Commentary: Hallmark - Holiday cheer made simple

There's no shortage of bad news in today's world. That's not a secret, even during the Christmas season. Tragic news, stressful jobs, family hardships and the weight of the world in general can take their toll during this time of the year. For ma...

Lacey Chabert, left, with Brenden Sunderland, in "The Sweetest Christmas" - the one where she plays a baker who reconnects with her high school sweetheart over the holidays. Ricardo Hubbs, Crown Media United States LLC

There's no shortage of bad news in today's world. That's not a secret, even during the Christmas season.

Tragic news, stressful jobs, family hardships and the weight of the world in general can take their toll during this time of the year. For many, Christmas means spending time with family, exchanging gifts, taking part in special traditions and maybe celebrating religious aspects of the holiday. That's what it has always meant to me. But for others, the holidays bring about massive amounts of stress or evoke painful memories of loved ones who are no longer here to celebrate.

Some of those in the latter category-who don't necessarily feel all holly jolly in December-look for somewhere to turn to help them forget about their troubles, if only for a short time. For many-millions actually-that place is TV. More specifically, the Hallmark Channel.

For those not familiar, the Hallmark Channel is a cable TV network that prides itself in quality family entertainment, according to the network's website. The entertainment comes in the form of feel-good original shows and movies that tug at the heartstrings and might even stir up some tears. Though the network runs original programming year-round, the Christmas season is its crowning jewel.

Oct. 27 kicked off Hallmark's "Countdown to Christmas," an annual event when the network plays nothing but original Christmas movies 24/7 until the new year.


At the same time, Hallmark's sister channel-Hallmark Movies & Mysteries-runs its "Miracles of Christmas" event, which follows the same theme-all Christmas movies all the time through the end of the year.

This year, the two networks are debuting 37 new original Christmas movies-22 on Hallmark Channel and 15 on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Combine the new features with films from previous Christmases, and continuous holiday cheer is on loop for more than two months.

As a pretty big Hallmark Christmas movie fan, I'll be honest-more often than not, the movies are over-the-top cheesy and really predictable. With very similar storylines in just about all of them, the average Hallmark Christmas movie usually goes something like this: Big-city woman spends Christmas in a small town, falls for small-town man (probably a single father), learns "true meaning" of Christmas, man and woman have argument, woman makes difficult decision to leave city life behind, announces to man she's staying in small town, kisses man, it snows, movie over. And it's usually a pretty safe bet the female lead will be Lacey Chabert (known for "Mean Girls" and "Party of Five") or Candace Cameron Bure (known for "Full House" and "Fuller House").

The films on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries might vary from the cookie cutter mold a little, but the cheesy factor doesn't go away. Despite that and the predictability, though, these movies are wildly popular.

"Christmas at Graceland," a new Hallmark original movie starring country music singer Kellie Pickler, took the top spot in the Nielsen Co.'s cable ratings for Saturday, Nov. 17, drawing in 4.66 million viewers and beating several college football games. Over on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, "Return to Christmas Creek" came in 25th on the same day.

For the week of Nov. 19, Hallmark movies took three of the Top 10 spots on the Nielsen cable ratings, with this year's new feature "A Shoe Addict's Christmas" starring Bure coming in at No. 5 with 4.23 million viewers.

As of Nov. 29, the Countdown to Christmas event on Hallmark Channel and Miracles of Christmas on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries reached a combined audience of 57 million unduplicated viewers. Over Thanksgiving weekend, the networks were the two highest-rated cable networks.

The week of Thanksgiving-Nov. 19-25-Nielsen showed Hallmark as the highest-rated and most-watched cable network among women 18-49 and women 25-54 for the fourth consecutive week.


Along with Pickler, singers Patti LaBelle and LeAnn Rimes each took center stage in their own Hallmark movie this year, too.

So you get the picture; Hallmark Christmas movies are popular. I'm an avid viewer myself, sometimes having to force myself to turn the TV off before the next one comes on and sucks me in for another two hours.

But what is it about these ridiculously predictable and unrealistically romanticized depictions of Christmas that draw so many people in? That's a question I couldn't actually answer myself, so being a millennial, I took to social media to get more opinions. I joined a Facebook group dedicated to Hallmark Christmas movies, where users simply post about what movies they watched and what they liked or didn't like and discuss with other group members. I wrote a post asking if anyone cared to share what exactly they like about these movies. I got about 30 responses from different users, many centering around similar ideas.

Hallmark movies have clean, family-friendly content for everyone to enjoy. Complete with cozy, picturesque winter scenery, they help relieve stress and make people forget about whatever is happening in the rest of the world right now. One user said she works in retail and usually wishes for the holiday season to speed up because of how crazy the stores get. But coming home and putting on a Hallmark movie helps her relax for a while and remember Christmas isn't just about buying things.

Many other users mentioned the movies' upbeat themes help remind them what Christmas should be about-family, friends and togetherness.

A few Facebookers said Hallmark movies have become a Christmas tradition in their family, and some said they still continue the tradition even though the loved ones they started it with have since died. But the movies lift their spirits and bring back fond memories.

Some movies have supernatural aspects-like "A Shoe Addict's Christmas," a loose adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" with spirits who takes the main character back in time to Christmases past and gives her a glimpse of Christmas yet to come. These kinds of movies, some users said, let them believe in the magic of Christmas even as adults.

And if you ever get a hankering for a little Christmas in July, well Hallmark has you covered there, too, with several holiday movies airing for a month during the summer.


If Hallmark isn't quite cutting it for you-or maybe if you've exhausted all those movies-Lifetime and Ion, two other cable channels, do their own spin on original feel-good holiday films as well. And for those who don't have cable, Hallmark recently launched its own streaming service-Hallmark Movies Now. For a monthly fee of $5.99 or $59.99 for the year, users get unlimited access to Hallmark's full library of content without commercials.

Or for those more comfortable with Netflix, the ever-popular online streaming sources also does its own take on Hallmark-esque Christmas movies. Last year's popular film was "A Christmas Prince," which Netflix followed up with a sequel this year. Vanessa Hudgens' "The Princess Switch," with a somewhat similar storyline to "The Parent Trap" is another of Netflix's new feel-good holiday flicks.

But back to Hallmark now.

Reading everyone's comments and getting an idea of what Hallmark means to them this time of year helped me realize it's really the simplicity of the movies that attract such a following at Christmas. Simple themes of family, friendship, love and joy. Simple characters who aim for nothing more complex than true happiness. Simple small towns that take pride in community togetherness. Life's simple pleasures.

So next time you find yourself feeling not so holly jolly this Christmas season, might I suggest a cozy blanket, a steaming cup of hot cocoa and a light-hearted Hallmark movie to lift your spirits?

Opinion by Theresa Bourke
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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