Hallmark movies and the pandemic — and how the twain shall meet


Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief

Forgive me as I continue to shake the cobwebs from my brain after a month-long binge of the Hallmark channel. As regular readers may recall, I am a sucker for totally predictable made-for-TV holiday movies, especially ones that go heavy on the cheese.

It matters little that I can tell you the ending of any Hallmark holiday movie about five minutes after it starts — that’s part of the allure. No real surprises, and you can count on the main characters’ names to be some version of Kris, Nick, Merry or Joy, though with as many titles now in Hallmark’s stable, there has been some branching out. A few Hanukkah-themed movies have entered the fray, and while they favor menorahs over mangers, the plots are every bit as formulaic, even if the characters are named Sarah, Rachel, David or Jacob.

In these movies, idyllic towns look as if they emerged from a snow globe. Everyone smiles at each other and lives in well-appointed, impeccably decorated-for-the-holidays homes. Between baking cookies, drinking hot chocolate and trimming trees, no one seems to actually work except if the work is to save the town’s historic theater or general store.  And it always, always snows on Christmas Eve.

I think though what attracts me to these movies most of all, is the way community is depicted. In several of these films, the protagonist has left the big city to return to the storybook hometown where she/he/they grew up, only to realize that everything — and everyone — they need is right there. It seems trite I know, and unrealistic, but being part of a community that provides roots, offers familiarity, and boasts people who are welcoming and supportive sounds pretty darn good to me.

Today, with a record number of COVID cases being reported — the most since the pandemic began nearly two years ago — and hospitals over capacity as a result, community seems more important than ever. And yet, it is more elusive.

Concerns for our own health and the safety of others have prompted many of us to self-isolate again. Whereas a month ago we felt OK about eating inside at restaurants, now we’re not so sure and unwilling to risk it. Even worse, the weather has turned cold, making it much harder to visit with friends and family outside.

Community can mean — and be — many things at once, and I’m not just talking geographically. Our immediate family is one community, and there are others that include additional relatives and friends. Within our friend or social community, various sets and subsets exist. There is our workplace community, our school community, our business community, and depending on our interests, our volunteer community, our sports community, our religious community. Some of these intersect and overlap. Others form because of circumstances pertaining to a specific situation or event.

Regardless, these communities and others like them give us a sense of connectedness, of being part of something bigger than we are. They help us to belong. They can lead to friendships and other relationships that buoy our lives and bring more purpose to it.

I know, I know, where is she going with all of us this? We get the point: communities are important.

The thing is none of us live in the fictional world of a Hallmark holiday movie, which best as I can tell is immune to Omicron or any other COVID variant. Here in the real world, amid a pandemic that is very much still a work in progress, we need one another not only to survive but to thrive. There are only so many hours in the day to binge-watch mindless TV, even though some of us (OK, me!) are pros at it.

Several of the gems I devoured during my month of Hallmarkamania revolved around the protagonist receiving a significant card or letter in the mail. Even though this conceit wasn’t always germane to the plot, what stood out to me was that despite all of today’s conveniences and technology, someone took the time and care to write a letter. Not an email, not a phone call, but an actual handwritten letter (and I don’t mean a thank-you note).

I’m not one to make resolutions, mostly because mine rarely are successful, but I’m planning to redirect a good chunk of TV time this winter to reach out and check in with folks in my various communities. It might be by email, or phone, or (dreaded) Zoom, but I’m also going to write and send letters. If all that Hallmark watching taught me anything, it’s that with a little old-fashioned effort, we can reconnect with those we hold dear, rediscover the things that bring us joy, and try to live our best snow globe lives every day, even during a pandemic.

News and Schmooze is a weekly column by Light Editor-in-Chief  Ellen Futterman. Email Ellen at: efutterman@stljewishlight.org