Singing Battles to Hockey: Holiday TV Traditions Around the World

Courtesy of RTL Television

Instead of 'The Grinch' and a 'Charlie Brown Christmas,' here's how coach potatoes from London to Tokyo celebrate the season and ring in the New Year.

In Britain, Christmas TV is a battleground: for viewership ratings on Dec. 25 and the coveted status of being the No. 1 pop song come Christmas Day. In Canada, hockey (of course) dominates the airwaves and in Japan, 'tis the season for a (musical) battle of the sexes. Here's a look at what the world will be watching from Dec. 25 through New Year's Eve.

The U.K.
While the influx of channels, downloads and SVOD may have destroyed the once-sacrosanct tradition of the nuclear family settling down to fall asleep in front of the BBC's Christmas Day film, Britain still clings to a few festive TV customs. Millions this year will again insist on tuning in to the Queen’s annual Christmas Message (carried simultaneously on the three biggest channels: BBC, ITV and Sky), watching a multimillionaire wearing a hat covered in priceless gems attempting to reflect on topical issues such as poverty and inequality. For the common man  and woman  there’s the annual battle of the soaps: BBC's Eastenders and ITV's Coronation Street roll out their holiday special edition, with each hoping to claim the Christmas ratings crown. In previous years this has been done by killing off at least one main character. Downton Abbey wrapped up its run last year, leaving a drama gap in the Christmas schedule unlikely to be filled this year. Instead, the U.K. audience is expected to tune in hungrily to watch two festive editions of The Great British Bake Off, the hit cake-baking reality show that next season will be leaving the BBC to move to Channel 4.


It’s a Christmas tradition for hockey-mad Canadians to tune in starting Boxing Day (Dec. 26) as teen hockey players wear the Maple Leaf flag on their jersey for Canada as they take on the world in the World Junior Championship. TSN and RDS, Canada's English and French-language Quebec sports channel, respectively, have for 20 years groomed Canadians for what’s become Super Bowl-comparable ratings as Team Canada guns for the gold medal game. The two networks will air all 28 tournament games, running Dec. 26-Jan. 5. The 2015 gold medal game in Toronto drew an average audience of 7.1 million viewers, a record for a specialty network in the nation of 35 million souls.

German broadcasters dole out a healthy serving of nostalgia over the holidays: multiple networks will air evergreen favorites including It's a Wonderful Life, Little Lord Fauntleroy and, in a local twist, Three Wishes for Cinderella, a Czechoslovakian/East German production from 1973 that offers an East European take on the Grimm Brothers fairytale. Leading commercial network RTL is hoping to turn nostalgia into ratings success with Winnetou, a three-part reboot of a European Western franchise hugely popular in Germany since the 1970s and which RTL will air on Dec. 25, 27th and 29th. But come New Year's Eve, Germans will gather around their glowing TV sets to watch a black-and-white English comedy sketch called Dinner for One. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Dinner for One is the most oft-repeated show in television history, with over 300 airings. This New Year’s Eve, every German regional channel will run the 11-minute skit, featuring a 90-year-old aristocrat and her increasingly intoxicated butler, many repeating it several times during the day.

In Italy, the Christmas season runs three weeks long, from the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 to the Epiphany on Jan. 6. That means a slew of national holidays for families to gather together to eat, play cards and talk politics with public broadcaster Rai playing in the background. The most important date is Christmas Eve and that means all eyes are tuned to Pope Francis' Vatican Christmas Mass on Rai1. Held in a multitude of languages, St. Peter's Basilica is filled to the brim with guests lucky enough to score a ticket to the annual mass. The live airing is broadcast around the world, and last year 3.68 million Italians tuned in locally. But Rai's biggest Christmas show doesn't take place until New Year's Eve. The annual variety show L’anno che verrà (The Coming Year) clocked 5.57 million spectators last year. Immediately following a special message from the President of the Republic, L’anno che verrà brings together top Italian comedy, entertainment and music for one night to ring in the new year.


The tradition of some Bollywood stars hired to make an appearance at fancy new year's parties has been a long-running trend in India. But in recent years, celebrity Bollywood DJs have also become popular, spinning hit tunes to keep the crowds on their feet given that film songs dominate all genres of music in India. In terms of party venues, beyond just glitzy five-star hotels, new options include the Adlabs Imagica theme park, about an hour's drive away from Mumbai, which offers an array of rides and shows inspired by iconic Bollywood films and characters. Last year, the Adlabs Imagica party featured a live concert by popular Bollywood musical trio, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, who performed hit songs from their filmography which includes such titles as Dil Chahta Hai and Rock On!!. This year's party at the theme park is toplined by the well-known DJ Akhtar, a midnight grand parade featuring dancers and acrobats, with the night culminating in a spectacular fireworks show. But for those seeking more than just Bollywood-themed events, India's party capital of Goa offers a variety of options. For instance, the Nyex Beach Club is hosting a party featuring DJs from London's famed Ministry of Sound night club, indicating the growing popularity of EDM (electronic dance music) in the country.


The annual New Year’s Eve Red and White Song Battle (Kohaku Uta Gassen) on public broadcaster NHK is more than an institution in Japan, where it has been broadcast since 1951. The show, which runs to nearly four and a half hours, pits a female Red team of pop and traditional singers against a corresponding male White team. The winning team is chosen through a somewhat mysterious and ever-changing voting system involving TV viewers, the live audience and a panel of celebrity judges. Although the show no longer commands the 80 percent plus ratings it used to in the 1960s, it remains a huge event for New Year's, which is a Christmas-like family gathering in Japan. Following a number of recent scandals that have exposed organized crime’s links with the entertainment business, NHK requires all performers to have signed contracts promising they have no links to Japan’s Yakuza mafia.


In Russia, one of the essential traditions of New Year’s Eve, alongside eating Russian salad and drinking “Soviet” champagne, is watching the 1975 TV movie Ironiya sudby, ili S lyogkim parom! (The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!), directed by Eldar Ryazanov. Since the film’s premiere, every Dec. 31 at least one TV station has shown this New Year's comedy in which the main character gets so drunk that he takes a flight to the wrong city and ends up in an apartment identical to his own, in which a single attractive woman lives. Most people in the former Soviet Union could easily relate to the story, which combines drunken adventures around the new year holidays with unlikely romance between two strangers. The tradition turned out to be so strong that the movie spawned a successful sequel: In 2007, Russian A-list director Timur Bekmambetov (Ben-Hur) directed The Irony of Fate. The Continuation, which grossed nearly $50 million. The sequel featured the children of the original movie’s characters and brought to the theaters people who hadn’t gone to the cinema in years.