Romancing Christmas romance movies

The Christmas season started on October 22, when the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries premiered the first of 41 new holiday romance films for 2021.  That was nearly two weeks earlier than the start of their 2020 Christmas movie season.  If you missed some premieres, don't worry. The movies will be repeated multiple times between now and July.

Those who aren't into Christmas romance movies might label them cheesy.  However, the correct word is "doughy" — as in these movies produce a lot of dough for their cable networks.  That's why Netflix, Lifetime, and others have followed Hallmark's lead and, several years ago, started producing their own original Christmas/holiday-themed films.

The first giveaway that you're watching a Christmas romance movie comes from the lead actors: the woman is stunningly beautiful, and the guy is ruggedly handsome.  No pronouns needed here.  Regular viewers can often predict the plot within the film's first few minutes.  Then, for the next two hours, the movie features the usual twists and turns, closing with Miss Beautiful and Mr. Handsome standing near a Christmas tree for the climatic long kiss as the camera pulls away.

Location is another clue you're watching a Christmas romance movie.  A big city (filled with ruthless strangers) might be part of the plot, but most of the story takes place in a quaint American town (filled with friendly townspeople).  The town also has a Norman Rockwell–like Main Street.  If you ever want to visit, pack a passport, because most Christmas romance movies are filmed in Canada.  It seems Canada has more American towns than America.  (It's also cheaper to film north of the border.)

One thing you'll quickly realize after viewing a few of these movies is that the producers rarely dedicate much of the budget to fake snow.  Cheap white laundry detergent is usually sprinkled on streets during the hot summer months when filming takes place.

So where is the money spent?  On Christmas decorations!  Everybody in the picturesque American town goes overboard decorating houses and businesses.  Even homeless tents have Christmas lights!

Image: Christmas tree by Cameron Stewart (edited in befunky).  Unsplash license.

Most amusing for longtime aficionados of this film genre is how characters dress.  For instance, snow is falling on a frigid December night as the townspeople gather for the annual holiday fundraiser in an unheated barn.  Yet Miss Beautiful is wearing a sheer dress with open-toe shoes.  In outdoor scenes, few people don gloves.  They occasionally pat themselves as if trying to keep warm.  Or they sip hot cider even though their parka is unzipped to expose an open-neck top.  Yeah, that sounds about right for Vermont in late December.  (Of course, it's really Winnipeg in July.)

How did this multi-million-dollar specific programming begin?  In a 2017 interview, Hallmark's then–executive vice president of programming, Michelle Vicary, explained how the popularity of Christmas romance movies grew:

About 10 years ago, we were making Christmas movies, but we weren't doing it as part of an overall event. But what the ratings told us, and what our audience told us, is that they wanted more.

Vicary is referring to Hallmark's first Christmas-themed romance movie.  Premiering in 2007, The Christmas Card was Hallmark Channel's highest-ever-rated telecast during its debut.  It made Hallmark executives realize that the channel could have a profitable niche with this unique type of programming.

The Christmas Card (shown several times each holiday season) is about a young woman, Faith (Miss Beautiful), who is kinda engaged to a nice but boring guy (not Mr. Handsome).  Faith participates in a church activity that sends Christmas cards to soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.  U.S. Army Sgt. Cody Cullen (Mr. Handsome) is randomly handed Faith's card and drawn to the photo of her town and the sentiments written inside.  Cody has no idea who Faith is — i.e., young or old, married or single, thin or fat, beautiful or ugly.  (Of course, this is a Hallmark Christmas romance movie, so Faith is young and beautiful.)

Back in the United States, Cody visits the widow of one of the men killed while under his command.  Afterward, he goes to the nearby town featured in the Christmas card and happens to save someone from a speeding car.  That someone turns out to be Faith's Vietnam veteran father, played by Ed Asner.  There are twists of fate along with conflict and emotions.  (Did I mention that Faith is beautiful and Cody is handsome?)

Ed Asner, who recently died at age 91, was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for his role in The Christmas Card.

Here are some clues that you might be watching a Christmas romance movie:

  • No matter what the movie is about, "Christmas" is in its title.  For instance, Gone with the Christmas Wind, Good Will Christmas Hunting, or The Shawshank Christmas Redemption.
  • Lead female character is beautiful.
  • Lead male character is handsome.
  • Someone has an important decision to make.
  • A secondary character bakes thousands of Christmas cookies.
  • The snow on the sidewalk never melts although the sun is out every day.
  • Politics is asking the mayor to light the huge Christmas tree in the town square.

Oh, The Christmas Card is on!  Gotta get some curly fries and watch my favorite Christmas romance movie!  Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

Contact Robin Itzler at

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