Later On, We’ll Conspire
I am not a summer person.
I realize that this is not a popular opinion, but I do not like the heat. I am not a fan of the beach, or barbeques, or lots of people being out of school or on vacation. I much prefer the fall, with its short days and cool temperatures and pumpkin spice everything. And when it comes to seasonal holidays, for me Memorial Day and the Fourth of July have nothing over the holy trinity of Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas.
Thankfully, just when I’m about to lose it after two months of soaring temperatures and relentless sunshine, the Hallmark Channel provides a much-needed reminder that better times are coming, in the form of their Christmas in July movie marathon. For two glorious weeks, it’s nothing but Yuletide joy.
My sister and I initially discovered these movies while desperately searching for something our mother could watch. Because of her dementia, she thinks everything she sees and hears is real, so after several disastrous run-ins with Murder, She Wrote and some of the more dramatic made-for-television movies (“My evil twin wants to kill me!”), we sought out something that couldn’t possibly upset her. Enter Hallmark and their holiday fare.
In college, one of my professors moonlighted as a romance novelist. He had five plots, which he wrote on index cards. Each one had blanks that could be filled in for setting, names, and other details. When it came time for a new novel, he simply went to the next card in his rotation, filled these in, and got to writing. By the time I knew him, he was in his 70s and had been doing it for years, with great success.
Hallmark apparently employs a similar method. There are half a dozen plots to these movies, and they just remake them over and over. And the actors they use all resemble one another in an attractive catalog model kind of way, to the point that they all feel like old friends you’re sitting down to catch up with. “Here,” they seem to say, “sip this peppermint cocoa and eat a sugar cookie while I tell you how I met and married the guy who runs the Christmas tree stand on the corner.”
While this is all well and good, it’s also problematic in that after watching three or four hundred of these movies, you can’t help but get a little suspicious.
“This one is good,” my sister said recently. “But are we really supposed to believe that Abbie works part time in a mitten shop yet owns a perfectly-restored Craftsman house overlooking the ocean?”
“Shh,” I said. But it was too late. I had been wondering the same thing. And now that the question had been raised, others tumbled out.
“I find it hard to believe that the fudge factory can really employ everyone in town,” I said, sighing.
“And if the guy who owns it really is Santa, has no one noticed that he hasn’t aged in 200 years?” my sister added.
As we all know, Christmas is a time of miracles. Questioning the magic is a hostile position to take, and this extends to holiday-themed movies, particularly of the romantic variety. If the joy of Hallmark is to be maintained, you can’t examine things too closely, otherwise you start to wonder why, for instance, so many families are apparently wiped out in Christmas Eve tragedies, leaving the sole surviving son unable to experience holiday joy until an adorably-awkward young woman with a penchant for carols and snowman-building thaws his frozen heart. Or how come so many people of both sexes seem to become engaged to people who are precisely not who they should be paired with, but realize it only days before their weddings when they reluctantly attend a Christmas pageant and sit next to a tragically-widowed neighbor whose spunky nine-year-old is playing the Angel of the Lord and announces, “I bring you tidings of great joy” in such a way that true love blooms and several lives instantly change.
Also, we are not quite convinced that anyone can eat as many gingerbread cookies as the casts of these movies do in two hours without dire consequences.
Still, we watch these movies, and happily. We’ve seen so many of them that we’ve developed a shorthand for talking about them. “Will this one be surly estranged guy comes home after grandkid he’s never seen writes a letter to Santa and it mysteriously arrives in Grandpa’s mailbox, or will it be driven career woman with no time for Christmas ends up stuck in quaint town over the holidays because of a freak blizzard and falls for the handsome snowplow driver who accidentally runs her off the road?” we might ask. Or we take bets on whether the kindly next-door neighbor is really Mrs. Claus or an angel in disguise. (Hint: If she enters carrying a plate of cookies, she’s usually Santa’s missus, but if she’s forever humming carols about the heavenly host, you can expect a halo by the end.)
As I write this, my mother and sister are watching yet another one, and I can hear it. A woman has been put in charge of organizing her town’s Christmas parade. She needs a sleigh, and has found one in an old barn or on Craigslist or something. “Let me know when the reindeer show up!” I call out to my sister. Because they will. With bells. And even though the weather report has been promising clear skies, disappointing everyone who is hoping for a white Christmas, I guarantee you the male and female leads will be kissing at the end of the parade as snowflakes that mysteriously never melt land on their matching hand-knitted sweaters.
It’s ridiculous. But it’s also 94 degrees outside, and this sort of thing is exactly what I need right now. After nearly half a century in this world, a lot of things have been ruined for me. Yet somehow, sitting in front of the television, I can still believe—at least for two hours—that all I need to make life perfect is a cute scarf, some lights strung along the eaves, and a bit of Christmas magic.
Michael Thomas Ford is happy that the fireflies have returned for the summer. More Michael Thomas Ford