Christmas is the biggest shopping season of the year with the gift-giving tradition remaining strong as ever in the 21st century. Companies have long sought to capitalise on the season by releasing adverts design to tug on viewers’ heartstrings and maybe make them crack a smile or two.

The Christmas advert is a format of its own at this point, with both foreign and local enterprises pulling out all the stops in what, for many of them, is the biggest publicity of the year.

Many of these adverts – though by no means all – hardly even mention the company or its products, preferring to send a heartwarming message they know will remain in people’s memories and cultivate their brand’s image and reputation.

Here are 20 of the top Christmas ads ever, each drawing attention to a particular theme that captures a small bit of the magic of the winter holiday. And yes, John Lewis comes in with a strong showing – it wouldn’t be a best-of list of Christmas adverts without it, would it?

What better place to start than with a celebration of that most enduring of Christmas traditions – gifting. While presents are certainly welcome, UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s came at this from a different, far more touching angle.

John Lewis also subverts the ‘parents giving their children presents’ trope, presenting what first seems to be a somewhat spoiled boy inpatiently waiting for the big day …. but why?

But why should the spirit of giving be confined to families and loved ones? After all, wouldn’t the world be better if we just gave a little love? Here, again, John Lewis comes in with a powerful message in this whimsical video released as the world struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking of the pandemic, the air industry was faced with its deepest-ever crisis, but quickly rebounded as people’s urge to travel came back stronger than ever once airports reopened. Malta International Airport’s ‘No Place Like Home’ puts this across beautifully, showcasing the magical moments made possible by its international connections … and those made upon our return.

MaltaPost’s 2019 advert showcased another much-welcomed return to Malta, although this time, the space between meetings is considerably longer. The sentiment expressed here will strike a chord for a whole generation of Maltese whose family members emigrated to a faraway place like Australia or Canada, and for whom such meetings are rarer than gold – and far more precious, too.

Thinking along similar lines, Polish ecommerce giant Allegro’s Christmas advert has its protagonist order some books to start learning English. As we follow his efforts to pick up the language, the importance this task has for him is quickly evident. For the why, however, we need to wait for the end, when another long-awaited encounter presents an emotional payoff.

Dutch pharmacy chain DocMorris also highlights the efforts grandparents go through to give the youngest members of their family a special moment they can cherish forever, with one grandpa’s belated introduction to fitness and exercise coming as a surprise to those around him.

Costa Coffee Malta, another local company that has established its adverts as a bit of a Christmas institution, also highlighted the theme of family in its 2016 advert. However, it took an entirely different and much darker route, reminding us to wake up and smell the coffee, before it’s too late.

If family lies at the heart of Christmas, what lies at the heart of family? John Lewis’s most recent offering is another tear jerker, showing a man trying (and at first, terribly failing) to learn to skateboard. The answer to why will have you reaching for the tissues in an excellent example of social messaging that might not immediately raise the company’s stock price, but certainly showcases the values it holds dear.

Although it remains many companies’ preferred route, not every Christmas ad needs to rely too much on sentimentality. British luxury brand Mulberry opts for what first seems like a sweet round of gift-giving, but it is hard not to smile once it becomes apparent that, for some, giving gifts is a competition unto itself.

Italian retail chain Esselunga also goes for a tongue in cheek approach in its 2016 advert, which replaces Santa’s iconic sled, unable to cope with rising demand, with one of its vans.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the world thrown in turmoil, Heineken took the opportunity to highlight how good it feels to have a regular Christmas, appreciating the bad along with the good.

Some Christmas traditions can be a tired affair, and not every family meet-up is as full of unbound joy as one might hope. For far too many people, however, even such imperfections are a welcome respite from days made longer by solitude, with loneliness being a rising social phenomenon most prevalent among the elderly. The following advert calls on us all to share the Christmas spirit with those for whom being remembered is a gift as welcome as any.

Capturing the spirit of Christmas is something British retail chain John Lewis & Partners does best, with its adverts an eagerly anticipated feature of the season. This one, from 2014, is a mood of its own, with a boy’s penguin friend seemingly growing up too fast for its own good and desiring a female companion. The narrative played out here is a saccharine sweet one, and all the stronger for it.

The final John Lewis advert for this piece is now a decade old, but it hits just as strongly in 2022 as it did in 2012. Love is again the main theme, as we follow a snowman out on a mission to the big city to buy his snow-woman partner the perfect gift to keep warm in those wintry nights.

Iconic as that advert would go on to be, further north in Scotland, another snowman tale stands out. That would be the Scottish national soft drink Irn-Bru’s reimagining of the famous 1982 animation ‘The Snowman’, based on a book. The animation style and haunting vocals were reworked for Irn-Bru’s advert, so popular that it spawned a sequel years later.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, gambling companies have also capitalised on the magic feeling of possibility felt in the air around the Christmas season. The UK’s National Lottery’s advert for 2022 has a chance meeting on a train end with a half-written number on a lotto ticket, with the receiver’s attempts ending in failure. Until, of course, they don’t.

Spain’s state lottery, which has its biggest draw of the year just before Christmas, took an entirely different approach, as a whole village conspires to keep the dream alive for Carmina, who mistakenly believes she’s won.

That magical air of possibility was also the theme of Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas advert, which chose to recall the famous Christmas Truce of 1914, as World War I raged across Europe. As war once again rears its ugly head on European soil, it would be good to remember that anything is possible – even peace – if only we believe.

Finally, it would not be a Christmas ad list without one by Coca Cola, the company that has shaped Christmas like no other. From Santa’s red uniform to polar bears, Coca Cola has been an integral part in the holiday’s aesthetic. Here, in its ad from last year, the beverage company sets its sights on how the magic of the season can be recreated even as living conditions change – reminding us that, truly, Christmas is all about sharing.

It is difficult to think of any other genre of commercial that focuses so much on the values we all hold dear. Sometimes, Christmas ads show us, love really does come first.

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