Film

Ho Ho Hokey: How I Learned to Love Hallmark Christmas Movies

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Whenever I tell someone I’ve been binging on Hallmark Christmas movies all day, there’s a certain amount of apology involved.

“I know, they’re the worst,” I’ll concede, before the other person has had a chance to say anything. “The one I watched this morning was a real winner.”

Usually whomever I’m talking to will confess to having recently watched one as well — like the stale doughnuts in the office kitchen, this Hallmark shit is oddly irresistible. Then, after divulging our shared guilty pleasure, we’ll bond over a blissful moment of holiday snark. The music, the acting, the love interest — we’ll take great joy in pointing out how it’s all so damn cheesy.

The part I leave out: I totally cried when Candace Cameron-Bure’s bitchy businesswoman realized she’d fallen for the impossibly handsome, charming innkeepers’ son on their cross-country skiing adventure. I lost my shit again when her estranged father showed up to dinner dressed as Santa, and yet again when she rediscovered her Christmas spirit.

Yes, these movies that Hallmark pumps out like overseas factories do cheap candy canes every holiday season are almost always about someone reviving their “Christmas spirit,” a nebulous, vague feeling that apparently involves giving many, many fucks about things like heirloom ornaments, festive sweaters and baking contests.

Intellectually, I know it’s a clever ruse designed to funnel money into the capitalist machine and sell greeting cards.

But some pleasures transcend rational thought, and these movies fall into that category, right alongside UGG boots and those ASPCA commercials. On a purely emotional level, I get giddy when I see charming homes decked out in lights and other shiny bullshit for the holidays. I relish the vision of families sitting around tables totally getting along and not arguing about abortion rights or Hillary’s emails.

Instead of being annoyed that Chyler Leigh’s biggest issue in Window Wonderland is creating the perfectly dressed Christmas window, or that Erin Krakow seriously only has to worry about baking award-winning peppermint drops in A Cookie Cutter Christmas, I find their plights oddly captivating, a much-needed break from the stresses of social anxiety, impostor syndrome and financial insecurity.

It also comes as a relief to know there’s still part of my heart as soft as the center of a snickerdoodle cookie. I spend so much time on guard against intellectual threats like fake news, real news and our planet’s vast array of assholes that it can be liberating to turn off my self-imposed filters for 90 minutes and let my brain rest. Maybe I actually like being manipulated a little bit — and you know what? That’s OK. So many of us spend our lives resisting transparent emotional manipulation in our entertainment, when in truth such cheery and cathartic stuff, at least in managed doses, can be healing.

When it comes down to it, the handsome, charming dude in one of these movies is right when he tells the former Full House actress — not Candace Cameron-Bure, the other one — that she’s just afraid she can’t feel anything as pure as the Christmas spirit. (Sorry for the lack of specifics. I’ve watched roughly 10 of these movies since mid-November, and at a certain point they all start to blend together.) The scene is amazing. They’re standing in front of an old-timey diner decked out in colorful Christmas lights with a whole damn blanket of freshly fallen snow on the ground, and she still insists she’s not down with any of it.

I have to admit that I’ve been there. One year I worked at a mall coffee kiosk during the holidays, and we had exactly one Christmas CD that the owner insisted we play on repeat every day from open to close, Thanksgiving through New Year’s.

That year I was maxed out on holiday cheer by Black Friday. Every night for almost two months I fell asleep with “Jingle Bell Rock” circling my skull on a continuous loop. That Full House actress’ Christmas-hating character finally learns to love the holiday when her estranged father shows up to the town’s Christmas celebration dressed as Santa — yes, this happens in more than one of these movies. It took me years to make peace with the season, to accept that there was more to it than buying crap and swiping credit cards. Sure, those things are part of it — but there’s also something more innocent at its core, something that asks us to stop being selfish pricks for 10 seconds and think about someone else.

That’s the true beauty of these Hallmark movies: They not only ask but insist that we set aside our cynicism as they build entire worlds out of that feeling we had that one time when we were five and we swore we heard Santa on the roof. It is, by no stretch of the imagination, an accurate representation of the world we actually live in, but what could possibly be wrong with shutting that world out and treating ourselves to some old-fashioned feelings for a change — even if it’s tears over Candace Cameron-Bure realizing maybe snow doesn’t totally suck? ‘Tis the season, after all.