The best thing about Christmas? Seeing soap characters miserable

To everyone reading this, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – unless you’re a character in a soap, in which case I hope it’s awful.

Residents of Walford, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale and Weatherfield must surely be girding their loins for the most dramatic time in their calendars; with high-stakes drama, shock twists and emotional revelations being delivered day in, day out like the world’s most traumatic advent calendar.

Ho, ho, ho, we must have been extra good this year, because Soap Santa is delivering some truly jumbo-sized presents (some spoilers ahead).

We’re promised the exits of two bona fide soap icons from EastEnders, as Danny Dyer bows out as Mick and Charlie Brooks leaves Janine behind. 

Little is known about how they will actually depart (together or apart? Dead or alive?), but pleasingly, there does seem to be a literal cliff involved.

Further north on Hollyoaks, it’s confirmed that Olivia Bradshaw – that classic breed of soap villain that’s a perfect blend of petty and camp – will sleep with her fiancé’s twin brother on the eve of her wedding; while murderous pre-teen Bobby starts a casual fire in a bid to get rid of mum Mercedes’ new squeeze Felix.

On Emmerdale, there’s a long-lost brother-shaped shock for Cain, complete with flashbacks; as well as the promise of ‘bombshell news’ for Chas.

While on Coronation Street, a surprise wedding could go awry for Tyrone and Fiz, while Teddy is mown down by a van.

Tidings of comfort and joy, indeed.

Soaps can sometimes be mocked for how amped-up the drama gets at Christmas, but honestly, would you have it any other way?

Festive soap storylines are good old fashioned event television – in fact there are some who tune in only for the Christmas episodes. 

Just look, for example, at the annual Twitter threads that catch people up on the year’s worth of EastEnders drama in preparation for 25 December.

Hollyoaks might be my regular daily fix, and I’ll keep a casual eye on Albert Square throughout the year – but I’m a super-fan of all of them when it comes to Christmas time.

You never know who might get killed-off or cheated on or married or swept up in a natural disaster or poisoned by mince pies (Edward Hutchinson, rest in Hell).

Some of the most iconic moments in soap – nay, in British television full-stop – have happened in the hallowed Season of Mariah.

Max Branning and Stacey Slater’s affair being exposed via DVD in a 2007 EastEnders episode? The great Beckindale Air Disaster that struck Emmerdale in ’93? Hilda’s farewell from the Corrie cobbles in 1987? Hollyoaks’ Clare Devine trying to do away with Max in 2006?

Who could forget one of the most-watched moments in television history: Dirty Den serving Angie the divorce papers in the Queen Vic on Christmas Day 1986, with 30million witnesses at home?

When done right, soap Christmases and New Years are jaw-dropping, emotionally charged, twisty and/or turny – but it’s not all doom and gloom. There can be joy, romance, and laugh-out-loud comedy in the mix, too.

For every Ronnie and Roxy death (EastEnders, New Year 2016), there’s Cilla burning down the chippy when she tries to deep-fat-fry a turkey (Coronation Street, Christmas Day 2005).

For every County Lines teen drugs-ring showdown (Hollyoaks, New Year 2020), there’s Val coming back as the Ghost of Christmas Future (Emmerdale, 2017).

In short, we get the shows’ usual winning mix of tones, all dialled up to 11.

There are grounded, maybe even happy moments amongst the chaos: Corrie’s Curly naming a star after Raquel in 1994 was memorably sweet, and Kat and Alfie’s EastEnders wedding in 2003 was more joyful than intense. 

Last year, Hollyoaks even used Christmas to cement the arrival of their newest family: the Chen-Williams’.

But it’s undeniably the drama that stops us from slipping into a post-dinner food coma, and it doesn’t always have to be totally heightened and blockbuster-y: relatable health and social issues are an important part of any soap’s storybook, and Christmas is no different.

Little Mo suffering over Christmas dinner in 2001 helped to raise awareness of domestic violence amongst millions of EastEnders viewers, and Sally’s heartbreaking admission that she had breast cancer on Corrie in 2009 not only played into the storyline around her husband Kevin’s affair, but advanced important information about that disease.

Illness will play a big part in Hollyoaks’ Christmas stories this year, too; as 19-year-old Juliet finally tells her loved ones about her lymphoma – one of the most common forms of cancer among teens and young adults.

Look, shows of all genres have holiday specials: Taskmaster, Top of the Pops, Strictly, Call The Midwife, Mrs Brown’s Boys… even RuPaul’s Drag Race (although the less said about the Holi-Slay Spectacular, the better).

For serial dramas, ‘Christmas special’ means giving viewers some of the biggest story peaks of the year and ensuring no character goes into the New Year in quite the same way.

So never mind gift vouchers, or fancy booze, or a smooch under the mistletoe: all I want for Christmas – every Christmas – is a bumper-sized dose of drama in soapland.

Less ‘ho, ho, ho’, more ‘doof, doof, doof.’

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