Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays / 'Cause no matter how far away you roam / When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze / For the holidays, you can't beat home, sweet home.”
This Perry Como holiday tune is familiar to many of us. “Home” and “Christmas” are almost synonymous. At Christmas, loved ones from near and far travel across cities, states, and borders to gather. Christmas is a sacred time often spent in a sacred place: home.
The theme of “home” is prevalent throughout the Christmas industrial complex. There's even a movie genre devoted to it—one you may love or hate, but certainly one you're aware of—that emulates the feelings of home: Hallmark Christmas movies. Initially associated with the Hallmark Channel, the genre now spans many networks and even streaming services. To say these movies are successful is an understatement, considering 50 million people watched at least one Christmas movie on the Hallmark network in 2019.
What makes these movies so beloved? Just like home, the narratives are familiar: a reluctant woman travels back to her hometown; sworn enemies fall in love; towns are named after favorite Christmas treats. We know there will be an initial conflict, but it will be overcome because Christmas is a time of miracles. We see just enough of our own lives reflected in these conflicts—a sick parent, a heartbreak, a jealous ex—that we can see ourselves as the protagonist. But unlike real life, there’s always a happy ending.
Home has many different meanings. In a survey of its readers, Real Simple found common themes: home is a place, a person, a scent, a feeling, a memory. Hallmark Christmas movies show home literally and figuratively. In Candy Coated Christmas (2021), the first original film from Discovery+, protagonist Molly (Molly McCook) is sent back to her hometown of Peppermint Hollow to sell her family home after financial misfortunes befall her. Molly is used to spending Christmas in Hawaii with her wealthy father; upon arriving in Peppermint Hollow, she says, “There’s no place like Hawaii.” But in Peppermint Hollow, Molly rediscovers her physical home, a place filled with memories of her late mother’s life, where she learns that “home” and “family” are one and the same for her.
Christmas is a sacred time often spent in a sacred place: home.
There are other representations of home in these movies. One Real Simple reader described home beautifully as “my soft place to land.” In Christmas at the Plaza (Hallmark, 2019), historian Jessica (Elizabeth Henstridge), tasked with creating an exhibit about the history of Christmas at the infamous Plaza Hotel, returns to the hotel after a particularly bad date with clueless boyfriend Dennis (David Lafontaine). The Plaza becomes her safe space and the staff becomes her family—none more than Nick (Ryan Paevey), a Christmas decorator and Jessica’s eventual love interest. Early in the movie, before Jessica’s breakup with Dennis, Nick tells her: “You know what they say about people who hang on to the past. They’re afraid of the future.” Jessica takes a risk, letting go of Dennis and a comfortable, albeit boring life, and finds home in the most unexpected place and person.
Netflix's latest Christmas offering, Love Hard (2021), also embodies this theme. Natalie (Nina Dobrev) gets the ultimate shock when she travels across the country at Christmas to surprise her internet boyfriend Josh (Jimmy O. Yang), who turns out to be a catfish. Another surprise twist is in store for Natalie when she learns that the man whose photos Josh used on his profile is real and lives in Josh’s hometown. Through her attempts to win over the man in the photos, Natalie learns that she’s really fallen for Josh. She finds an unexpected home with him. In a cheesy, Love Actually-style sequence featuring handwritten notes on cardboard, she declares: “But there’s perfect. And then there’s perfect for me.”
But there’s a question that most of these movies don’t answer: what happens after the cheery holidays? We like to believe that these couples stay together. Christmas at the Plaza leaves us with a postscript that Jessica and Nick “Christmas’d happily ever after.” But most of these movies end at Christmas. What about after Christmas? What does life look like when the magic of Christmas is gone? Or what if the magic of Christmas was never there? For me, this Christmas season has been difficult. I lost my mom in February, so this is my first Christmas without her. Christmas is a reminder of family and our home is steeped in memories of loss.
Hallmark Christmas movies leave us with a happy ending in a season that can sometimes feel anything but happy. But as Christians, we can be reminded that Christmas isn’t the ultimate end—it’s just the beginning. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, a fulfillment of God’s promise. This miracle—a baby born to save us all—is the promise that can get us through the dreariest of days. God created a home for us in Heaven, a home where there will be no more tears, a home where we will be reunited with our nuclear family and our Christian family.
We get to live this truth each year, celebrating the miracle of new beginnings each Advent. Perhaps we can see this reflected in the new Hallmark Christmas movies every year, too, with the pattern of conflict, sadness, and happy endings. Except, for us, there’s never a true ending. Because of God’s great love for us and because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we will live in our heavenly home forever.
So what is home? To me, home is my mom. It’s my dad. It’s the taste of homemade cookies. It’s the smell of my mom’s perfume. But most of all, home is the feeling of faith I have in a loving God. It’s a feeling I always carry with me. When home lives inside us, when love lives inside us, when Christ lives inside us, we have found our “soft place to land.”