‘Tis the season of warm sweaters, sledding down snowy slopes, mistletoe, sitting by a warm fire with hot cocoa, Christmas lights, and Saturday night Hallmark Christmas Specials. That’s right! The time has come for The Hallmark Channel to spread Christmas cheer and cheesy love stories with their weekend marathons of Christmas movies, both new and old alike. While some people are really into these two hour doses of cliché cheer, I personally can’t stand them. Call me a scrooge if you will, but I learned a number of years ago that, if you have seen one of these movies, you have seen them all. I mean that seriously! At this point, the only thrill is sipping on eggnog and counting the number of mall Santa’s that appear throughout the course of the movie. Don’t believe me? Well, allow me to give you the outline for every Hallmark Christmas movie every filmed.
Before we get into the plot of the movie, we have to establish a title. Now there is a simple formula you can follow in order to come up with a Hallmark Christmas Movie title. Are you paying attention? I don’t want you to miss this because it can get a little complicated. The formula is as follows: A/The Christmas ___________________________. Insert any word you want into that blank and pick the most fitting article to use at the beginning and you have your title. Boom. Just as easy as 1,2,3. I’m serious! Pick any word to put in that blank and it works. Miracle, Wish, Shoes, Gift, Letter, Card, Cabin, Cookies, Sleigh, Heart, Headache, etc. Any one of these options works.
Now that we have our award-winning title, it’s time to introduce our cast of characters. Let’s address the leads first.
Enter, a young, pretty, single mother, doing her best to provide for her ten year-old son. (Whether she is blonde or brunette, divorced or widowed, these are the kinds of weighty decisions that face Hallmark writers on a weekly basis. One thing is for certain, these choices are the subtle nuances that keep Hallmark fans awake at night.) Our female lead (let’s call her Kate) lives month-to-month, barely making ends meet, despite working two jobs. Ever since her former husband left the picture, her young son (Jake) has grown increasingly estranged from his mother and is beginning to struggle in school. Encouraged by her friends, Kate has gone out on a few dates, but nothing that has lasted very long because guys usually run away when they find out that she has a son. Due to her lack of romantic success, Kate has grown to believe that there isn’t anyone for her, and that she must instead focus all her time on making ends meet and rebuilding her relationship with her son.
Now for our male lead; we’ll call him Mark. Mark is a dashing young man in his late twenties with brown hair, some scruff, broad shoulders, and who measures in at about six feet tall. He is a successful young man (usually a doctor or lawyer, but occasionally Hallmark likes to switch it up and make him a High School teacher). Due to his good looks and gentlemanly attitude, Mark has never been one to struggle at getting a date, but his high standards mean that none of his relationships ever go much further than a first date. Despite his friends’ encouragement to settle down with someone, Mark is determined not to settle for less than his standards and chooses instead to spend his time taking care of his aging and widowed father. His father is in the early stages of dementia and Mark is the only one of his three siblings who is not solely focused on his career and is willing to take care of his dad.
With our leading characters established, it’s time to introduce our two supporting characters; the friends:
Now every leading lady in a Hallmark Christmas Movie must have that cute, quirky, blonde friend with a bob cut who can never get a man but desperately tries. This character will go by the name of Samantha (Sam for short). Typically the friend character works with our leading lady. Every Monday at work, Sam constantly regales Kate with her dating horror stories from the previous weekend. Sam desperately wants a good guy to settle down with, but is more in love with being in love and thus can’t bring herself to actually wait for “the perfect guy” to come along. Instead, she persists at going on dates with lousy guys, hoping that one of these days she’ll meet one who doesn’t just want to get her in bed. Lucky for Sam, she is smart enough to not give these men what they want, but she can’t seem to understand why she cannot find a good guy. In addition to telling stories of her romantic life, Samantha constantly pesters Kate about whether or not anything is happening with her own.
Our leading male’s best friend is also a young, attractive, successful business man who works with our lead. In our Hallmark Formula, we will call him Andy. Like Mark, Andy is an upstanding, single man. Unlike Mark, however, Andy is much more into the dating game. He is quick with a pick-up line and usually has a date for Friday night. Despite Mark’s lack of cooperation, Andy is determined to set Mark up with someone.
Seeing as we have nailed down the title and character list, we come to the final piece of our Hallmark Christmas Movie Formula, the plot.
Our movie starts off with Kate dropping her son, Jake, off at school before picking up Samantha on the way to work. As they drive to work, we hear Samantha jabbering on about the latest jerk who took her on a date and asking Kate about her own love life.
The exposition continues until, after finishing her second job, Kate runs to the grocery store to pick up some groceries for dinner. As she is walking through the store, her son's teacher calls to tell Kate that Jake has gotten in trouble at school and the teacher wants to meet with her when she comes to pick up Jake. Frustrated that Jake got in trouble yet again, Kate is not paying attention and runs into someone, dropping her groceries all over the store floor. As she is apologizing, she looks up and sees the person who she ran into. This is the point where we see that it's our leading male, Mark. As he bends down to help her pick up her groceries, Mark tells her that it is all his fault and that he should pay more attention to where he is going. The encounter is brief and our two characters part ways to continue their shopping.
Director’s Note: It is absolutely necessary that our two leading characters meet by bumping into each other, whether it be the grocery store, the library, or carrying coffee down a busy city street, it would not be a Hallmark Christmas Movie if the romance doesn’t begin by our characters bumping into each other.
Having finished her shopping, Kate gets in line to pay for her groceries. Who should get in line behind her but Mark! The two laugh and greet each other again, making small talk until it is time for Kate to check out. The cashier rings her up and Kate goes to pay but finds that she is just a few dollars short. Apologizing and embarrassed, our leading lady starts trying to decide which item she needs least, but before she can decide, Mark has reached in with the money to pay for her groceries. As Kate protests, Mark tells her that it’s the least he can do to make up for knocking her over earlier and that he insists. She thanks him and asks his name. They introduce themselves officially and part ways.
Director’s Note: As she exits the store, we must see a shot of a Santa Claus ringing a bell in front of the store front. This is just the first of many such shots, but we would not have a Hallmark Christmas Movie if we did not try to cram as many bell-ringing Santas as possible into our two hour block of time.
Having been distracted by her adventure grocery shopping, Kate realizes that she is now late for her meeting with Jake’s teacher. Arriving rather frazzled, Kate sits down with the teacher who tells her that Jake is on his second of three strikes and is going to get kicked out if he doesn't behave better. The teacher then asks Kate if Jake has a male role-model in his life or if his father is out of the picture. When she finds out that he does not, the teacher strongly recommends that Kate find such a person for Jake because she often finds that children with role models behave better. Kate thanks the teacher curtly, picks up Jake and the two of them have a long silent drive home.
The next day we see Mark and Andy talking in the office. Andy is telling Mark about this girl he took out last weekend but Mark seems somewhat distracted. Finally, Andy asks Mark what’s up and Mark mentions that he met this girl yesterday who keeps popping into his mind. Andy tells Mark that he can’t waste his time focusing on fairy tales, but instead needs to focus his efforts on finding a girl that will actually work out. Mark says that he knows it’s stupid, but he can’t help but to think about her. Andy tells Mark to do his best to forget about it because he has the perfect girl in mind for Mark and wants to set the two of them up on a date. At this point Andy’s boss sees Andy talking instead of working and tells him to get back to work. Andy says to think about it and leaves.
Later that day, on his way home from work, Mark gets distracted when he drops his cell phone on the floor board of the car and ends up rear-ending the car in front of him at a stop light. The accident isn’t bad, but the other car’s bumper is bent up. As he climbs out of the car to apologize, who else would be driving the car he hit but Kate! (This is the kind of Hallmark magic you can’t find in Hollywood.) The two of them can’t believe they that they keep meeting.
Director’s Note: This is where Mark makes some cheesy joke about him always running into her.
He gives her his insurance information and they exchange phone numbers "for insurance purposes" and part ways.
The next day, Mark decides that he is going to rent Kate a car so that she can get her bumper fixed. He calls her up and awkwardly asks if she wants to meet him for coffee so “they can fill out some paperwork for his insurance” and she agrees. He rents a car and drives it out to meet her. They end up talking for a long time over coffee about a lot more than insurance and as they are leaving, Mark tells Kate that he rented a car for her so that she could get her own car repaired. She refuses to accept his offer at first, but he insists and she finally gives in.
The next day, when Kate picks up Samantha on her way to work, Samantha asks about the new car and Kate tells her about Mark, insisting that there is nothing there. Samantha, of course, will have none of Kate’s excuses and begins excitedly pestering her with questions, but Kate keeps insisting that, even if there was something there, it just would never happen. She tells Samantha that she needs to just focus on making ends meet and taking care of Jake.
Director’s Note: This conversation ends with a brief moment of silence before Samantha breaks it, asking Kate, “Well, is he at least cute?” There is another brief moment of silence before Kate breaks down and admits, “Kinda, yeah.” The scene fades out with giggling.
A few days later, Mark comes to pick up the rental car because Kate’s car is repaired. Before he leaves, he manages to get up the guts to ask Kate out to dinner followed by ice-skating in the park downtown. Much to his surprise, Kate says yes.
Director’s Note: It would not be a Hallmark Christmas Movie if there was not romantic ice skating at some point in the film. It is up to the script-writer’s discretion to choose whether or not he wants to place such a scene elsewhere in the film, but wherever he places it, it is a necessity. Only HBO or ABC would be dumb enough to make a Christmas movie without ice skating. Here at Hallmark, we hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Skipping ahead to the night of the date, we see Mark nervously walking up to Kate’s apartment and ringing the doorbell. The door opens, revealing Jake who stares silently and skeptically at Mark. Unaware of Jake’s existence, Mark seems a little taken aback, but introduces himself and asks if this is where Kate lives. The boy continues to stand in the door, staring silently at Mark until we see Kate’s head peak out from a back hallway and tell Jake to let Mark in out of the cold. Jake steps aside, still remaining quiet, and Mark awkwardly enters into the apartment. Kate apologizes and says that she will be out in just a minute. Mark takes a seat in the living room, trying desperately to make conversation with Jake who refuses to give him any signals back.
Finally breaking his silence, Jake interrupts Mark mid-sentence and says, “You’re not my dad.” Mark awkwardly starts to respond, but Kate interrupts and chides her son for being rude. She explains that Mark is a nice man that she is going out on a date with.
The two go out to dinner at a restaurant much nicer than Kate is accustomed to eating at, but she seems to have a good time. Over dinner, Kate explains that she was formerly married and what happened to her husband. She apologizes for her son’s behavior, but Mark tells her that she has no need to apologize. He loves kids, and would like to get to know Jake better. For the first time ever, Kate realizes that she is on a date with someone who isn’t scared off by the fact she has a kid.
After dinner, the two go ice skating in the park. While skating, Mark falls and when Kate tries to help him up, she ends up falling on top of Mark. They lay there for a moment laughing and then manage to get up off the ice.
Director’s Note: At this point, the snow must magically begin to fall for the first time that year. It would not be a Hallmark Christmas Movie without snow falling at a magically romantic moment. As Kate makes a comment about how beautiful the snow looks, pan out to show Christmas carolers singing by the skating rink.
The two finish skating and begin to walk back through the park towards his car when they are ambushed by children throwing snowballs and have an impromptu snowball fight in the middle of the park.
The next day Mark tells Andy that he took the girl he met in the grocery store out on a date and that it went really well. Andy, decides that maybe this girl is a good thing for Mark and suggests that he should invite her and her son to go with them on their annual Christmas ski trip up to the cabin in the woods. Mark seems unsure, but Andy persists and tells Mark to think about it. Mark agrees.
A couple days later, Mark calls Kate up and asks her if she would like to go out with him again that weekend, except this time with her son. Kate happens to be riding with Samantha at the time who overhears this request and begins audibly squealing with excitement. Kate has to explain that her friend was in the car making all the noise and that she and Jake would love to spend the evening with him.
The date arrives and Jake starts off giving Mark the cold shoulder, but eventually warms up to him by the end of the date.
Director’s Note: Mark should show up with some overly expensive toy for Jake to try and warm him up. It doesn’t work and Kate tells Mark that he shouldn’t have spent all that money.
As the date draws to a close, Mark decides on a whim to invite the two of them to the cabin with him, his father, and his friends. As Kate is about to turn down the offer, Jake asks “Can we!?”, causing her to give in and agree to go.
Director’s Note: It is absolutely necessary to have a Christmas cabin/cottage in a Hallmark Christmas Movie. Without a cabin/cottage, all cinematic winter relationships would inevitably fail!
On the first day at the cabin, Mark teaches Jake how to ski, something that Jake finds incredibly cool and Kate finds incredibly attractive. With every minute, she is falling harder and harder for Mark.
Director’s Note: Insert random shots of Mark glancing over at Kate from the lessons he is giving and flashing her a dashing smile. It is also optional whether or not the script-writer wants to write in a scene where the boy loses control of his skis and Mark rushes to his rescue.
That night, as Kate is putting Jake to bed, he asks her if she is going to marry Mark. She says she doesn’t know, but that wouldn’t happen for a while if it did. Jake sleepily responds that he hopes so.
The next evening, while Kate is making dinner, Andy and friends are teasing Mark about Kate and Mark downplays his interest in her. Kate overhears from the kitchen and decides that he must have been like every other guy she has dated all along and doesn’t actually care about her and Jake. She tearfully calls up her friend, Samantha and explains the situation to her. Samantha points out that it’s two days before Christmas and that if Kate can borrow a car, she can still get to the airport to catch a flight back home for her and Jake.
Kate tells Mark that she is leaving, but won’t tell him why and the two of them get into a big argument where hurtful things are said. It begins to snow outside and Kate decides that she needs to leave immediately if she is going to be able to catch a flight before the snow stops the planes. She and Jake borrow a beat-up, old pickup that stays parked at the cabin and drive off leaving Mark confused and angry.
As Mark walks back inside, his elderly father who is sitting in the living room asks why he let her leave. Mark begins to explain what happened, but his dad stops him and tells him a wise story about how Mark’s mother almost broke up with his dad, but that Mark’s father had gone after her. He says some clever line about how, “They say if you love someone you’ve got to let them go, but sometimes the things you love are worth chasing after.” Mark realizes that he doesn’t have much time to stop her before she gets on a plane so he rushes out in a car.
The shot cuts over to Kate and Jake who get caught in a heavy snowstorm on the way to the airport. Something happens and the old truck ends up wrecking into a snow-bank, trapping the two of them inside. The temperature is dropping and the snow is picking up.
Just when all hope seems to be lost, Mark’s lights appear over the crest of the hill and he rescues them from the embankment. The roads are impassable and they barely make it back to the cabin. Kate quietly thanks Mark for rescuing them and then disappears into her room without letting Mark discuss what was on his mind. The snow continues to rain down outside.
The next morning, everyone wakes up but nobody can find Mark’s father. It seems that in the confusion of his dementia, he wandered off into the snow and disappeared. The snow is still falling rather hard and everyone goes out to search for him. Somehow, Mark and Kate end up paired together on snowshoes searching for Mark’s dad. As they are hiking through snow, Mark begins spilling his heart to Kate, apologizing for the night before. But before she can respond, they find Mark’s father just fine, wandering through the woods. They usher him back and call in everyone from the search.
Kate, compelled by Mark’s tenderness towards his father, as well as his apology, brings Mark some hot chocolate as a sign of her forgiveness. The two smile at each other and we can see that everything is going to be alright.
Somewhere in the background we hear one of Mark’s friends comment about how the weather says they are supposed to be snowed in for Christmas day and that the snow isn’t supposed to stop falling anytime soon. Mark comments that Christmas is a time for miracles, so they should pray for the snow to stop falling. The scene fades out to snow falling outside and Jake’s little voice praying for a Christmas miracle.
Christmas morning comes and everyone wakes up to see that the sky is blue and the snow has stopped falling. Everyone is so excited and begins playing in the snow. Mark bends down to Jake and says, “It looks like we got our Christmas miracle after all, doesn’t it?” Jake responds by hugging him and saying, “This is the best Christmas ever!” The film ends.
Director’s Note: On the final line, begin playing a cheerful song about Christmas being the time of miracles sung by someone who sounds remotely like Todd Agnew but isn’t. Pan the camera out so that we can see Mark and Kate kiss and people happily playing, building a snowman, making snow angels, throwing snowballs, etc. Roll credits.
There you go. That is the formula for every Hallmark Christmas film ever. If you have read all of this and still don’t believe me, turn on your Hallmark Channel this Christmas season and if you don’t see ice skating, about twenty Santas ringing bells, a Christmas cabin/cottage, and a cheesy love story like the one outlined above...then you obviously accidentally turned the channel to HBO.
Merry Christmas everyone!