It’s the embarrassing secret nobody wants to talk about, the guilty pleasure of a thousand winks and nods shared between co-workers, schoolmates, work-out buddies, and zoomba gatherings across the fruited plains: Hallmark’s annual “Countdown to Christmas” movie specials. Nobody wants to admit they are shallow aficionados of these saccharine love stories that contain about as much spiritual and cultural depth as frosted sugar cookies with sprinkles. And yet, every Christmas season, men and women by the legions are drawn back to their living rooms to happily reset their gaze on these nostalgic sugar rushes we call holiday films.
Oh, you’ve never actually seen one (or actually want to admit it)? Well, give me about 10 seconds here to explain what 90% of the plots are about: a successful, but overly busy woman working in big-city corporate America is forced to return to the idyllic small town where she was raised because something has gone terribly wrong at dear old Dad’s construction company (or better yet—Christmas tree farm), and only she has the power to help get things back on track. But wait, there’s more, because this big-city gal with the attitude will also be reunited with “the one who got away,” who happens to be a ruggedly handsome, kind-hearted but lovingly sarcastic dude who never left the small town and, believe it or not, has never been married. At some point, our heroine uses her corporate know-how to help Dad’s business rebound while simultaneously realizing just how much she has missed the back-to-what-is-real joys of small-town life. Of course, all of this existential realization materializes in the midst of a budding romance with “the one who got away,” who almost gets away again, before they come back together in a sweeping crescendo of love and tears on none other than Christmas Eve night. One more thing: most of the scenes are set in coffee shops, kitchens, and antique stores that are charming enough to make Chip and Joanna Gaines rethink their decorating choices.
So there you have it. The fairy tale ends as we go back to the kitchen for a fresh helping of eggnog before dialing up another episode.
The Plot Thickens
So what’s the big deal, you ask? It seems harmless enough, right? Should people actually feel guilty about enjoying these G-rated fluff pieces? More specifically, is this something people of faith should even have a problem with?
I think a better question needs to be asked, and it is this: Should Christians feel guilty about enjoying anything that happens to be a bit “lighter” in nature and created purely to warm the heart and engage the senses? I’ll try not to over-spiritualize here, but I think the answer is … no. We should not feel guilty.
First off, let me qualify by saying that as humans we can elevate anything to an ungodly, idolatrous level. Hallmark movies, like anything else, can be used as a replacement for pursuing real, messy relationships, because fantasy tends to be a bit easier on the heart. Secondly, we can idealize Hallmark relationships to the degree that we return to our non-Hallmark worlds with a real sense of disappointment because our spouses and loved ones can’t possibly meet our expectations if they’ve been shaped by small-town holiday fantasy.
But there might be another way to receive these impossibly optimistic love stories covered in garland and glowing lights, and it’s this: just enjoy them. It says something about our view of God that we have so much trouble receiving something that comes directly from the core of God’s character, which is pleasure and joy.
“You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.”
– Psalm 16:11
God the Giver of Good Gifts
To know and be known by God is to be surrounded by all there is to know about enjoyment. To receive God’s good gifts is to experience moments of pleasure that will someday be known to the fullest in unending splendor.
Trillia Newbell writes in her book Enjoy: “We enjoy because we know the gift is given by God for our enjoyment. The gift starts with God as the Giver. If we believe this and see all things as his gifts to us, we are free to abandon our man-made rules and self-imposed guilt and simply enjoy.”
In God’s economy, there is no such thing as a “guilty pleasure.” As long as something is not evil, immoral, or tempting us toward idolatry, we can receive it as a gift to enjoy from a God who is redeeming all things for His glory.
Sure, that piece of molten lava cake, brand-new flannel shirt, cup of hot chocolate, piece of apple pie, tickets to see your favorite comedian, Mariah Carey Christmas song, and extravagant decorations on the mantle are nothing any of us “needs.” But they are things to be enjoyed with a heart of gratitude, which is what we actually need more than anything else at this time of the year, or any time of year. And what better apologetic is there than for genuinely joyful people to fight the cynicism of a weary world with the weapons of gratefulness?
So, no need to hide your Hallmark love, especially if it draws you to the richer depths of God’s love that He wants you to enjoy this season, and for all seasons.