It’s not easy to come clean about a secret you’ve been hiding for well, years. It started off innocently enough when I was younger but has now blossomed into something bigger, and I’ve decided it’s time to come clean. Okay… I love Christmas movies. I love Christmas plays too, but somehow that sounds less dorky and more sophisticated.
It started off fairly legitimately, watching classics from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s with my mom. I grew up on “White Christmas,” “Holiday Inn,” “Desk Set,” “Christmas in Connecticut” and of course, the granddaddy of them all, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I loved these movies so much. I wanted that picture-perfect Christmas, though now, in a different era, the racism in some of them,(the blackface in “Holiday Inn” is pretty startling) mixed in with the plum pudding and Christmas songs, does feel a little weird. And seriously, who amongst us believes that Mary Hatch, played by the beautiful and accomplished Donna Reed in “It’s A Wonderful Life” would have remained single had George Bailey not rescued her from spinsterdom? But nonetheless, I still love that movie.
As the years went by and I was raising my own three children, we adopted “Elf” as a family favorite, to the point where we all still know most of the lines. It was a film that bridged the age and gender gaps in our family and it still brings me much joy and I can even be heard saying, “smiling’s my favorite” on occasion.
When “Love Actually” was released, not long after I was divorced, I was looking for some joy, some warmth and perhaps hope that love was indeed all around. To this day I have a tradition with a close friend of getting together every year and watching it and still think Hugh Grant made a pretty adorable Prime Minister.
I didn’t grow up with a lot of traditions, so in the absence of that I looked to film to fill in those missing pieces. My Christmases, like so many I’m sure, were filled with visits to extended family that well, weren’t exactly jolly. Now looking back I realize they were actually more like something out of an Edward Gorey tale.
So I haven’t shared the really embarrassing part yet, because honestly, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about in watching classic films. And I’m fine admitting I went to see the newly released holiday film, “Last Christmas,” twice. I’m mostly okay telling you that. The really hard thing to admit to is the Hallmark Christmas movies. And yes, I can feel it already, the judgment. Hell, I judged myself for a long time for watching them. But then I decided not to.
In case you have not watched an actual Hallmark Christmas movie let me break all of them down into five easy steps:
1. A young man or woman who doesn’t love Christmas, and needs to, is dispatched to a small town with a name like Evergreen, Cookie Jar, Santaville or maybe Garland. These are actual names from movies. Stop judging me. They are either snowed in the adorable town on their way to somewhere else, sent to shut down a beloved factory where everyone works, or are there to save a family farm.
2. They are engaged or are dating someone back in the big city who IS NOT RIGHT FOR THEM, so when they meet someone in the idyllic town it’s okay. If it’s a guy in the small town he works with wood, they all seem to work with wood, and if it’s a woman she owns a local bakery or a bookstore. Because.
3. Our protagonist gets pulled into all the town’s traditions. There are two important things that have to happen: a. A snowball fight with the cute love interest and b. Hanging ornaments on a tree with a cute kid. Extra points for making said ornament or for any sledding or ice skating that ensues. Also, mistletoe. Inexplicably it’s everywhere. For you know, the can’t be at all subtle opportunities for a kiss.
4. Just when the person is beginning to fall in love with the folks of Evergreen or wherever, Christmas and that special small-town someone, either work calls demanding they commercialize the cute town — that truly looks like it should only exist in a snow globe, or the boyfriend/girlfriend from the big city shows up threatening to upend everything!
5. But just when you think Christmas will be ruined and our couple — who, have seriously, known each other for like three days won’t end up happily ever after, it all works out. And scene!
Yes, they are formulaic, and yes, they are not terribly challenging, and yes, there could sure as hell be more diverse, but what they are is comforting. In a world that is so divided and filled with such vitriol, I find them to be good for my mental health. The people are all kind, no one is yelling at anyone, and they care about one another and their community. The escape from reality for two hours does me a lot of good. Real-life is hard and challenging, and I think we could all use an escape.
My life, and probably yours has been far from perfect. The holidays can be a time that brings up the best and the worst from our past. Heck, the last Christmas gift my estranged late father gave me was a copy of the book, “He’s Just Not That Into You.” True story. My children are now all grown and scattered in places as far as Montana and Medellin, so Christmases together often happen via Skype and Facetime. So through November and December, I happily indulge my inner elf and curl up with a cup of tea, maybe my knitting, and travel to places where everything turns out okay in the end. Were that real life was that simple.
As long as I’m being so honest, I’ll let you in on one other confession. I’ve never completely given up on the idea of Santa Claus granting holiday wishes. So my Christmas wish to Santa this year is that all of you get what you want for Christmas and that everything turns out okay in the end.