You think the Christmas season starts when the Christmas decorations entirely take over Hobby Lobby at the first of November. Or the night of Thanksgiving when, full of turkey, you make your first gift purchase on Amazon. Or for us Christians, the first Sunday in December when kids bug us for that piece of chocolate and we begin reading about the birth of Christ.
But we all know Christmas started earlier, perhaps back in October, when your wife began to turn her heart toward the Hallmark channel. Here is some advice from a happily married man of more than two decades: you won’t defeat Hallmark this year. You can only hope to contain it.
A few years ago, in a rare romantic gesture, I gave my wife a subscription to a streaming service that serves up multiple channels of the formulaic holiday fare. It was a moment of weakness. Thankfully, I have three daughters who enjoy watching imperiled Vermont Christmas stores being saved or hunky baristas helping New York media moguls remodel inherited vacation homes in Colorado or jaded journalists discovering the real meaning of the season in North Carolina.
But there is not enough football on TV not to get drawn into the Countdown to Christmas. And, I must say, the genre delivers, even if the story is the same in each film. There are at least three essential elements of a Hallmark Christmas movie.
There is the dreamy local guy who is either a barista, a carpenter or the estranged heir of a rich man. Sometimes he’s just a local guy who doesn’t have a job but somehow supports himself. He will always be wearing flannel, a day’s growth of beard and shoulder-length hair.
There is the harried female executive who, at the last minute, decides to travel home from the big city. She’s engaged to be married to a tycoon who, over the course of the show, becomes ever more insensitive and elitist. The fiancé always has an expensive overcoat and shows up in his would-be wife’s small town at the wrong time.
And lastly, every Hallmark flick requires an antagonist. Sometimes it’s the lost spirit of Christmas. Sometimes it’s an evil developer who wants to turn the treasured Christmas bakery/inn/store into condominiums. I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, but your heroine won’t end up with the square-jawed elitist from New York — she will make an anguished decision to go with the hunky local and stay in town. There will be angry phone calls from a boss in New York, usually on Christmas Eve, and business deals that won’t get done. Oh, and you will know it’s a legitimate Hallmark (as opposed to knockoffs on Netflix or Hulu) by the inevitable “romance while shopping for Christmas tree” scene.
I’d probably rather be watching a movie with a bit more complexity, such as that classic Christmas flick featuring Bruce Willis in an elevator shaft. Still, I see the appeal of the make-believe snowy worlds that appear on our screens every winter. In a world of sorrow and hardship and pain, we long for a place —a town even — where life is as it should be. A nod to the better world promised by the birth we celebrate this season? Perhaps. Perhaps.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s December 2023 World edition.