs, because… well, because it’s EastEnders. He’s been spotted filming some dramatic scenes involving the aforementioned Linda and a gun, so that doesn’t bode well for anyone.

Elsewhere, there’s a new – well, new to anyone who hasn’t seen any of this year’s episodes – character called Chantelle, who is trapped in an abusive marriage. Her husband has plans for a festive vow renewal, but the hope is that someone will intervene before it’s too late.

The Slaters – remember them? – are all living under one roof in Albert Square again, but their new landlords are determined to evict them this Christmas. It’s Ian Beale (who, as you may remember from EastEnders episodes of Christmas past, once dated Jean) who flies to the rescue and offers to put the family up in his own home, but the Slaters aren’t going down without a fight. Obviously.

Those are the important plot movements, so you should be able to muddle through once you’ve got all of that sussed and sorted. Good luck.

Coronation Street Christmas special

When’s it on?

Corrie is also on the small screen all three of the big festive days (clashing with Eastenders on Christmas Eve which may lead to family warfare).

Christmas Eve – 8.30pm, ITV 

Christmas Day – 8pm, ITV (1 hour) 

Boxing Day – 8pm, ITV

What’s happening?

Writers have clearly been keeping their perennial viewers in mind for this year’s festivities, as we only need to focus on one big plot this Christmas: Derek and Gary’s big showdown.

It all kicks off when Gary locks Derek in a furniture store overnight. Sounds like a situation rife with humorous potential, right? Wrong. Derek and Gary have history, see: the former used to owe money to Gary (he’s a loan shark nowadays, apparently), double-crossed him when it came to taking over Underworld (the knicker factory, yes), and then made a move on Big G’s ex-girlfriend, Izzy. 

Essentially, these two do not get along. At all. So, when Gary locks Derek in a furniture store, he isn’t trying to be funny: he’s trying to screw his rival over… and he does. Royally. Derek misses his flight to Florida with his children, receives a furious text from his estranged wife, and is left distraught, fearing he has lost his family forever.

Elsewhere, Fiz (we all remember and love Fiz, don’t we?) drops an antique gun off at the shop. Uh-oh. Gary, realising the firearm is still live, stores it in the filing cabinet for safekeeping… but then the gun, along with all its ammunition, goes missing. While everyone watching at home is guaranteed to put two and two together, Gary wastes no time in accusing Ali of stealing the gun when he bumps into him outside The Rovers. He soon realises his mistake, though, when a drunken Derek storms into the pub firing a gun.

Shots are fired, resulting in Gary running for his life through Winter Wonderland with Derek in hot pursuit. And, while it may seem definite that one or both will be killed, producers have hinted that anyone could get caught in the crossfire, which doesn’t bode well for characters frequenting the pub/their local festive fairground on the 25 December.

Speaking to The Sun, Craig Els (who plays Derek) has said: “He just wants to scare Gary, he wants to see Gary as scared as Gary has made him feel and for once have the upper hand. What he doesn’t anticipate is how far it could go and that’s the tragic twist.

“It isn’t a plot by him to go on the rampage on the street and kill anyone, he is not an evil man. He was once a powerful man and he has had all that power taken away from him by the one man who has now taken the most precious thing away from him.

“He has been pushed, he is broken and wild, but he is not evil, there is no malicious intent there is no premeditation he is not Pat Phelan or Richard Hillman, he is an accidental gunman, an accidental villain. Things snowball out of his control and he is devastated by what he ends up doing.”

Emmerdale Christmas special

When’s it on?

The underdog of the soap holy trifecta, there’s two hour long specials from the farm.

Christmas Eve – 7pm, ITV 

Christmas Day – 7pm, ITV (1 hour) 

Boxing Day – 7pm on ITV (1 hour)

What’s happening?

While Corrie and Enders have affairs and mass shootings on the menu, the folks at Emmerdale farm are keeping things a dash more festive with a classic ‘baby on the doorstep’ storyline. This time, it’s Jacob and David who are the (un)lucky recipients of a mysterious tot… but who’s the father? 

Well, viewers learned that Maya Stepney was pregnant when she was released from prison earlier this year. As in, yes, David’s ex, but also the very same teacher who was found guilty of sexually abusing Jacob earlier in the year. Either of them could be the father of her baby.

Of course, there is a chance that the lost babe might not even be Maya’s at all. Indeed, Jacob and David aren’t convinced she’s behind the surprise delivery at all, despite the fact she’s left a note for them claiming otherwise. Still, they take the baby in (it’s Christmas, after all). It remains to be seen what happens next.

Elsewhere, continuing this theme of “who’s the daddy?”, Graham is out to reveal the truth about the paternity of Andrea Tate’s daughter, Millie. 

To catch you up on the important stuff: Graham got drunk and caused a car crash that claimed the life of his wife and unborn baby. He then went on to have a one-night stand with Andrea, aka Jamie’s wife, and has been convinced ever since that he’s Millie’s actual dad. He even changed his will to leave everything to Millie in the event of his death (more on THAT later).

As if that weren’t twisty enough, it was recently revealed that Graham is Kim’s secret husband (as in, Jamie’s mum: keep up!) after the couple wed before she went to prison to give him control over her business empire. Which has put a dampener on his relationship with Rhona the vet, and sent him spiraling into a state of vengeful despair.

Official spoilers have revealed that the former butler is set to burst into the Tate home just as they’re sitting down to their Christmas lunch, waving the results of a paternity test around. It isn’t long before hurtful accusations begin flying between the two sides, and some long-held secrets are finally revealed. But which ones?

Fair warning: Graham is going to be killed off in the new year, so this Christmas’ events will almost certainly play into that explosive whodunnit when it rolls around. And we’ll no doubt be talking about it next Christmas, too. Don’t worry, though: we’ll be sure to keep you updated on the vital bits when you need them!

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Kayleigh Dray

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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