The Most Romantic Night of the Year?

By Evangelia Kindinger

Pho­to cred­it: Tom Rick­huss on Unsplash

On Octo­ber 28, the Hall­mark Chan­nel launched its annu­al “Count­down to Christ­mas.” Dur­ing the eight weeks before Christ­mas, the chan­nel will broad­cast 21 orig­i­nal movies that are all about Christ­mas and the spir­it of the hol­i­days. Estab­lished in 2001, the Hall­mark Chan­nel is a sub­sidiary of the com­pa­ny that has pro­vid­ed many Amer­i­cans with sap­py greet­ing cards for all occa­sions. The Christ­mas movies con­tin­ue with the company’s tra­di­tion of kitsch, espe­cial­ly roman­tic kitsch, as shown in not-so-sub­tle titles, such as A Decem­ber Bride (2016), My Christ­mas Love (2016), or Mar­ry Me at Christ­mas (2017). Christ­mas, it seems, is not pri­mar­i­ly about cel­e­brat­ing the birth of Jesus Christ – or, like in my fam­i­ly, food – but about find­ing love in the midst of snowy land­scapes, hot cocoa, and con­ve­nient­ly hung mistletoes.

Romance-infused Christ­mas movies are not a nov­el­ty, think of White Christ­mas (1954), Mir­a­cle on the 34th Street (1994), or Love Actu­al­ly (2003). Hall­mark takes the romance to anoth­er lev­el though. The premise is always the same: Sin­gles are stressed out because they are, well … sin­gle dur­ing Christ­mas. The sea­son of love! It seems that dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son, sin­gles are espe­cial­ly fraz­zled because they are forced to attend a vari­ety of Christ­mas par­ties and fam­i­ly gath­er­ings on their own. Christ­mas is appar­ent­ly the last moment to secure a part­ner before the more uncom­fort­able events start: New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day.

While there are movies star­ring men, most sto­ries focus on women. Hall­mark intro­duces two types of women: those who are in sync with the Christ­mas spir­it and try to reform grumpy men (pos­si­ble love inter­ests), and those who are too focused on their careers and there­fore neglect the spir­it. Of course, these Christ­mas-immune career women need to real­ize that there is more to life – love and mar­riage – oth­er­wise they’ll end up sad and lone­ly. Take Mar­ry Me at Christ­mas (2017), for instance: Set in a small, snowy moun­tain town (prob­a­bly Col­orado), a young woman (with long, blonde hair) whose engage­ment was recent­ly bro­ken off, is strug­gling with her bridal bou­tique busi­ness – and her bro­ken heart. Enter anoth­er young woman (with long, blonde hair) who is get­ting mar­ried in this very town on Christ­mas Eve –  because it is “the most roman­tic night of the year.” She needs help, and every­one knows and sup­ports one anoth­er in rur­al Amer­i­ca. After all, “there’s noth­ing bet­ter than Main Street at Christ­mas.” In order to stress this image of Amer­i­can mid­dle-class inti­ma­cy, authen­tic­i­ty, and pre-moder­ni­ty, we need a Hol­ly­wood film star (broth­er of the bride) who seeks the qui­et, slow-paced life away from Los Ange­les. It is not hard to guess that he will fall in love with the bridal shop own­er whose side­kick hap­pens to be – OMG! – a long-haired brunette. The pas­toral set­ting of Main Street U.S.A. with its quaint tra­di­tions – like roman­tic snow fights and dessert potlucks – is con­trast­ed to sun­ny, busy L.A. and the actor’s worka­holic man­ag­er who talks on the phone too much while drink­ing green smooth­ies. These stereo­typ­i­cal images are obvi­ous back­lash to women’s eman­ci­pa­tion in the pri­vate and pub­lic spheres. Hall­mark spreads ques­tion­able pol­i­tics con­cern­ing gen­der, race, class, and sex­u­al­i­ty, design­ing a ver­sion of Amer­i­ca that is white, mid­dle-class and, of course, het­ero­sex­u­al. I dare you to find a per­son of col­or who is allowed to say some­thing mean­ing­ful in these movies.

At one point, the pro­tag­o­nist says that Christ­mas time is mag­i­cal. And indeed, Hallmark’s vision of Christ­mas is mag­i­cal or rather a snowy-white fan­ta­sy of a con­formist life infused with super­fi­cial ten­sions. Some­times watch­ing films like these feels like a guilty plea­sure with a bit­ter after­taste, and although I don’t like admit­ting this, not all guilty plea­sures can be jus­ti­fied by escapism. These visions of Amer­i­ca in Hall­mark movies are sup­pos­ed­ly based on bygone val­ues that need to be pre­served. Per­son­al as well as pro­fes­sion­al strug­gles are over­come by com­pas­sion and self­less­ness – admirable val­ues if they were not white­washed and sug­ar-coat­ed in het­ero­sex­u­al love. As escapist enter­tain­ment, these Christ­mas movies cater to audi­ences who pre­fer their country’s con­flicts glossed over. At least for Christ­mas, these movies seem to say, view­ers deserve this.

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