Why did the annual Swedish Christmas TV Calendar Stir up a Fight? – An Essay by Tuva Johansson

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There was more debate and media coverage around the annual Swedish Christmas TV calendar this year than about the 2015 Environmental Summit in Paris. To give you some background, the Christmas TV calendar is an annual broadcast divided into 24 fifteen-minute episodes, one each day from the 1st of December until Christmas Eve. The first ever calendar was aired in 1960.

This year, there was a lot of vocal criticism towards the calendar with regards to its educational focus. Named “A thousand years until Christmas,” the programme in question takes us through the Viking era until today. Kids take part throughout, living out a day in various periods from Swedish history. The aim is to show the perspective of Swedish history through the eyes of children. How they lived, how they played, what they wore and what they ate. They live like kings in the 1700s; find out what it’s like to be poor and dreaming of emigrating in the 1800s; take in Finnish war children in the 1940s; and demonstrate social movements in the 1970s. Dark episodes of our history, such as the black death, witch burnings and slavery, are depicted. The participating children take centre-stage in the storytelling and reappear at the end of each episode to reflect on the time period and its values on schooling and work, love, gender roles and social class.

Some people have not found this entertaining. It has been referred to as “boring history lessons”. Adding insult to injury, they assert that the focus on Christmas has apparently been lacking, insisting that, after all it is a Christmas calendar. Some have even labeled the content leftist propaganda, pointing to the lessons the programme teaches on social class and gender roles. Indeed, the participating children reflect upon arranged marriage, why mums never worked in the 1940s, why men were given birth rights to a throne. In the 1970s the children protest against the waste of money spent on Christmas and are forced to give their gifts away to poor children in developing countries. They live in a communal, sharing a house with another family, where they are taught about the military coup in Bolivia and are sex-educated by their parents. After this episode aired, many parents completely dismissed the TV calendar as leftist propaganda.

Overarching these points of criticism is that this year’s calendar is not as the calendar should be. When Christmas is nearing, people become conservative. Things should be left the way they have always been. It is tradition! But when a TV programme is built around teaching us about our history, the background of the very tradition they seek to preserve, the same people who desperately want to keep Sweden as it “always” has been refuse to let their children watch the Christmas Calendar. Why? Because it is boring due to its focus on learning.

Yet the fact that this TV calendar has been so heavily criticised on the basis on being “a boring history lesson” is very interesting in and of itself. Is education necessarily the opposite of entertainment? Or are we just not that into learning today?

I do believe children are thirsting for knowledge, and children’s TV shows should be created with the aim of being both educational and fun. My parents have always been keen on educating me and not simply handing off this mission to my teachers and the school system. Knowledge has been seen as something fun and stimulating. If a child does not have parents who are interested – where does that leave the child? Does this year’s massive criticism show that there is a growing disinterest in educational TV? Or does it just show that there is a polarisation between those who think education has no place outside of the classroom and those who are keen to sit and watch an informative Christmas calendar then discuss with their children what they have learnt?

 

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