For me, there are a few things which define the holiday season: turkey, reuniting with family members, and, perhaps most importantly, the IIHF U-20 World Junior Hockey Championship. From Boxing Day to early January, the most talented young hockey players in the world compete with the hopes of bringing home gold for their country. Given that this tournament happens annually, and has players with little name recognition, it doesn’t seem like it should be a calendar event for anyone except the most diehard of junior hockey fans.
For the many countries the World Juniors remain unrecognized. Yet for many Canadians, the event elicits an almost religious devotion. According to TSN, the Canadian broadcast of the 2015 medal game featuring Canada and Russia averaged 7.1 million viewers, with 13.4 million tuning in at some point. That’s just under 36 per cent of the entire population of Canada tuning into a single game. 19.4 million watched at least some of the tournament. The level of scrutiny directed at the young Canadian players is perplexing and inspiring all at the same time.
South of the border, another sport rules the holiday airwaves. The NCAA college football season ends in a number of “bowls,” — or high stakes playoff games — the largest of which are the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. ESPN’s Josh Krulewitz reported that last year each game averaged 28 million viewers, making them the two “most watched shows in cable TV history.”
The NBA Christmas special is yet another must-see holiday sporting event. The NBA offers several games, including a rematch of the two best teams from the previous season. Nearly 11 million people watched the Golden State Warriors play the Cleveland Cavaliers across the U.S. just as they have since the NBA began the tradition in 1947. The NHL began holding its annual holiday outdoor Winter Classic in 2013. The 2014 Winter Classic was viewed by eight million people on television, and another 105,491 people live, setting an NHL attendance record.
For an opportunity of year that is so often sold as a time to reconnect with family, we do watch an awful lot of sports around the holidays. It actually makes some sense — if I’m a sports fan and all the people I love are in the game together and we need something to do after we open presents, why not throw on a basketball game? In the aftermath of New Years’ when everyone’s languishing, hungover on the couch, why not watch the Rose Bowl? Just like the holidays themselves, the emphasis is not on what we are doing, but who we are with. That’s why I watch the World Juniors, and why I love the holidays. The gold medal will last me until next year, the time I spend with family and friends yelling, cheering, and crying will remain for a lifetime.