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The 5 Rules of Basic Cable Christmas Movies

The 5 Rules of Basic Cable Christmas Movies

I have a dark secret. I have seen over two dozen cable Christmas movies. But wait! It’s not entirely my fault! You see, I have relatives. They watch a lot of these movies. One side of the family watches them pretty much non-stop, starting at Thanksgiving, and that’s the side that lives somewhere you can sometimes get snowed in. So I’ve learned a few things, and put them into this primer should you find yourself in front of the TV this season with no idea what the hell is playing out on your screen in the name of Christmas. 

Or worse, maybe you might find yourself trapped IN one of these movies. It could happen. After all, in a cable Christmas Movie…

1) Magic exists

Not in a “the magic of Christmas oh-this-might-be-a-coincidence” sort of magic. We are talking full-on abracadabra magic. Lifetime/ABC Family/Hallmark Channel magic is unique, however, in that it needs to obey no actual rules or be explained in any key way other than “oh, he’s the bastard son of Santa Claus” or “we’re Christmas witches.” 

If you are raising your eyebrows at this, relax. We’ll talk about the troubling implications of all this magic in a moment. Maybe we should talk about something on a more human scale.

2) It’s fine if you cheat

In a cable Christmas Movie, infidelity is totally allowed. Especially if you’re engaged to be married. If you find yourself the protagonist of a cable Christmas movie, you’re more than likely going to be engaged in the first ten minutes in a pretty wonderfully romantic fashion. But you will soon be separated from that guy, and you’re going to meet an even HOTTER, NICER guy that you’ll want to break your almost-vows with. Don’t worry. You can go ahead and do that, because according to the rules of these Christmas movies, the man you’re engaged to is going to turn out to be an ASSHOLE.

We’re not talking an asshole like in, say, some forgettable Katherine Heigl crapfest where the guy is inconsiderate or maybe mildly misogynistic. If you’re engaged to someone in one of these movies, this guy is at MINIMUM a Snidely Whiplash mustache-twirling sonofabitch. He’s probably only marrying you to close some huge business deal that will make all the puppies of the world go blind, or because he needs to appease his family so he can stay in the will or, you know, because he’s a man who is tired of doing the cooking and cleaning and can’t wait for you to give up your dreams and shoes to get dinner on the table and get knocked up with male heirs tout de suite.

All of this is to say that your ideas about fidelity are horribly old-fashioned if you’re in a cable Christmas movie. You’re released from any obligation to shun the romantic advances of this newer, hotter, nicer man-who-crochets, even if you do not yet KNOW your fiance is plotting to sell your family’s land to a frakking company.

If you find yourself in one of these movies (and you will know, because it will be almost Christmas-time and everyone will either love or hate this fact) then call this man on the phone to talk for hours about love. Cuddle up with him in front of the fire and share hot cocoa. Get trapped in a snowdrift and use your bodies to keep warm. Have an “accidental” kiss. Even if you don’t even KNOW how evil your finace is, it’s all totally justified. Sin for a sin equals Christmas, right?

This is the most potent form of Cable Christmas Magic. Just as our savior Jesus Christ came to this world to wash away the sins of humanity, the highly pagan non-religious palatable-to-all commercial concept of “Christmas” in these films will ERADICATE YOUR SINS so long as the man you cheated with LOVES CHRISTMAS. So get yourself an ugly sweater and get to cheating! It’s Christmas, after all. In fact, why stop at cheating?

3) It’s not a felony if it’s Christmas


Since we discussed moral crimes being permitted within the context of Christmas, did you know that you can also break the laws of man and society in the name of Christmas? Guess what? You totally can!

Let’s say, for example, that you’re on your way to visit family, and you just know they’re going to be mean to you because in your big-city quest for a life and a career you’ve somehow gotten past the age of 24 without landing a husband. Problems, amirite? But lo, there’s this handsome man at the baggage claim. He’s a little rough-around-the-edges but he tells a joke and helps you get your bag because of course you’re a woman and can’t lift your own bag. Who can blame you, silly girl! You’re just so scatterbrained and hysterical over the stress of family. Oh, but there’s bad news! He’s of course engaged to someone who’s not traveling with him.

You might be thinking that this is a dead end. But you would be wrong. Because as long as it’s Christmas, you are allowed to KIDNAP this man.

Let’s be crystal clear. When I say that you can kidnap him, I don’t mean that you can offer him a ride and then just drive him to your house instead. I mean you can HANDCUFF this man or shove him in the back of your TRUNK and take him AGAINST HIS WISHES. But he will (by the time you arrive) pretend to be engaged to you and not to the actual woman he’s engaged to. Why? You’re gonna have an adventure of some kind. This adventure is going to make you fall in love. Because Christmas.


We already established the realness of magic, but there’s a different kind of Christmas magic working here: the magic of Christmas screenwriting. “Because Christmas” is a magic phrase that you can tape above the typewriter the monkeys are using to accomplish all kinds of amazing things. Try it!

Evil land speculators can do a 180 at the sound of carolers so fast it’ll make that snobby food critic in “Ratatouille” feel like he really took a long time to decide that that ginger klutz could cook. Men will realize they’ve been in love with the wrong woman THIS WHOLE TIME. And yes, aggravated assault, grand theft auto, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and many more sanguine crimes will be not only forgiven, but celebrated for years to come (via the strange framing mechanism that many of these movies use to tell a story about a long time ago that looks just like today).

Are you amazed yet? Don’t believe in the magic? How about a re-appearing act?

4) Actors you once liked, but haven’t thought of for 10 years, are in these movies

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve discovered the Bermuda Triangle of former television stars. It’s these movies.

Have you caught yourself watching a lot of “Cheers” late at night and thinking to yourself, “Good old George Wendt. Wonder what he’s up to?” Answer: Playing Santa Claus in cable Christmas movies. Not once, but FOUR times by my count and only one of those is a sequel. (NOTE: I am not counting the time Wendt played Santa Claus in “A Colbert Christmas” or a role in a film I have not seen where he is suspiciously credited as “Mr. Destiny.”) 


Mario Lopez? When not dancing with the stars, the former Bayside jock was in a Christmas kidnapping movie (deep breath) AND he was kidnapped by Melissa Joan Hart, who did NOT have to explain it all because, as mentioned, Christmas. Dave Coulier, no longer Uncle Joey or even being referenced in Alanis Morrissette songs, can be found in these films. So can his TV niece Candice Cameron (Bure), who has done almost as many as Wendt.

How to describe these surprise reunions? Let’s try this: Have you ever eaten a King-Sized Butterfinger all at once? Because that’s what seeing one of these old faces in one of these movies is kind of like. At first you’re saying, “wow, it’s been ages! I have a fond memory somewhere of eating a Butterfinger, or at least of liking the old Bart Simpson commercials.” And then, a few bites in, you realize that the memory is being tainted with every mouthful. The reality of how tooth-killingly sugary, and how much of it there’s still to get through before you can be done with it, is too much. You feel sick. You wish you could keep the old happy memory of Butterfinger alive in your heart. But you’re in a room full of relatives who expect you to finish the whole thing while they watch. So you do.

This is how it feels to realize my old buddy A.C. Slater is the voice of a talking dog who saves Christmas for a family who totally doesn’t deserve to have their Christmas saved. I have since learned that Mario Lopez reprised his role as said talking dog to save this past EASTER for that family, which raises lots of questions about who precisely it is who has ever said “Well, I hope you’re happy. You’ve ruined Easter.” But it brings us to the final important thing you need to know if you’re going to survive a cable Christmas movie.

5) Nothing is sacred

Just as I now fear that, having strip-mined the birth of Christ, the cable networks are now working on an endless deluge of movies themed around the time of year commemorating the end of Jesus’ time on Earth, you should know that there are no protected topics or memories in cable Christmas movies. Sure, we’ve covered the breaking of lots of commandments and also laws and even some sacrosanct memories of TV fondly remembered. But I mean this on a pretty meta level. In cable Christmas movies, not even Christmas is sacred.

Example: This is a summary of a real film I sat and watched with relatives. Santa (not Wendt Santa, booo) is getting old and doddery. He has two daughters. One is eeeeeevil and wears corsets and hates Christmas. She even has an eeeeevil elf henchman and they try to get Santa to will the North Pole to Corset Daughter so she can AUCTION IT OFF TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER AND BUILD A CASINO. 


That was not the summary of a Rainbow Brite Christmas half-hour special designed to sell toys in the 80s. That was the summary of a contemporary feature-length film made for adults. And it has a sequel. Or that is the sequel? I tried to do some fact-checking but then my head exploded. Google “santa daughter movies” and you’ll see that this is also kind of a genre, but one of horror. 

I don’t mean to be so grinchy. I don’t even mean to advocate the idea of hate-watching some of this fare. The amazing thing about these movies is they more or less have forced me to be very pro-Christmas. I mean that in the fairly churchy goodwill-to-all god-bless-us-every-one kind of way.

I’ve seen Christmas slapped on stories that aren’t Christmas-y in the slightest. I’ve seen how one network makes 12 of these A YEAR and now has a catalogue so deep that they’ve been airing them since before Thanksgiving. Thanks to the DVRs I wish we’d not given as a gift to some of these relatives, I’ve seen a lot of these movies on repeat occasions.

Nothing makes you realize what’s important about the holidays like seeing cable networks swing, miss and swing 11 more times at all the things Christmas is not about. Try watching one, though. It’s going to make you appreciate family. Lord knows I love mine. A hot cup of cider, a dog trying to drink that cider, and discovering the Christmas-ness of handcuffs will be one of my favorite yuletide memories for all the years of my life.

Happy Holidays. My New Year’s wish for you all is that you find love, magic, and get acquitted of all charges. 

READ MORE: 9 Films About Dysfunctional Families Streaming on Netflix Now

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