I once had a friend who derided certain holidays, like Mother’s Day, as “Hallmark Holidays,” events that were created by card makers to prey upon our sentimentality – and guilt – all of which translated into increased card sales for them. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I recognized Christmas has become a Hallmark Holiday of a different sort. It’s not a bad thing. Bear with me as I explain.
Once upon a time, our sainted in-laws had taken our toddlers for the weekend so that we could decorate the house for Christmas. This was back in the day when we REALLY decorated for Christmas. Like people-stopping-at-our-house-to-gawk kind of decorating. I took care of the inside décor, which included our 12-foot main tree, four additional trees and several nativity sets. Ted worked on the outside to create a Christmas inflatable scene worthy of the Griswolds. We didn’t see each other all weekend. That is when the magic of the Hallmark Channel Christmas movies gripped me. I will never forget as The Christmas Card warmed my Grinch-like heart and carried me through my solitary labors. Zoned out for a minute unwrapping ornaments? No problem! These are not hard plots to follow. Fall asleep with your Thanksgiving cold? Don’t worry. You can wake up in an entirely different movie and you will know what is happening.
For a while, we didn’t have a TV service provider that carried the Hallmark Channel. That was when I knew I had a problem. No Shelly Long goofily ordering her daughter about in The Holiday Engagement? How would I see the next installment in the Mrs. Miracle franchise? What happened in Part 2 of The Bridge?? That was the year I had to make do with Lifetime Christmas movies. Freeform (formerly ABC family) has even jumped into the mix. I have even trained my daughter to watch with me and we know within 15 minutes whether the movie will be a keeper for us. To be fair, these channels have come a long way. This is a relative statement. Under normal circumstances, I cannot watch these movies.
Frequently, the writing is not great, sometimes the acting is not great, but sometimes you get an early present in the form of Mariah Carey vamping it up in A Christmas Melody.” Or Tori Spelling being diva-licious in The Mistle-Tones. Or Jenny McCarthy in the first Santa Baby (even I have limits). Or best or all, a young Sam Heughan, pre-Jamie Fraser, Outlander, muscles, red-hair, and three-day scruff, playing a prince (of course!) in the holiday classic, A Princess for Christmas (airing on November 30 at 10 pm central time.). Trust me, you don’t want to miss watching the heroine save the day with her extensive knowledge of antique sandwich trays. How can you not love that?
I had to wonder, what is it that draws me and so many other people into this made-for-tv-merriment? I am fully aware that this holiday is about preparing for and celebrating the birth of Jesus, so why am I drawn into these stories? Few of them mention Jesus’ birth, and about a third of them have a Santa-focus. The rest is on the Christmas-ness of Christmas. I think it is the preparation for something bigger than ourselves that we enjoy. I can work with that as an Advent theme. There is reassurance in the familiar and the constant drumbeat on the importance of family. In fact, all of the Advent themes can be found in Hallmark movies: peace, hope, joy, and love. Here are a few more recurring themes:
Big City versus small town – New York, Los Angeles, Denver Chicago? Forget it. You want to head to Evergreen, CO; Littleton, CO; Evergreen, VT — you get the idea.
Family business vs. career – This is when our heroine is a successful career woman, she is usually roped into dealing with some failing family enterprise back home. Think ice rink, tree lot, holiday village, hotel – you get the idea.
Redemption – For this one, I am thinking more about cast members, who are sometimes scoffed at for taking these roles. God bless them, especially Lacey Chabert (former Mean Girl), Jaime King (former model), Candace Cameron Bure (child actress and semi-professional Christian), Alicia Witt (the obnoxious young lawyer in Two Weeks Notice), Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Henry Winkler (The Fonz), James Van Der Beek (Dawson!), and Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie!), to name a few. You get the idea.
Overcoming holiday trauma – This is a stock plot theme where either the hero or the heroine (or both in The Mistletoe Promise) has had something bad happen on Christmas: a parent leaving the family, a parent dying, fiancée breaking things off, fiancée dying, siblings dying and giving the hero/heroine their children. You get the idea.
Until my brain returns to normal sometime in January, I will enjoy watching this year’s crop of made-for-TV, made-for-Christmas movies. I am sure I will find some that I like and will look forward to seeing next year. After all, Hallmark has made 33 new Christmas movies just for this year alone. Please don’t read anything into the fact that Jesus was 33 when he died. I am sure it is just a coincidence. As I look forward to watching these movies, I know they will help me with my own preparation for Christmas. They will keep me company as I wrap presents and remind me of the peace, hope, love, and joy of the season. Wait – those could be character names!
Have a blessed Advent,