Features Columnist


Features Columnist Margaret Hartness explores the reasons for the seasonal attraction of the Harry Potter franchise.

Tradition - a simple word but a universal concept with so much emotion, history, and pride attached to it. If we were to pair its dictionary definition with a picture, Christmas appears to be worthy of the mantle. Ripe with tree decorating, bird consuming, singing and Christmas film-watching, it’s chock-full of traditions. And this is the case even for those who don’t believe in a saviour who received gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts at his literal birth. 

In the last decade a new staple has moved into the Christmas realm. Fans and companies no longer content with a generic year-round presence on shelves and Sunday television broadcasts, we present the Harry Potter franchise. Enter almost any retail or supermarket store and you will find Harry Potter merchandise lined up on shelves, next to the Christmas puddings or perhaps beside the Rudolph pyjamas. Primark has long been a hub for Harry Potter clothing and themed make-up kits, but I was surprised to discover Marks & Spencer too had included their own range of Harry Potter Christmas goods as I popped in for a meander - and some custard creams.

"Enter almost any retail or supermarket store and you will find Harry Potter merchandise lined up on shelves, next to the Christmas puddings or perhaps beside the Rudolph pyjamas."

But the presence of Harry Potter during Christmas now seems as natural as the popularity of productions of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella in theatres. Just picture those famous wintery images of Hogwarts on camera. Imagine the snow gently falling on the magnificent castle, the Great Hall laid out with a Christmas feast where majestically decorated trees tower above, while magical snow falls from the starry ceiling, as students chatter over the roaring fire. Harry, Hermione, and Ron frolicking in the buzzing shops of Hogsmeade, before pranking Draco Malfoy and his goons with his invisibility cloak in the snow-covered woods.

Picture the heart-warming Christmas scene of 11-year-old Harry waking up to his first happy Christmas, as he looks down at the dormitory common room- its welcoming fireplace, the papery-wrapped presents under the delicate fir tree- as Ron greets him a “Happy Christmas, Harry!” in his cheesy jumper, and the breath-taking Champions Ball, when the Great Hall was transformed into an icy palace where Hermione was waltzed in her periwinkle gown. These moments resonate with us in their depictions of iconic Christmas imagery. Our longing for a beautiful winter wonderland is unmatched as we look forward to sitting down for a delicious dinner with our own friends and family, wishing desperately to also be attending magical formal balls and parties where it feels like anything is possible, as we dance with friends or hope for romance. 

Even if these events do not occur idyllically in reality, we are comforted by their existence being just a push of a button away. The transcendent ability of well-crafted films and books to whisk us away from the present and evoke emotional connections within us is unparalleled in its magic and wonder. A franchise like Harry Potter, as familiar to us as our oldest friends, only elevates the Christmas imagery within it; its dreamy scenes like memories for the initiated - and what is tradition if not the memories that fuel it? In our celebrations we turn to the joy of our friendships and families. Just think of the Weasleys’ sitting crammed together wearing paper crowns. It is a moment of love and togetherness; a way to forget their own tragedy by turning to each other and creating a bubble of pure happiness. We all know that without one another, the spark of the season cannot be fully ignited. 

"A franchise like Harry Potter, as familiar to us as our oldest friends, only elevates the Christmas imagery within it; its dreamy scenes like memories for the initiated - and what is tradition if not the memories that fuel it?"

However, with love comes loss. For those of us who have experienced this pain - the Covid-19 pandemic having affected some families more profoundly than others - this time of year forces us to reflect on those absences. Where some films touch on this with joviality- the cute child trying to convince their widowed parent to date the hottie lead - the Harry Potter franchise doesn’t flinch from the ache it leaves. There's the longing of 11-year old Harry as he sits and stares up into the Mirror of Erised for what he desires most - his parents; his visit with Hermione to his parents’ grave as a young man - unaware it is Christmas Eve until the clock tolls, making him confront everything he has lost accurately - reflects the condition of humanity. Not all Christmases are without pain.

This attention to relatively secular imagery and memory is not to overlook the Harry Potter series possessing religious similarities to Christianity in its themes as a whole - easily glanced over as the purpose of Christmas can be. Simply looking over its arc this presence is obvious. Life, death, and resurrection. The birth of a saviour who died and resurrected to save us. "The Deathly Hallows" as a trinity. It sounds oddly familiar, does it not? 

The success of Harry Potter sealing itself as a recent tradition is not an isolated incident in films influencing a feel for tradition. It follows what I call the "Christmas Carol effect". The Carol influentially secured in popular imagination the traditional Christmas festivities which were being adapted by a flourishing middle-class. Think of the scenes of a family sitting round the table together to enjoy a great dinner with Christmas Pudding and a turkey centrepiece, the great Christmas party held by Scrooge’s old employer Fezziwig, and the presence of parlour games at George’s Christmas party in which they mock and pity Scrooge. These elements of ritual and thankfulness came to define the Victorian Christmas, and our ideas of our own, ever since.

We see this pattern of festive tradition in Harry Potter’s seasonal popularity. The wintery imagery of snow and formal balls. The shared moments of the joy in love and friendship around a dinner table or a Christmas tree, which appears warmer in the contrast to scenes showing the resonance of its absence. The importance of kindness and understanding bound up in the franchise’s Christian approach to morality and mortality. It takes and depicts our nostalgia back to us whilst retelling Christian messaging without being overt. 

"The importance of kindness and understanding bound up in the franchise’s Christian approach to morality and mortality."

Of course, there is one element which naturally fits into this wizarding world - the magic of Christmas. And at this time of year it feels like anything can happen, as the air buzzes in anticipation, and most of us are inclined to feel marginally more benevolent. This essence is not fully tangible. We may pinpoint associations and feelings it evokes, but it is difficult to hold down, especially as it melts away like the early morning frost as January passes. But we feel it in all those little things we do to prepare. The franchise helps to materialise and cultivate those feelings of Christmas spirit. Like wide-eyed little Harry, we don’t question the magic we witness - we just enjoy the wonder it presents as fireworks burst from wands. We choose to watch the magical world as that essence of hope and goodwill is represented in three children navigating a life-like fairy-tale of good vs evil, and opening chocolate frogs on train journeys. 

The flux between Christmas and Christianity is, clearly, obvious. The intertwining of these with Harry Potter is perhaps a surprising combination of themes, but on reflection, one that does make sense. Whilst I won’t be cultivating a Potter themed tree or giving a stuffed Dobby a seat at the table, I will indulge myself in this contemporary tradition by watching a film or two this holiday season. I might even read the first book, as I feel so inclined to do so after writing this. Merry Christmas everyone!


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