Holiday TV Traditions Around The World

John Lewis Christmas Ad

Forget 'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'A Charlie Brown Christmas': Here's what the rest of the globe will be watching as they ring in the new year.

Holiday time means TV time for families around the globe. But not every country has the same year-end TV traditions.

In Britain, the obsession is with Christmas commercials. In Russia, it's a Soviet-era variety show. And in Germany, everyone gathers round to binge-watch a black-and-white English comedy sketch from 1963.

Here is The Hollywood Reporter's look at what TV sets around the world will be tuned to this holiday season.

In Russia, one of the biggest  and most bizarre  New Year's traditions dates back to Soviet times. The celebrity-heavy musical and variety show Goluboy ogonyok, or Little Blue Light, first aired on New Year's Eve in 1962, the title referring to the warm glow of TV screen.

The inaugural broadcast featured cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. Little Blue Light was discontinued in 1985 but a wave of nostalgia for the Soviet era brought it back with a bang in 1997. It's been an essential part of Russian New Year's celebrations ever since.


Among the most peculiar festive television traditions in the U.K. is one that has emerged only in the past decade and concerns not a particular show or film, but a two-minute, 10-second slot in the commercial break.

The landing of the annual Christmas TV ad by John Lewis, a chain of department stores, is now widely regarded as the first sign that the countdown to Dec. 25 has begun (despite generally being debuted in early November).

Each year, the commercial  largely heartwarming and featuring the music of a well known U.K. musician or band  ups the ante on the last, and is now dissected across all forms of British media as much as the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

Take the 2017 edition, “Moz the Monster.” Coming in at a production cost of some $1.4 million, it was directed by Academy Award-winner Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), included a cover of The Beatles' Golden Slumbers played by Elbow and told the story of a boy who is afraid of the dark and the cuddly, gruffalo-style monster living under his bed. It soon came under fire after the author and illustrator Chris Riddell tweeted that Moz bore some remarkable similarities to his 1986 children’s book Mr. Underbed (which soon sold out).

Of course, having been going since 2007, John Lewis’ Christmas commercial now faces stiff competition for Britain’s advertising affections, with other major retailers like Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer also launching their own big-budget festive spots. This year it was Marks & Spencer who truly pulled out the big guns, with an ad featuring current family favorite Paddington Bear, voiced by Ben Whishaw from the hit feature film adaptations.

The Advertising Standards Authority was soon called upon to answer several complaints that the advert featured an expletive, with the watchdog later determining that some viewers had simply misheard the line “thank you, little bear,” for “f you, little bear.”

A small boy left behind by a big, busy family at Christmas time … Home Alone is a seasonal classic in Poland and Hungary.

Released in 1990, the heart-warming family comedy starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as the bumbling burglars outwitted at every turn by a small boy, has become a firm part of the festive TV landscape in two countries that were still under the grip of communist regimes at the time. Commentators say that it is something about the timing— the film was first seen in Eastern Europe as decades of grim socialist rule collapsed and seems to sum up all the vivid color and joy of life in the West.

In Hungary there were fears Home Alone would not screen this year, after a government crackdown on commercial network, and Hungarian home of Home Alone, RTL. But Hungary's film commissioner and Hollywood producer Andy Vajna scooped up the rights for his TV2 channel and will broadcast the holiday favorite Dec. 24 and 25 under its Hungarian title Reszkessetek, which loosely translates as Burglars Have to Fear.

In Poland, there was a public outcry when a local network decided not to screen the film — known in Polish as Kevin Sam w Domu or Kevin Alone in the House — forcing it to back down and give the Polish people their Home Alone.

NHK's Kohaku Uta Gassen, the Red and White Song Contest, will see a "red" team of female singers pitted against a "white" team of male crooners for the 68th time this New Year's Eve.

The TV institution which is the Kohaku no longer dominates ratings as it once did, but remains a big draw. AKB48, the all-girl group whose 48 members change every year as singers "graduate" from its ranks, will perform for the 10th time.

They have a way to go to catch up with Hiroshi Itsuki, the 69-year-old singer of traditional enka folk tunes who will make his 47th appearance. The white team currently leads with 36 wins to 31.

In the Czech Republic there is a slightly more sober Christmas TV tradition: The president's New Year speech.

Usually scheduled for Jan. 1, current Czech president Milos Zeman has rescheduled it this year for Dec. 26 and dubbed it 'Vanocni poselstvi' or Christmas tidings. 

National broadcaster CT1 traditionally screens a premiere of a new Czech fairy tale film 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, so the kids can be tucked up in bed immediately after.

There's nothing more Canadian than hockey, and every Boxing Day (Dec. 26) Canucks across the country  tune in to cheer for the teen team Canada as they take on the globe in the World Junior Championship.

TSN and RDS, Canada's English and French-language Quebec sports channels, carry all 28 games of the tournament, running Dec. 26-Jan. 5, which draw Super Bowl-comparable ratings up North.

The 2015 gold medal game, which saw Team Canada beat arch-rivals Russia in a thriller 5-4 shootout, drew 7.1 million viewers, making it the most-watched broadcast on record for a specialty television in this nation of 35 million.


In Italy, the Christmas season starts early — with the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 — and runs until the Epiphany (when the Three Wise Men visited infant Jesus in the biblical tale) on Jan. 6.

National broadcasters load up on holiday programming for the season. But the main event is L’anno che verrà (The Coming Year), a four-hour New Year's Eve variety show on public broadcaster RAI. 

The show, coming this year live from the town of Maratea on the Mediterranean coast, brings together top Italian comedy, entertainment and music. Among this year's headliners are 1960s diva Patty Pravo, eurodance act Corona and classical pianist Matthew Lee.

Before popping the champagne and lighting the fireworks for New Year's Eve, every good German (one in every two in fact) will sit down Dec. 31 to watch an 11-minute English-language comedy sketch called Dinner for One. The TV tradition dates back to 1963 when a regional German channel commissioned a version of an old cabaret number originally written by British author Lauri Wylie in the 1920s.

The TV version of the two-hander features the 90-year-old Miss Sophie (played by May Warden) throwing her annual birthday party, attended on by her butler James (Freddie Frinton). But since Miss Sophie's four guests have all been dead for decades, the butler steps in to play all the parts, and drink all the toasts, getting increasingly sloshed.

While unknown in the U.K., the popularity of Dinner for One has spread to Scandinavia, where it is typically watched on December 23, and as far afield as Australia and South Africa. The sketch has spawned numerous parodies, including one by Netflix last year, where the butler imitates Netflix characters, and Dinner für Brot from German public TV channel K.I.K.A. with James played by a puppet shaped like a bread loaf.

But nothing beats the original (see below). Happy New Year!