At a monthly gathering of writers earlier this year, I read a selection from a piece of speculative fiction I’d written, that was set roughly 16 years in the future. At one point, the protagonist remembers the first time she watched “The Sandlot” on cable television.
It was meant to date the character. Another writer in our group liked the strategy, pointing out that his own young children – and by extension the young adults in my story – will never experience cable television because of the advent of streaming devices.
I probably should’ve taken credit for this stroke of genius, but I was just recounting my own first experience with the classic 1993 movie during a summer in my youth.
And there are many other movies I remember watching on cable for the first time with my family.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the first installment in the Indiana Jones franchise, is another. I have fond memories of many Thanksgivings with my family, gathered around the TV, watching it.
It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I realized I’d never seen the entire movie. I found myself alone on a weekend watching it and coming to what I thought was the end. Then the movie kept going.
Only then did I realize I must’ve fallen asleep in a post-Turkey coma every single time we’d watched it.
For Christmas, our favorites are “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and, perhaps more importantly, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” – the original, not the unnecessary, invalid remakes that I will never see simply out of principle.
My parents’ tradition of watching movies with their children dates to at least 1989. Just after my third birthday, I was with them watching Super Bowl XIII. (You may not consider Super Bowl Sunday a holiday, but we do.)
I obviously don’t remember this. But I know it happened because my mother still calls me “Boomer” from time to time. When I asked why as a child, she told me the story of seeing quarterback Boomer Esiason play for the Cincinnati Bengals during that game. I was a towhead as a young boy, and Esiason is famously blonde.
So, to this day, I will respond to my nickname, Boomer.
As the years passed, the television remained a centerpiece of our holiday celebrations. Though I am relatively young and part of the Millennial generation, I fully remember having only one standard-definition, box-shaped television in the house. And it was around that TV that we gathered during holidays.
Since then, families seem to have become more fragmented. Most people have more than one television in the house, with more than one cable box. Then came the affordability and compatibility of DVD players.
It became much worse when streaming content rose to dominance. Now all that content was available on our smart devices.
During causal, daily visits, I often find adult friends of mine and their children watching their own cellphone playing videos from Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, and myriad other services. Sometimes, that video watching is happening in the same room with a working television.
I am just as guilty. Many nights, I fall asleep watching streaming TV. Sometimes it’s on the smart TV in my room. More often, though, it’s on my cellphone – in the same room with my television.
And yet, when the gatherings are more formal during a holiday, that dynamic changes.
First a meal is eaten by my parents, sister, and our longtime friends and their own families. Then we will settle in for person-to-person conversation. But first, we’ll choose a family-friendly movie so we can all focus when the iconic scenes come on.
The tools we use are different now than when I was younger. The television is more than 50 inches. The remote control is an Amazon Fire Stick and the movie will have no commercials, which means bathroom and second-helping breaks will require the pause button.
And, obviously, we will never again own tube-based televisions, or get rid of all the extra TVs while we also watch videos on our phones.
But it warms my heart that no matter what technological changes come or how fragmented our attention can be, the tradition of coming together during the holidays persists.
And I know it will continue for at least one generation. Though I have no children of my own, my friends and their children – who range from about 11 to 1 – still gather at my parents’ house.
And I know on Christmas Eve or Christmas, we will all find a place to sit in the living room, eating one more bite of food while we watch The Grinch carve up Whoville’s Roast Beast.