I like Hallmark Christmas movies. I don’t love them. I don’t hate them. In the past they have functioned as “white noise” in our household. But this year a couple of buddies and I have decided to watch and review all 37 new Hallmark Christmas movies for a podcast.
My world has become inundated with cheesy, predictable plots. Between the near-kisses, Christmas tree lightings and old-fashioned small-town charm, I have become a sort of dispassionate observer of all things Hallmark (or maybe my heart has shrunk three sizes in a weird parody of the Grinch).
I have noticed that Hallmark Christmas movies dangle in front of their viewers a promise, but also a set of perils, that are immensely intoxicating. The surge of viewers watching these movies certainly is due to their family friendly-nature. But I would also suggest that these movies appeal to a deep-seated idolatry.
I certainly don’t want to be the one who reads too much into these films. I applaud the lighthearted fair, and, as one recent author has pointed out, it is far too easy to be cynical in this day and age.
But I do suggest that we should watch these movies discerningly.
Hallmark Christmas movies offer us a vision of how we want the world to be.
The Promise of Hallmark Christmas Movies
We admittedly love the predictability and cheese these movies offer. On our podcast, we routinely receive emails from people who tell us they love these movies even though they know they are not cinematic masterpieces. They are breezy, fun movies that often act as white noise in our hectic Christmas schedules. These movies feel safe in a dangerous world.
Perhaps the reason they feel so safe is that they offer us a vision of how we want the world to be. We want families to be united. We long to find true love when we least expect it. We want the guy from humble roots to win the girl in the end. We want small towns to be united. We want the local bakeries to stay open despite overwhelming odds and corporations moving in. We want the art and music programs not to be cut from schools. We want the good guys to win.
We want utopia. We want “peace on earth.”
And herein lies the very powerful promise that Hallmark movies suggest: everything is going to be okay. Everything will work out.
As Christians this kind of hope should also resonate with us. We are promised that God will one day set the world right (Revelation 21-22). This is the hope that all creation is groaning for (Romans 8:22-24). Despite their cheesiness, these movies should stir the hearts of every Christian because they offer a modern day version of what the world COULD be like.
Our holidays, work, family and love interests may not look like what is on the screen. But what we have is fundamentally more beautiful because it is real.
The Three Dangers of Hallmark Christmas Movies
In all of the tropes, stereotypes and eye-rolling moments that Hallmark movies produce, subtle perils lurk beneath the surface. While I do not want to make these movies carry more weight than they were intended to, they do preach a series of messages that, if ingested uncritically, can shift our focus off of the hope of the gospel in three ways.
First, Hallmark movies preach a form of idolatry that elevate the gifts of God over God himself. Family, the holidays, love (both romantic and familial) and community are good gifts from a perfect God. However, they can easily become ends of themselves. We can very easily be led to believe that if we only had a unified family, a person to hold or a community that supported us, we could be truly happy. These things are fundamentally good, which is why it is so easy to make idols of them.
Second, Hallmark movies preach a message of comparison. When we watch Hallmark movies, we instinctively compare our families, our spouses, our children and our work to what we see on the screen. Most of all, we compare our Christmases to the perfectly manicured productions we witness. We think, “I wish my Christmas looked more like that.” There is an entire industry bent on creating a Hallmark-esque Christmas for you.
Ironically, this message of comparison robs us of the joy that is to be found in what God has already given us. Our holidays, work, family and love interests may not look like what is on the screen. But what we have is fundamentally more beautiful because it is real, and it is what God in his providence has bestowed upon us.
Third, Hallmark movies preach a message that fixes our eyes on this world, rather than setting our hope on world to come. Things happen very easily in Hallmark movies. Love comes naturally and requires very little work. But we know that life takes hard work, and that work can only be sustained by God’s Spirit working in us.
Watching Hallmark Christmas Movies Through the Lens of the Gospel
If we are to take seriously Abraham Kuyper’s reminder that there is not one square inch that Christ does not stake out his claim of Lordship, then we must think seriously about how we should watch Hallmark Christmas movies as believers.
Allow me to offer a few suggestions:
First, when you watch a Hallmark movie, thank God for the family he has given you. They may be messy, imperfect, frustrating and tiresome, but they are who God has given you to sanctify you and grow you in virtue. Make Hallmark movies something that your family bonds around. Roll your eyes, laugh at the ridiculousness of the plot and delight that God has given you this moment to share with your family or friends
Second, remind yourself that Jesus possesses the fullness of deity, joy, righteousness, sanctification and redemption that we so desperately need. No other worldly substitute can fulfill us as Christ does.
Third, preach to yourself the beauty of the New Heavens and Earth. God will one day return and establish a utopia on earth. Families will be reconciled, love embraced, community restored and God’s glory displayed. That day is not today. The means by which this transformation will be accomplished is not ultimately rooted in us. God alone will bring about this kingdom.
Fourth, engage your will to love others beyond what Hallmark displays. John Piper has this great phrase: “act the miracle.” It is by God’s empowering Spirit that we can love others as Christ has called us to. But we are nevertheless still called to love, and that requires an act of an engaged will. Let us use Hallmark movies to spur us on toward good deeds—loving the poor, the dejected, the outsiders, the lonely, the orphaned, the widows and widowers. Let us love, not just at Christmastime when we feel like it, but all year long as we contemplate the mercies of God displayed in Christ.
Hallmark movies will never be masterpieces. But that does not mean watching them has to be a spiritually empty exercise or mere holiday frivolity. Rather, Hallmark films can be a chance for us to remind ourselves of the fullness of God, the goodness of his gifts, the redemption of this world and the call he has placed on our lives to love others fully.