Design by Evelyn Mousigian

I have a question: Does anyone still watch cable TV? I mean, does anyone under the age of 40 even have access to it? And no, streaming “Abbott Elementary” on Hulu the next day doesn’t count. I’m talking old-school, dish-and-antenna style television. Disputes with your siblings over the remote control, recorded episodes on the DVR type of deal. That kind of cable TV. Because I, for one, kind of miss it.

Nowadays, the sheer accessibility and ever-expanding repertoire of streaming services are indubitably unmatched, but that’s kind of like comparing the resources of a small town library to the complete collection of books available on the internet — it’s not really a fair fight. And much like libraries, there is something to be said about the long-held allure and value of cable TV. Even though I no longer watch it regularly, I hold a special place in my heart for the dwindling number of media platforms still reliant on it like PBS, TCM and the Disney Channel.

There does come a time each year, however, that I do miss it a tad more than usual: the holidays. I’m well aware that the holiday season is already an over-saturated breeding ground for unabated bouts of nostalgia, saccharine recollections and fond memories, but what can I say? I’m kind of a sucker for sentimental bygones, and cable TV is on its last legs.

When I was younger, the television event of the season that I looked forward to most was ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas.” For the entire month of December leading up to Christmas, the channel would strictly air holiday-themed movies every single night. I took it very seriously. I used to have my mom print out a physical copy of the calendar schedule to hang up on the fridge to mark the dates for the movies I did not want to miss. Those were simpler times — I could not be trusted to remember the show times and titles as they flashed on the screen during commercial breaks, and the concept of time zones confounded me to no end (enough of the 8/7 central nonsense). By the end of the month, I’d have watched “Home Alone,” “Elf” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” more times than I could count, but that was part of the appeal. There was a certain beauty in being able to just turn on the TV and watch whatever happened to be playing; a quiet contentment in the lack of options that maybe wasn’t as ideal for adults, but was soothingly comfortable for me as a kid. It doesn’t really matter if it started half an hour ago or if you already watched it last week when you know your dad will still crack up at the same Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase, “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee”) joke every time like clockwork. I know that “Freeform” technically still does the whole “25 Days of Christmas” hoopla, but this annoying jingle is proof enough that it is just not what it used to be. 

On occasion, I would venture outside the realm of ABC Family for the classic claymation Christmas TV specials that used to air on AMC. They were decades-old reruns by the time I was watching them in the ʼ00s, but I lived for those annual viewings of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.” Though I’ve seen quite a few of them, “The Year Without a Santa Claus” was always my favorite, on account of it having the most musical numbers and one of the wackiest plots. Santa is bedridden with a cold, there’s a snowstorm in the South, a reindeer is mistaken for a dog (it happens more often than you think) — wild stuff. What tugs at my heartstrings most about these movies is that they’re the very type of niche, dated media to get left behind in the transition to digital streamers, and well, mainstream moviegoers don’t seem all too keen on revitalizing the genre of stop-motion animation.  

I’m not entirely sure why there are so many direct-to-TV Christmas films, but their existential contingency on a dying platform makes them extremely difficult to access. We don’t have a DVD copy of “Eloise at Christmastime” at home, and it no longer airs on the now-defunct ABC Family, so the fate of one iconic, foundational childhood holiday film of mine is left to the natural forces (whichever streamer decides to inconsistently pick it up for a few months). Similar sentiments go out to “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas” and “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (turns out VHS tapes without a working VCR are not very useful). Without a Hallmark Channel, what will happen to all of those cheesy low-budget Christmas movies they play 24/7? Years of cinema down the drain, and not a peep from the establishment (Martin Scorsese). Typical.  

In all seriousness, what I miss most about cable probably just boils down to a nostalgia-infused longing for being home during the holiday season. There’s nothing like the dependable comfort of knowing I’ll spend Christmas Eve watching NBC’s annual broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life” with my dad, even if the commercial breaks make it run for nearly four hours. Or, catching multiple viewings of TNT’s 24-hour “A Christmas Story” marathon, a Christmas Day custom I faithfully abide by. For many, being home for the holidays is a crucial aspect of the holiday experience, and the little TV traditions I hold dear are simply an extension of that. All things must pass, but I rue the day that cable finally calls it quits, for I’ll be all out of memories to revive and silly old holiday habits to cherish.

Daily Arts Writer Serena Irani can be reached at seirani@umich.edu.