The Christmas tradition I miss? Bickering over films with my late husband

The writer and clergyman Rev Richard Coles recalls the giddy pleasure of watching a ridiculous film at Christmas with his husband David

Christmas Day in the parish. After the last carol was sung, my late husband David and I would lock up and almost run to the Vicarage, close the door, get into scamper pants – I cannot bring myself to say “loungewear” – eat anything other than turkey, pour drinks, light the fire and huddle on the sofa with the dogs in front of the telly. I bought us a new one for Christmas, a Smart TV at a very approachable price from John Lewis, but could not make it work, so the boy next door came round and we discovered it was not a Smart TV after all but a normal one. No matter – we had our favourite Christmas film on DVD.

White House Down is not just for Christmas, but for every day. Directed by Roland Emmerich, it stars Channing Tatum as a divorced cop who somehow contrives to get his daughter into the White House for a tour at the very moment it comes under attack from an ill-defined terrorist group. There follows an hour and a half of pointless violence to the military industrial complex and the dramatic arts, and a glorious festival of explosive mayhem.

Everything is blown up by a small army that has invaded DC without anyone noticing. The cast is decimated in five minutes, a goodie turns out to be a baddie, terrible things happen in the Rose Garden, there’s a preposterous ram raid on the Oval. Then the baddies are killed by the goody and he rescues the President, while his daughter, with commendable resourcefulness, diverts an air strike. They all end up having a go on Marine One as the nations of the earth sign a peace treaty.

I love it. David hated it and I had to give him two Legally Blondes in exchange. But that’s Christmas for you: making allowances so that goodwill prevails.

One year, I won a bet on the most-requested carol at the residential home (it was “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”) and got not only to choose our Christmas film without negotiation — White House Down, of course — but to pick the game played after it, another Vicarage tradition. I made David, dressed in his new Christmas onesie, recreate scenes from my favourite film, including the car chase on the lawn, only with him on a sit-on lawn mower.

This was such a hit, it became another Christmas tradition, and each year we would recreate scenes from Christmas movies, although my definition of Christmas movies was rather more loose and certainly darker than his. He liked Elf and It’s a Wonderful Life — we had one of the dogs play Zuzu for that — and I chose Fanny and Alexander, specifically the scene when the horrible bishop is set on fire, and Don’t Look Now, when the dog was given a red crocheted cape to play the malevolent figure who gives Donald Sutherland such a horrible surprise in a Venetian alleyway.

This year, my fourth without him, will be a Christmas of different traditions, because for the first time I am spending it with my new partner’s family. I have nonchalantly wondered aloud what those traditions are and have prepared myself for an afternoon of games – some familiar, others I’ve never heard of. There has been no mention of a Christmas film yet, and I doubt if they have seen White House Down, their tastes running more to the theatrical than the spectacular.

Maybe I will get away with it? Because nothing says Christmas like Channing Tatum in a vest crashing through the conservatory roof.

A Death in the Parish is out now (Orion Publishing, £13.99)

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