Recently I was in an improv workshop, and we played a game in which one person stood in the middle of the circle and stated a fact about herself. Everyone who identified with the fact was supposed to run out of the circle and switch places. When it was my turn, I declared proudly, “I love Hallmark Christmas movies!”
One person stepped out of the circle. One. That circle was filled with liars.
The Hallmark Channel was the No. 1 cable network among women ages 25 to 54 in the fourth quarter of 2016, and its ratings have seen even more growth in 2017. While other cable networks have been losing viewers, the Hallmark Channel has been a success story. Theories of the ratings spike range from viewers seeking an escape from the daily fresh hells of 2017 to viewers seeking to embrace the “traditional values” of a country made great again.
But I understand why people in my workshop felt reluctant to admit a love of Hallmark Christmas movies. Entertainment made for women is devalued so easily and frequently that no one remembers “Sex and the City” had as much to do with the rise of HBO as “The Sopranos.” Even Netflix (creepily) judged its own viewers when it recently tweeted, “To the 53 people who’ve watched ‘A Christmas Prince’ every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?”
Women are shamed for enjoying entertainment made for them, entertainment then labeled a “guilty pleasure,” and Hallmark Christmas movies have become a special punchline for being cheesy and formulaic. There is even a Twitter account dedicated to randomly generating Hallmark Christmas movie plots. (I admit that I would watch some of these.)
I arrived at my love of Hallmark Christmas movies slowly and inevitably. In school, if I wanted to spend time with my mother over Christmas break, I had no choice but to watch the Hallmark Channel with her. But then I started looking forward to “A Princess for Christmas” and “Northpole” and “Snow Bride.” From there, it was a short leap to ordering the cable package that included the Hallmark Channel so I could watch when I wasn’t home. Now I watch, and I watch, and I watch. And all the women in my life are watching, too.
I am the first to admit that Hallmark Christmas movies are flawed. Last year, I created a drinking game for my friends, and two of the rules were, “Take a drink if a person of color has a line” and “Finish your drink if the movie stars a person of color.” If not for the 20 other rules, we would have ended the game sober. Al Roker and Holly Robinson Peete’s deal with the network is an encouraging sign, but Hallmark has yet to address its diversity problems in meaningful ways and lags behind its rival Lifetime.
But here I am DVR’ing four new Hallmark Christmas movies every weekend, calling my mother to discuss which ones we liked best, hosting movie marathon watch parties with girlfriends, photoshopping my head onto a Hallmark movie poster to send as a Christmas card and wondering why Ashley Williams isn’t a bigger star than she is. I love these movies filled with fake snow, small towns, Folgers coffee cans, dead moms, Taylor Townsend from “The O.C.” and that one cafe that they keep using in multiple movies without changing the name, leading me to theorize that every movie exists in the same shared universe.
As divisive as 2017 has been, my female friends and family of all races and political beliefs have been talking about and watching Hallmark Christmas movies more than ever. There is a relief in sharing entertainment about women made for women without fear of judgment or shame. And as different as I may be from my married cousin with children who voted differently than me, we can at least enjoy some pinot grigio over the holidays and talk about how “A Bramble House Christmas” was better than it needed to be.
So yes, I tuned into the beginning of the Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas when it was still October. And so did my mother and my aunts and my cousins and my friends. Because women need a little Christmas in 2017. We need 90 minutes to sit down with the people we care about and watch characters love, cry, learn, forgive and get into snowball fights while living in beautiful homes they can’t afford and building elaborate gingerbread houses in impossible amounts of time.
Maybe that’s the true meaning of Christmas. I always thought it was Jesus, but it could also be Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments. Whatever it is, I’m going to discover the true meaning of Christmas with Candace, Lacey, Danica and all the women I love. Because this year, women don’t just need a little Christmas. We deserve it.
Cassie Belek is a talent booker and comedian in Chicago.
The Washington Post