Both of my parents were born on Christmas Day. Throw in five siblings, a traditional Catholic upbringing, and a small Illinois town where my grandparents lived one street away, and Christmas was bound to be a huge deal.
I remember watching White Christmas and Going My Way on our old Philco as we decorated the tree. My dad saw the 1944 premiere of Going My Way while stationed in Europe during World War II. He said many of those tough G.I.’s were sobbing by the time the credits rolled after the “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral” scene. And rough Nick’s Bar in It’s a Wonderful Life always reminded me a little bit of home.
Which brings me to Hallmark Christmas movies. I’m just going to admit it straight out—I’m hooked on them. I’m not some latecomer embracing the fad for Hallmark holiday kitsch. It might be shocking to people who know me, but I have been watching them for years.
If only everyone’s holidays could be sculpted by Christmas Festival of Ice, or enhanced by a romantic stay at The Christmas Cottage. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an identical twin, so I could never be Switched for Christmas. Even if I did, I would probably want to keep it secret, like Christmas Under Wraps.
I find the movies strangely mesmerizing.
I’m not some latecomer embracing the fad for Hallmark holiday kitsch. It might be shocking to people who know me, but I have been watching them for years.
Attractive big-city girl heads to flyover America to rescue the ski lodge, dude ranch, toy factory, cookie shop, Christmas-tree farm, or some other holiday enterprise about to be raided by a handsome but slick corporate dude. He ultimately finds both his Christmas spirit and the woman named Noelle, Holly, or Joy of his yuletide dreams.
Variations on the theme abound. Sometimes the male/female roles are reversed, with the woman playing the shark. Frequently it is a reconnection of long-separated high-school sweethearts who had tragically drifted apart. There is always a misunderstanding that comes between them and a final rushed reconciliation just in time for Christmas, sealed with a chaste, heartwarming kiss. No open mouths in Hallmark Land. Over the past few years, Hallmark has attempted to address the glaring whiteness of Hallmark movies by introducing more minority (mostly minor) characters and has finally opened the Old Testament to touch on Hanukkah. And this year Hallmark belatedly brought L.G.B.T.Q. celebrants to the festivities with its first film featuring a gay couple awaiting the adoption of a child.
There are also dark societal aspects to Hallmark films. Take It’s Christmas, Eve; Trading Christmas; and The Christmas Ornament, among others. I mean, something is obviously off with the health-care system for so many otherwise thriving families to lose one parent or another at so young an age, leaving behind a fetching mom or hunky dad with the requisite adorable children in need of a Christmas uplift. (Divorce and marital affairs are evidently not very Christmassy.)
The nation’s transportation system must also be a mess to cause so many interrupted car, train, bus, and plane trips that lead to serendipitous stays in mysterious Christmas hamlets where the secrets and spirit of the season are slowly but inexorably revealed to the stranded travelers who can’t find a rental car.
There are also dark societal aspects to Hallmark films. Take It’s Christmas, Eve; Trading Christmas; and The Christmas Ornament.
Also, there appears to be untold thousands of people worldwide still under the rigid dynastic rule of monarchies—with handsome princes—in nations that even a G.P.S. can’t find.
The proliferation of Hallmark holiday films has made lampooning them easy. But I cop to religiously watching them, usually to the end, and demand that others who don’t share my passion watch them with me.
Now I’m starting to think of starring in my own Hallmark film. A few years ago I bought a remote mountain cabin outside Kremmling, a small ranching community in Colorado, where coincidentally many a Hallmark movie is set (Rocky Mountain Christmas and A Christmas Tree Grows in Colorado). A white Christmas is virtually guaranteed at 8,600 feet, and there is a great little Christmas store in the rustic downtown. Since my wife is still alive and my sons are big lugs, the plot would need to veer from the conventional.
How about what happens when a hard-bitten East Coast newspaperman spends Christmas along the snowy Continental Divide to try to reconnect with what really matters after a year covering a presidential impeachment, a pandemic, a Supreme Court confirmation fight, and an epic election? Call it “Khristmas in Kremmling.” In the end, he discovers the secret to a happy holiday is avoiding politics altogether and instead binge-watching goofy seasonal movies with a mug of bourbon. Now that’s going my way.
Carl Hulse is the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of Confirmation Bias: Inside Washington’s War over the Supreme Court, from Scalia’s Death to Justice Kavanaugh