Like the diner food in your hometown where you’ve returned to restore a Victorian inn to its former luster, original holiday movies are not about quality—they’re about quantity that creates the feeling of quality. And like the local carpenter with a heart of gold and unseen abs of steel that you immediately stumble into upon your return, original holiday movies are also not about nuance or thrills or sharpness of wit—they are about dependability. They are steadfast. They will save you from falling in a snowbank if the occasion should ever arise. And most importantly, they are built like an absolute brick house of plot.
In 2020, 99 original holiday movies debuted across cable networks and streaming platforms; in 2021, there were 147 movies; this year, starting in October all the way through Christmas, there will be 169 original holiday movies at your viewing disposal. These movies are specifically built to be discovered in fits of Thanksgiving boredom so debilitating that no member of the family is able to muster the physical or mental strength to change the channel. They are intended to temporarily uplift spirits, smooth gray matter to silk, and make you laugh at their ludicrous conceits. These networks know what they’re doing. Even the worst holiday movie on Hallmark, Lifetime, and, more recently, streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu—and even the more obscure options from networks you’ll swear are made up like Xumo and, I kid you not, Chicken Soup for the Soul—is the best holiday movie because it takes no effort to consume, and there are inevitably cookies involved.
And people watch them. Last year, Nielsen reported that more than 80 million people watched at least a few minutes of a Hallmark movie during the holiday movie season. That’s enough time for a meet-cute, a hot chocolate fight, and some life-changing advice from a guy who is very clearly an undercover prince and/or Santa but everyone is being chill about it.
There is comfort in the monotony; there is safety in the sheer size of the catalog. During a season when flights are getting canceled due to weather, hams are entering triple-digit prices, and your uncle is telling you that he just discovered cryptocurrency, you can still count on Hallmark to deliver the same soothing formula it’s been cranking out since 2009, which is also the formula that a dozen other networks and platforms have adopted.
These movies cost about 12 candy canes to make, plenty of people enjoy them, and they’re so delightfully formulaic that they can be replicated over and over and over again without ever reintroducing the same big-city marketing executive to the same hot local widower at the same holiday market because of the same loose wishing-star-related mysticism. The bulk of these original holiday movies aren’t just so bad they’re good; their plots are so fundamentally bizarre that they’re somehow soothing. They often feel less like a TV movie and more like a fever dream: Some guy just fell in love with a ghost, so now she’s not a ghost anymore; a kid wished on a star, and the star gave Lindsay Lohan amnesia; Vanessa Hudgens is multiplying like a Matryoshka doll; Mario Lopez is there for some reason.
These stories are so wildly specific yet so narratively predictable that each new movie feels like the first holiday movie you’ve ever watched, the holiday movie that will kill you, and the holiday movie that just may cure your seasonal depression all at once. We have not arrived at Netflix’s sixth iteration of a famous singer somehow being thrust into the arms of a widowed dad for the tonal subtleties or character development. This isn’t A24. There is no Saoirse Ronan opining about the power of women. There is only a woman who looks like Saoirse Ronan but is actually one of the siblings from Step by Step; she’s about to spill her coffee all over one of the siblings from Party of Five, and you will not believe what happens next …
But here’s the best part: You know exactly what happens next! No one can really be sure why Christmas—a technically religious holiday based on an infant-cum-savior born to a virgin teen—became synonymous with romance in the eyes of Hallmark all those years ago. But thus it was written and thus it shall continue: with plots as unintelligible as they are predictable and palatable.
This year, it is my Christmas wish to get these plots to the people, no matter the personal cost. Because I understand that the average TV consumer can’t just watch an original holiday movie every single night, I’m bingeing the holidays so you don’t have to; watching one original holiday movie every day until Christmas, like an advent calendar of fan-fiction tropes. I’ve come up with a patented 21-question cheat sheet that I believe can be applied to the plot of every single original holiday movie to guide you through this year’s best secret Santas, gingerbread house contests, and hotels with only one room available for two allegedly platonic people. Every day for the next 25 days, I’ll feature a holiday movie and apply these questions to it in order to showcase the masterful formula, the dedication to chaos, and the commitment to consistently widowing lumberjacks that launched an entire genre of TV movie.
25 Days of Bingemas is a guide for people who love original holiday movies; it’s a guide for people who hate original holiday movies; it’s a guide for people who occasionally watch these movies and want more; its a guide for people who hope to never watch these movies but want to watch one writer descend into madness as she attempts to differentiate between 25 unique forms of holiday magic, 12 different fake countries, and eight different male leads who make you wonder, Wait, is that the guy from Mean Girls? (It isn’t, except for the one time when it is.) For the next 25 Days of Bingemas, you can check back right here to find out which movie we’re breaking down and how many turtlenecks it contains. Merry Bingemas, and happy watching/reading …
December 1: The Ghosts of Christmas Present
Read More:Introducing the 25 Days of Bingemas