Saturday, December 24, 2016

Home Alone in Poland: An Unexpected National Tradition

via TL on Facebook;

Bartosz Staszczyszyn
The 1990 American family comedy is an idiosynratic icon of Polish Christmas. On the classic list of a Pole’s holiday associations, it could only be beat by a short list of nouns: Christmas Tree, Santa Claus, presents, and a couple traditional dishes. Let us introduce you to the phenomenal popularity of Kevin McCallister’s adventures in Poland.
Brave little Kevin has become the leading companion of holiday TV time for milions of Poles. For almost two decades now, Polish TV channels repeatedly air Chris Columbus’ film Home Alone around Christmas Eve. Time and time again, Kevin defends his home against a couple of floppy crooks and escapes from them running around the meandering streets of New York City. Nobody seems to mind knowing the dialogues off by heart, nor being able to predict the exact second when John Pesci’s hat goes on fire, or when the brick thrown by Macaulay Culkin hits Daniel Stern on the head. Every year, family audiences sit down in front of the TV and watch. Without Kevin, Christmas just would not be the same.
In 2010, a Polish TV channel owning the rights to Home Alone made the decision not to include the film in its holiday schedule. Immediately, the Internet went wild with protests and comments. With special defenders’ groups created on Facebook, the countless internet pleas resulted in Kevin’s triumphant return. It actually became the biggest TV hit of the 2010 holiday season.
Home Alone, whose title in Polish is Kevin Sam w Domu (literally 'Kevin Alone in the House'), is in fact the biggest TV hit of every single Christmas season to date. In a country of 38 milion, about 4 milion gather in front of the TV for this very title. And it is not only young audiences – to whom the film was originally addressed – that love Home Alone. The majority of viewers are actually adults. According to public polls, every third viewer between the age of 16 and 49 watches Home Alone during the Christmas period. This is because it is not only a family ritual, but also a sentimental journey in time.
When the blockbuster first hit the cinemas, and then the TV screens across a Poland of the 1990s, it was a revelation and a must-see picture for all kids. For those of us born in the last years of Poland’s communist regime, all things American were an object of worship. The United States were an unreachable paradise for those who lived behind the Iron Curtain. The only thing that seeped through to Poland were some action films and – less frequently – packages full of Western goods sent in by relatives from abroad. On the threshold of the 1990s, Kevin McCallister became an ambassador of the better, Western world. A brief wave of patriotic war films of Reagan’s epoch had previously sweeped through Poland, with Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone and Clint Eastwood becoming the imported icons of bravery. But Home Alone’s Kevin was the first child hero to mark our consciousness in such a strong way. 
In an interview conducted by Wojciech Orliński for the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, the director Chris Columbus commented that his film was quite popular with American audiences at the time, but also said he had no idea about the scale of its fame in Poland. Home Alone can well be monikered Poland’s Christmas Carol of the contemporary era.
And Kevin is not alone. Other icons of American culture have also grown into the Polish holiday landscape. For reasons that remain completely unknown, another recurring Christmas blockbuster was Die Hard. The invincible Bruce Willis taught us a bloody lesson just as we were finishing our family dinners, and as we got down to opening our presents. Why did the Polish TV channels decide to air this action film during the holidays? It’s hard to guess, although noticeably Die Hard is essentially Home Alone for adults. Either way, John McClane nonetheless cheered up our holiday evenings as he performed his spectacular screen battles. And although for some time Die Hard competed with Speed, Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves never made it as big in the realm of Polish Christmas TV as Mr. Willis.
The generation of today’s twenty- and thirty-year-olds no longer abides by the TV dictatorship. We watch sitcoms on our laptops and choose VOD over any TV channel. But the Christmas classics remain an exception. For example, watching Home Alone on DVD would seem very strange and unnatural. One always meets Kevin on television, and unfalteringly during Christmas. And nobody seems to mind the film being interrupted by long commercial breaks, because Kevin Sam w Domu always tastes the same. Even when you watch it for the sixteenth time.

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