Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a small town girl who moved to the big city years ago to pursue her dream is forced to come home for the holidays because of a family emergency and, while there, realizes what she’s been missing all along. How about this one? Santa’s sleigh breaks down in a quaint midwestern town and the stoic Sherriff, who arrests Santa as an imposter, is forced to believe in Christmas magic again to save the holidays — and himself.
Hallmark Christmas Movies are often seen as a punchline. Their formulaic storylines, clunky dialogue, and “aw shucks” depiction of Middle America cause many to say the movies lack any real substance. These people are correct. But they also fail to grasp the hidden genius of each and every one of the many romcoms and uplifting family dramas the channel releases every season. Like the holiday season itself, Hallmark Christmas Movies invite viewers to leave behind the real world and enter a reality fueled by magic, wonder, and joy. Is my sentiment cheesier than a Geno’s steak sandwich? It sure is. Slather it on. It’s the holiday season.
A typical Hallmark Christmas Movie starts with a workaholic woman living in New York City, the epitome of worldly cynicism. Like any overworked big city gal, she’s too obsessed with her job and is decidedly unenthusiastic about Christmas. She’s engaged to some greedy asshole who thinks being nice is for poor suckers. Something goes wrong and she somehow ends up in a Midwestern small town separated from her fiance. She meets a humble, handsome local who has a precocious daughter. Sadly, his wife died several years ago.
This emotionally mature everyman loves Christmas and while she is resistant at first, our hero learns to love it too. Just as they are about to declare their love for each other her fiance shows up and nearly ruins everything. Just as she is about to go back to New York, she has a realization and decides to quit her stuffy job and stay in the small town forever. She tells the small town man she loves him and they kiss. And yes, they obviously live happily ever after.
Sometimes they’ll throw in the fact that Santa really exists or switch the genders to shake things up but overall a Hallmark Christmas Movie follows a very clear formula. Forget Star Wars or Marvel, there is no better universe-building than whatever bonkers world where the Hallmark Christmas Movies exist. Hallmark pumps out movies like Apple does iPhone upgrades. This year alone, there are 21 new Christmas Movies released and scheduled to be released between before December 30th. This includes such gems as Christmas in Evergreen, Christmas at Holly Lodge, and Christmas Cottage. By the names alone, you’re probably able to divine the entire plot of the movie, right? Chances are you wouldn’t be far off. And that’s just the point: They’re the cinematic equivalent of hearing Jingle Bells sung by this season’s de facto pop icon.
Do Hallmark Christmas Movies shamelessly borrow from and combine the plots of popular romantic comedies? Uh huh. But they do it with such little subtlety that it’s clear they have no intention of hiding it. That level of awareness and execution is a big part of why Hallmark Movies are so beloved despite their laughable plot holes and cliche-stuffed dialogue. The details don’t matter, just enjoy these good vibes. They’re meant to be watched when you’re wrapping presents or drunk on Egg Nog or with a bunch of friends at an ugly sweater party “just because.”
Listen, Christmas is the time of year where we all briefly try to set aside petty differences and come together to celebrate family, friends, and goodwill towards everyone. Or at least that’s the cliche version of the holiday. And here’s the thing: there’s nothing inherently special about the Christmas season but because we all decide it’s the most wonderful time of year, we try to make it that way. Hallmark Christmas Movies cram this down your pie-hole. And, you know what? It’s satisfying.
So, here’s what I recommend: after the kids go to bed, flip on the Hallmark Channel and watch one of the 21 new holiday movies. Grab a beer or a bourbon or a Griswaldian moose-eared glass of nog, sit back, and let the seasonal vibes wash all over you. It won’t be well-written, well-acted, or even surprising. But I guarantee that you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of those 86 minutes.