Christmas the Way It Ought To Be? Nice Thought, But ‘A Hallmark Christmas’ Is Nothing Like the Real One
The real one is better.
Hallmark’s two cable channels have been running a series of original Christmas movies this week. They come across as Christmas the way it’s supposed to be. (You know the slogan: “It’s a Hallmark Christmas.”) So you’d think they’d be helpful assets against the watered-down “holidays” junk we get so much of these days. But if there’s a battle over “Christmas,” Hallmark is just as watered-down as everything else. It’s even possible they’re doing more damage than those who deny the holiday outright.
Which seems like a mean thing to say about such bright, cheery, innocuous films. My wife and I watched Hope at Christmas the other day. Set in its small town with snow everywhere, its Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Santa Claus and all the trappings. Of course there was a nice young man and woman who met and fell in love, too; all in a nice, homey small-town setting.
Another Hallmark Christmas film (The Christmas Spirit) was filmed in the small town where I was living at the time, Lebanon, Ohio. That film, too, had its snow everywhere, its Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Santa Claus and all the trappings. And of course a nice young man and woman who met and fell in love. I see a pattern developing here.
“Nice” Without Jesus
What I didn’t see in either film was any mention of Jesus Christ.
Nice, nice, nice; it’s a surfeit of nice.
The spirit of Christmas, for Hallmark, is the spirit of snow and smiles and everything turning out just right for all the nice people. It’s “happily ever after” for everyone, with no giants to slay or dragons to defeat as in the real fairy tales. All it takes is being nice. Nice, nice, nice; it’s a surfeit of nice.
On one level there’s nothing new in what I’m saying here. Hallmark films are well known for their sugar-cookie-sweet sentimentality. But it’s worse than that: Hallmark’s Christmas is a counterfeit. Anyone who takes this as “Christmas the way it’s supposed to be” is following the wrong stars and shepherds, and ending up at the wrong inn.
The Original Christmas Wasn’t So Nice
The original Christmas wasn’t about salvation through niceness. It was about God becoming man in the poorest of human circumstances. He came with light and glory and songs of angels, but when the shepherds saw it they were “sore afraid.” There’s very little “sore afraid” in a Hallmark Christmas film.
The Magi followed a star to Jesus, but not until after King Herod drew them into his plan to murder Jesus. Enraged when his plot was foiled, Herod killed all the young boys in Bethlehem. Herod was often that way, prone to killing crowds of people on a whim. Joseph and Mary had to high-tail it into Egypt to escape.
The boy Jesus grew up to gain a sizable following, along with many enemies, who had him tortured and killed on a cross. This was what the original Christmas had been aiming for from the beginning. That, plus the truly great climax of the story, His glorious resurrection from the dead.
God’s True Happily-Ever-After
So yes, Christmas does have a happily-ever-after attached to it, but it’s about God’s goodness, not our niceness. Its best news is for people who aren’t so nice, for in Jesus He gave His love freely to His own enemies (Romans 5:8), which is all of us who grow up rebelling against His good and true godhood over all.
This love of God has nothing to do with Hallmark sentimentality. Its best news is for people who can’t even imagine a happily-ever-after future. Jesus Christ came into the world to rescue us from ourselves: our sin, our alienation, our certain death. Happily ever after, in Jesus’ terms, can involve giving up much, even suffering persecution in this age. But it also means receiving much back from the Lord in this age, and finally living with joy forever in the true ever-after.
Hallmark’s Christmas looks nothing like the true Christmas.
Still I Must Admit…
The real thing is way more substantial. It’s truer. And it’s even better yet.
Here’s the crazy thing, though: I enjoyed watching the movie anyway. Some of my friends will tell me I’m crazy to admit it, but then I wasn’t watching it with “this is going to be great film” in mind. It was, well, nice (still the right word) watching two young people discovering each other and feeling happy about it. That’s the kind of story I expected it would be, and I got what I was expecting. Not great art, but a couple hours’ innocent diversion.
That’s what everyone expects from Hallmark, I suppose, except I fear some people also expect it to be about Christmas as it was meant to be. If we get that part wrong it’s no longer innocent. Diversions are fine if they don’t divert us from truth. A “Hallmark Christmas” is Christmas the way some of us might wish it to be, but it’s not Christmas the way it’s supposed to be. The real thing is way more substantial. It’s truer. And it’s even better yet.
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream and the author of Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens (Kregel Publications, 2016). Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.