It is currently a la mode to obsess over cheesy Hallmark-style Christmas movies, and I have to admit they are quite entertaining, though in a way that is increasingly self-aware: everyone involved in the production of these movies doubtlessly knows what they are doing, inasmuch as the films’ endlessly recycled plots, formulaic character cutouts, and cornball mawkish sentimentalism are essentially a running cultural joke at this point. There is nothing that kills the buzz of ironic pop culture consumption than meta-irony: you can just picture cigar-chomping executive producers in some awful Hallmark boardroom somewhere, grimly wondering aloud: “What garbage 90-minute Santa Clause flick will get us the most zingers and retweets on the social media internets?” Boy oh boy.
But there is one area in which these cheap movies have their fingers directly on the pulse of pop culture, and that is this: they are, almost to a man, fixated on “the meaning of Christmas,” e.g. each entry focuses on a Handsome Work-Harried CFO Who Has Lost the Christmas Spirit, or a Beautiful, Frazzled Small Business Owner Who Is Searching for That Old Christmas Magic. This is a common theme that undergirds much of the holiday mania now stretching over nearly 25% of the year: the “Christmas Spirit,” which is—I think—supposed to be a sort of warm, low-grade sense of childlike wonder over Christmas lights coupled with (ideally) a vague feeling of wintry optimism and cheer. So basically a Hallmark Christmas movie in miniature.
All of which is nice enough—but also sort of silly. There is a Christmas spirit, of course—a literal one—but you get the feeling that Crown Media Holdings isn’t really after that kind of thing. Which is kind of funny, in a sad way: apart from Easter, there is no story more shocking, exciting and uplifting than the Nativity, a tale so frankly unbelievable that it beggars belief that anyone could have made it up. When you compare the Godhead veiled in flesh—the Eternal become the temporal, born to a virgin, bound to live and suffer and die out of an endless and boundless love of literally everyone on the planet—to Susie Pea Coat falling in love with James McDogWalker in a Manhattan charcuterie for the 43rd time, you begin to see why “the Christmas spirit” sorta kinda a little bit pales in comparison to, you know, the actual spirit.
None of which is to say that hoary trope-y holiday movies don’t have some appeal, because they do—I would be lying if I said my wife was the only one who partook of them in our household this Christmas (“The 12 Dates of Christmas” was a surprisingly entertaining take on the Christmas theme). Just the same: it would be an interesting and commendable exercise for just one low-rent TV movie studio to make a movie that combined the two forms of art: a stressed-out junior partner at a law firm runs into the recently-widowed owner of a local bookstore, but also he’s a devout Catholic and he worships Christ unreservedly and follows Church doctrine to a tee. That would at least be an honest reflection of the Christmas holiday (where do we think it all comes from?), but moreover it would be subversive in a clever and interesting kind of way. And of course, if all else failed, it would still surely generate some Nielsen-boosting, sneering derision from much of the Twitter class: it is also fashionable to mock and degrade the devout and committed followers of Christ, something that hasn’t changed for nearly twenty centuries.