I dream of a place. A simple place filled with happiness and warmth. A place where husbands get a chance to decide what’s on TV during the Christmas season. In this place husbands don’t monopolize the television, they just occasionally watch something other than movies with repeat plots about finding love and the true meaning of Christmas in a small town. Ah, it’s a wonderful place. A magical place. A place the evil tendrils of the Hallmark Channel can’t reach. In my mind I go to this place often during the holidays; I call it No Hallmark Christmas Movies Wonderland (I know, the name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue – but I’m an accountant and my imaginary places tend to be utilitarian).
Let me tell you who I am. I am a Hallmark Christmas Movie widower. Beginning earlier and earlier every year, my wife – an otherwise intelligent, on-the-ball, not-overly-given-to-sentiment person – fills her holiday world (and our DVR) with Hallmark Christmas movies. I have no explanation for this (other than perhaps my wife imagining what life would be like had she married a small-town innkeeper who loves everything about Christmas). The Hallmark Channel every year produces approximately six million Christmas movies all employing essentially the same plot with the exact same predictable outcomes – and my wife loves them. And watches them – along with holiday baking shows (which is a blog post for another time) – day after day throughout the Christmas season.
Since this has been going on for years and since the number of movies available keeps proliferating and since the Hallmark Channel keeps showing them earlier and earlier in the year (I’m almost positive there was a summer session in 2019) and since I’m pretty sure my wife isn’t going to tire of watching them, I hereby submit a plea for sanity during the Hallmark-watching season. At the end of this post I will suggest four simple and reasonable ground rules that should govern the Hallmark Movie marathon and bring peace and goodwill back to marriages everywhere.
I’m assuming, of course, that you are familiar with these movies. In case you’re not, here are the elements of a successful Hallmark Christmas movie:
- Unknown actors and vague locales. A-list actors not required. Expensive sets and locations not required. Large investments of money not required. Often, good acting not required either.
- Women as lead characters. Men are love interests and dads – not leads.
- Plots that reinforce that Christmas is only celebrated in small towns in cold climates. People in big cities know nothing about the real meaning of Christmas and routinely skip Christmas entirely.
- A main character who is single, in her early thirties, pretty, and very busy.
- A love interest that the main character initially dislikes when she meets him/runs into him after years apart.
- A main character’s family that happily resides in a small town. The main character is the only member of the family who has left the small town to pursue a different life. As a result, her family worries that she’s forgotten her values and what’s really important (like celebrating Christmas).
- A crisis that threatens Christmas or the livelihood of the main character’s family in the small town.
- Outdoor scenes that show it’s almost always lightly snowing in the small town. Interestingly, the people who are outside never seem uncomfortable in the cold and their breath is never visible when they speak.
Hallmark produces these movies by the dozens. There are so many now that each movie shows the year it was made in the bottom left corner of the screen so the woman watching knows how many times she’s seen it.
The reason there are so many is that they don’t have to rewrite the plots. There’s really only one movie; they just keep reissuing it with different characters, locales, and crises. To illustrate how easy it is to make a Hallmark Christmas Movie I’ve taken the liberty of writing one of my own. As a disclaimer – my 16-year-old daughter insisted on this – know that this is an abbreviated movie; I realize the main character falls in love a little quicker than is realistic (and I certainly wouldn’t want to run afoul of Hallmark’s strict standards for realism). So with that caveat, I humbly present for your reading/imagining pleasure…
Holly works in Big City for a big corporation that has plush offices in a big building. She’s REALLY busy and has no time for a social life or family. The week before Christmas she’s given responsibility for the Jones Contract which has a very short deadline and entails TONS of work. It’s a killer assignment, but if she pulls it off she’s up for a big promotion to partner. The downside is that there’s so much to do she’ll probably have to work over Christmas. That’s a problem because Holly promised her parents back in her hometown of Yuletown, OH, that she’d be home for Christmas for the first time in years.
Holly calls home to deliver the bad news. Holly is in her office at the top of a skyscraper in Big City. Her mother – who answers the call on a landline – is in the family farmhouse in Yuletown. When Holly says she’s not coming home for Christmas, her mother is crushed.
Mom: “How can they expect you to work on Christmas again? Oh honey, everyone was so excited to see you, and we were especially excited to have you make your special cookies for the Yule Festival. Your father will be SO disappointed.”
After explaining that there’s nothing she can do and that she hasn’t made the cookies in years and probably wouldn’t remember how to make them anyway, Holly hangs up. Holly then stands by her desk and looks pensively out the window of her office.
After Holly thinks about it, she calls her boss – a very busy woman who has made it to the top by never celebrating Christmas even once in her whole career – and tells her she can get the Jones Contract done even while going home for Christmas. She’s not going to disappoint her mom again; plus, she worked through Christmas last year so it should be okay not to work this year. The boss expresses skepticism but grudgingly goes along.
Boss: “You do what you think is best; but understand that the Jones Contract is the most important contract in this company’s history and you won’t get a second chance at partner if you mess it up. So don’t let me down, and, more importantly, don’t let yourself down. Christmas comes every year – opportunities like this don’t.”
Holly: “Have I ever let you down? Listen, I may be going home for Christmas, but I know that nothing is more important right now than the Jones Contract. Don’t worry about it falling through the cracks just because I’m in Yuletown for 48 hours.”
Holly hangs up and looks pensively out the window of her office.
Holly surprises her parents at the farmhouse in Yuletown. They’re thrilled to see her. Mom and dad both give her big hugs as she tells them she can’t stay long – she’ll have to get back to Big City the day after Christmas. They’re somewhat disappointed that she’ll have to leave so soon but they’re happy that at least she’ll be in Yuletown for the Yule Festival.
Mom: “Everyone will be excited to hear your cookies will be back this year! You know who’s the grand marshal of the Christmas parade? Jake Baker!”
Holly: “Jake Baker? He’s still around? I haven’t heard that name in years.”
Mom: “Oh he’s still around, and he asks about you sometimes. You know, he never got married…”
Mom says this last sentence with a mischievous grin on her face. Holly gives her a rebuking look and goes upstairs to her old room. Once there she looks pensively out the window of the farmhouse.
The next scene opens with Jake Baker – killer handsome with no visible means of support – helping to put up decorations on the square in Yuletown. Holly enters the square on her way to the family bakery (Travis Bakery has been in the family for years – Holly worked there growing up and is actually a very accomplished baker). Jake sees her.
Jake: “Holly Travis! I heard you were back but I didn’t believe it. I thought Big City girls didn’t spend time in places like Yuletown.”
Holly: “Jake Baker – I guess some things never change. The Christmas Festival is on the square and Jake Baker thinks the world ends at the city limits.”
Holly walks away with a smile on her face. Jake looks pensively at Holly as she walks away.
Through various circumstances and dialogue we find out Holly and Jake dated seriously back in high school. They thought about marriage, but after graduation Holly wanted to go to school and have a career and get out of Yuletown. Jake wanted nothing more than to settle in Yuletown and have a family. Because of their different aspirations, they split up. They haven’t seen each other in ten years.
During those years Jake has become quite the rock in the community. He helps everyone with everything (with no apparent job he has time on his hands). And he especially helps out around the bakery. Holly’s parents love Jake and he comes around often. Without Jake, the bakery would have failed years ago.
Showdown scene: Holly and Jake find themselves together at the bakery. Jake helps out with everything, of course, and Holly is starting to rediscover her baking mojo. At one point, however, she makes a snide remark about everything being small in Yuletown. Jake responds in a very serious manner.
Jake: “You know, maybe we don’t have a lot of things in Yuletown that you have in Big City. Maybe we don’t have fancy skyscrapers or subways or big shows or indoor plumbing. But we do have what counts to a lot of people around here. Kindness. Neighborliness. Concernedness. That last one may not be a word, but people still value it. You see, people care about each other in Yuletown. We watch out for one another. We make cookies for each other. We take the day off on Christmas. Maybe those things are old fashioned, but they used to mean something to you. I guess they don’t anymore.”
Jake leaves the bakery without waiting for Holly to respond. Holly watches Jake leave and then looks pensively out the bakery window.
Late that night Holly sits in the family room at the farmhouse after everyone has gone to bed. Everyone, that is, except for dad. As he’s about to go upstairs to his room he stops and says to Holly (who’s sitting on the couch with a quilt tucked around her holding a cup of cocoa),
Dad: “Honey, you know I’d never tell you what to do, and I’ll support you in whatever you decide. But something I’ve learned over the years is that success sometimes isn’t what we think it is. Sometimes success isn’t about money or achievement. Sometimes it’s about making good cookies for the Yule Festival.”
He goes upstairs without waiting for Holly to respond. Holly watches her dad go and then looks pensively out the farmhouse window.
Holly wakes up the next morning with a new perspective on life. She calls her boss and quits her job. Her boss can’t believe it and tells her what a fool she is to walk away from the big corporation and the promotion and leave Big City. And what’s going to happen with the Jones Contract? Holly assures her that she called Mr. Jones this morning and he’s on board with her idea of building the campaign around the theme of “Old Fashioned Cookies at Christmas.” He’s ecstatic that she came up with an idea no one else thought of and he even offered to double the budget. The contract is done and it’s an even bigger success than anyone could’ve imagined. Her boss just chuckles when she hears this.
Boss: “Holly, I don’t understand what you’re doing, but you sound happier than I’ve ever heard you. I really hope this works out. And Holly…Merry Christmas!”
Holly can’t believe it – she’s never heard her boss wish anyone a Merry Christmas. She hangs up and can’t contain her smile. Now she just needs to find Jake and tell him she loves him and wants nothing more than to stay in Yuletown.
Holly walks to the bakery bursting with excitement, but what she finds isn’t what she expects at all. Her parents are there, Jake is there, and her Aunt Sarah is there, but no one is happy. Everyone looks depressed and no one speaks. Holly’s happy but everyone else is glum. She asks why they all have long faces.
Mom: “There was a fire in the oven last night. It destroyed the oven and we can’t use it. That means we can’t bake cookies for the Yule Festival tonight. Travis Bakery has supplied cookies for the Yule Festival for 50 years. And now we can’t bake anything. It just won’t be the Yule Festival without Travis cookies.”
Dad: “Maybe we could use our oven at home?”
Mom: “For FIVE HUNDRED people?? Let’s face it, we’re doomed. No cookies, no Yule Festival.”
Jake: “It just seems like we could figure something out. Does it have to be cookies?”
Mom: “Regardless of what it is, we still have to have an oven. Pies, cakes, cookies – they all need baked. We’re BAKERS Jake Baker, remember?”
Holly: “Wait a minute! Maybe daddy’s suggestion will work! We can’t use our oven here but maybe we could use a home oven! Travis Bakery has always made cookies, but nothing says we have to bake them in the bakery, right?
Mom: “What are you saying?”
Holly: “Someone told me that people in Yuletown care for each other and watch out for each other. Well, what better way to show that than to bake cookies for the Yule Festival? We can’t bake all the cookies at OUR home, but we could bake all the cookies at EVERYONE’S home, right? Cookies for 500 people made at 100 homes!”
Mom: “I don’t know. You expect everyone in town to give us the use of their oven?”
Dad: “Why not? I bet we end up with more ovens than we can even use – this is Yuletown! I love your idea, Sweetie! Looks like you’re a Travis baker after all!”
Holly: “Thanks daddy! That’s going to be my married name too – I plan to hyphenate.”
Jake: “I love the idea too! By the way, who told you that Yuletown people watch out for each other?”
Holly: “Someone I owe an apology to.”
Jake: “No apologies needed. And you know what? I love that you’re a Travis-Baker too. Just promise me that you’ll never make no-bake cookies, okay? Get it? NO-BAKER!”
Holly: “Oh Jake, I love you no matter how funny you aren’t. You know, sometimes it takes a bakery in a small town to remind a girl of what’s important. I hope you’ll give me a second chance. I won’t make the same mistake I made ten years ago.”
Jake: “If you mean that, I won’t make the same mistake either – the mistake of letting the only girl I’ve ever loved walk out of my life. I don’t have any real means of support, but that hasn’t really been an issue in the last ten years. I think we can make a life together here in Yuletown. And I think we can save the bakery too.”
Dad: “Well hey! We have a hundred ovens to fill!”
Everyone laughs and the group spontaneously breaks into singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” As the group sings, mom and dad look at Jake and Holly and then each other and smile. Aunt Sarah looks at Jake and Holly and smiles. Jake and Holly kiss and then Jake joins the singing. Holly watches Jake as he sings and then smiles to herself while looking pensively out the window.
That’s what a Hallmark movie is. As for the rules for watching them, the following are four reasonable guidelines that any Hallmark Woman should be willing to embrace to maintain sanity in the household:
- No movies before Thanksgiving. Hallmark knows the golden goose it has on its hands and now starts running the Christmas movies in early November. That’s way too early. For the sake of the man in the house, the movie-fest can’t start until the Thanksgiving dishes are cleared.
- No movie can be watched more than three years in a row. If you’re mouthing the dialogue while watching the movie, you have to move on.
- No more than ten movies can be on the DVR at any given time. If you want to record an eleventh movie, you have to delete one. There has to be room on the DVR for football and car shows.
- No making cynical comments about the movies as you watch them. You can’t act like you’re watching the movies ironically when we all know you enjoy every predictable minute. You can’t pretend to be cynical and say things like, “Boy, I just have no idea who she’s going to fall in love with!” That’s insincere cynicism. You love the movies – embrace what they are and embrace who you are for loving them.
So there you go. Reasonable guardrails to prevent Repetitive Hallmark Disorder from afflicting marriages and destroying the holidays. Hallmark Christmas movies apparently will always be with us and may be a necessary part of the Christmas season, but they should be handled appropriately and in moderation. If we all work together, we can get through this and come out on the other side not only saner and happier, but also on speaking terms.