musings from YA author G. F. Miller*
While chatting with author Shonna Slayton** recently, we realizes we had a deep chasm between us. I love Hallmark Christmas movies, and she can't get past the first ten minutes. Then she asked me to recommend a good one, so she could try again to understand what all the hype is about.
And that is how I discovered that some of you, dear friends, have no idea how to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie, and thus you are missing out on one of the most delightful parts of the holiday season. I don't want to live in a world with that kind of sadness in it, not when I can help.
So, without further ado, here is my complete step-by-step guide to watching Hallmark Christmas movies. Let's start with the basics.
Step One: Choose which Hallmark Christmas Movie to Watch.
First off, the term "Hallmark Christmas movies" is both a brand and a genre--like Kleenex and Band-aids. Hallmark pioneered the cheesy, formulaic, low-budget Christmas movie back in the 1800s. (Look, I don't know when it was, and I'm not going to look it up. I just know it was before streaming but after talkies.) And it became so wildly popular that lots of other production companies want a piece of that holiday pie. Now you can stream this type of movie on Hallmark Movies Now, Lifetime, Prime, Netflix, and probably 623 other places. Here's how to recognize if you've found what you're looking for:
The title is way too on the nose. Classic, well-made Christmas movies don't over sell it. They have titles like It's a Wonderful Life, Elf, and Miracle on 34th Street. Those are fantastic and should be watched, obviously. But that's not what you're looking for right now. You are looking for a movie with a name like Christmas Homestead, Jingle All the Way, The Christmas Prince, or Well-Suited for Christmas.
The cover image looks like this:
Let's be honest with each other: these movies are not what one would call "good." The production values are horrifying. The dialogue is canned. The acting is campy. The romantic leads typically have zero chemistry. And the plots are endlessly recycled.
This is why we love them.
(I can't explain it. You have to experience it to understand. Just trust the process.)
Time to pick your movie! Don't be overwhelmed by the sheer volume or the fact that you can't really tell them apart. Here are three solid methods for choosing which one to watch tonight:
Listen in as friends and coworkers talk about the Hallmark movies they've been watching, and then watch one of those.
Read the one-sentence descriptions and choose one that makes you go, "Seriously?" or "Wait, what?". It is important to give yourself a time limit if you use this method; otherwise you could get stuck at this stage and never actually watch a movie. I think three minutes is plenty of time, but if this is all really new to you, you might want as much as five.
Close your eyes and click on one. It honestly doesn't matter.
Step Two: Gamify It.
You will need a game. There are a lot of Hallmark Christmas Movie drinking games floating around the worldwide web. That's a classic go to. Honestly, after three Grinch martinis, you won't care that the snowmen are Styrofoam. But if you're watching with kids or don't indulge in the devil's drink, you'll need some festive alternatives. The following non-alcoholic non-drinking games have been tested and honed by my family over many movie-watching hours. They are our Christmas gift to you.
Audience Participation. This is an easy game for beginners. Enjoy!
2. Predict the Plot
For more experienced Hallmark Movie Watchers, here's a next-level game:
After choosing a movie, have everyone write 10 predictions about what will happen based only on the title slide and one-sentence description. Before starting the movie read them to each other and refine as needed. (For instance, the group might challenge a prediction for being too broad. The player can then make it more specific.)
Decide the stakes. What will players get if their prediction comes true? It could be Christmas candy, cookies, dollar bills, coins or small wrapped presents.
Play the movie.
Whenever a prediction comes true, pause the movie to award prizes.
Variation ONE: If a player's prediction comes true, only THEY get rewarded. This is for the highly competitive Christmas crew.
Variation TWO: If any player's prediction comes true, ALL players get rewarded. This creates a real one-for-all-and-all-for-one spirit in the game. After all, Christmas is the season of giving.
3. Say It First
Once you've watched a dozen or so of these movies, you might be able to guess some of the dialogue before the characters even say it. Hallmark is getting slightly more creative these days, so make sure to pick a really standard template movie and not one of these higher-budget productions. This game takes a lot of experience and some quick thinking, but the rules are simple:
Gather some cheap Christmassy prizes (same as above).
Start the movie.
Anytime a player is able to say a line before the character in the movie, they get a prize (and hopefully a lot of fanfare).
Step Three: Repeat ad nauseam.
That's it! You're ready to go pro at watching Hallmark Christmas movies! Just prep, pick, play...and repeat!
Happy holidays, everyone!