Without the benefit of a Thanksgiving, Brits are forced to look elsewhere for confirmation that the holiday season is approaching. And for the last decade or so, our waypoint has been something very specific indeed: the John Lewis & Partners Christmas commercial.
It’s a strange tradition, but a tradition nonetheless. Every year the 155-year-old department store throws financial caution to the wind, offering up a sumptuous and sad Christmas delight with a budget that runs into the millions. One was about a snowman seeking out the perfect gift. Another was about a very lonely penguin. Bizarrely, one was about lonely old man who has apparently been banished to the surface of the moon. Nearly every year the ads are accompanied by a sad cover of a pop classic, and every year they goad Great Britain into floods of competitive weeping.
This year, the John Lewis Christmas ad revolves around excitable Edgar, a dumpy little dragon who responds to the festive frenzy by, well, torching everything in sight. Imagine late-period Game of Thrones, but infinitesimally less harrowing, and you’re in the ballpark. The commercial ends with Edgar, cowed and chastened like a dog caught pooping on the carpet, reduced to lighting Christmas puddings for the amusement of the townspeople. It’s heartwarming. No, really.
Every year they goad Great Britain into floods of competitive weeping.
But it hardly matters, because this year John Lewis has been eclipsed by a minnow. An ad by Hafod Hardware—a small, family-run independent store in the middle of darkest Wales—has managed to melt far more hearts than Edgar has, and all on a $130 budget.
Hafod’s ad retains the basic John Lewis architecture. There is a child, a Christmas tree, and a sad song, but it also recaptures a simple innocence that John Lewis lost in all that billowing commerce. A two-year-old boy wakes up, travels to work at the shop, sweeps the floor, and tends to some customers. It’s all very cute. “Be a kid this Christmas,” reads the tagline.
What makes it so special, however, is that the shop really has been passed down through the generations. The man in the ad is the owner. His parents, who also appear in the commercial, owned it before him. The little boy, one imagines, will one day inherit the business, too. That the shop can convey such community heritage on such a tiny budget is a marvel.
The Evening Standard called it a “masterpiece.” The Sun called it “tear-jerking.” “It blows John Lewis out of the water,” said The Guardian. It has been viewed nearly 3 million times on YouTube. John Lewis really needs to pull its socks up.
Stuart Heritage is an Editor at Large for AIR MAIL based in Kent, U.K.