I want to live in Hallmarkland.
Hallmarkland is a magical, snow-kissed place, found only on the Hallmark Channel. It is a place of white Christmases and even whiter teeth.
A place where all the children are well-behaved, yet disappear conveniently so that the beautiful widowed young mother and her love interest can take starlit sleigh rides or present each other with thoughtful gifts like a tree ornament just like the one from her favorite Christmas as a girl.
To be honest, I used to scoff at Hallmark movies. I have a friend who watches them religiously, and I used to kid her about it. “How can you stand them?” I would ask. “You can tell who she’s going to marry five seconds after he appears on screen. They’re so unrealistic!”
“But that’s the point!” my friend replied. “It’s nothing like real life. It’s sheer escapism.”
RELATED COLUMNS: A perfect holiday cookie for those who are nutty about Nutella | It's all or nothing when it comes to Christmas decor | Swift: ‘Staygiving’ might mean more turkey leftovers | Swift: Perhaps it’s time to stop focusing on the bad things and commit to One Good Thing
So I decided to heed her advice and take a vacation to Hallmarkland last week. I spent two full days watching Hallmark movies, and I quickly learned all the laws of the land:
- Protagonists must live in delightful small towns, where you can’t swing a Baby Yoda without hitting a picturesque ice-skating rink, Santa Claus festival, holiday parade or adorable school Christmas play.
- The attractive stars — who vary from former child stars on big TV hits like “Saved by the Bell” to the thespian offspring of A-list actors (read: Tom Everett Scott) — typically hold down the type of creative jobs that look glamorous and seem to require almost no actual work. In Hallmarkland, that includes down-home toy store owners, cupcake bakery owners, cooking show hosts, interior decorators, personal shoppers for good-looking, single millionaires, producers of TV morning shows, gourmet eggnog tasters, photographers who specialize in holiday pet images, mistletoe testers and greeting card designers.
- At least one character has to live in a house that seems lifted from a Currier and Ives print. That might include a breathtaking mountain chalet, a perfectly restored Victorian or a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home overlooking a mountain scene. Every banister, window and eave must be wrapped in greenery and Christmas cheer.
- The parents are usually portrayed by stars of ‘80s TV shows, like Markie Post or Donna Mills or that third guy from “Full House.” The grandparents are usually “types” played by less-expensive actors, such as the “Wilfred Brimley type” or the “Candice Bergen type."
- You will be able to spot the love interest within seconds of meeting him, because he will be the biggest star in the cast and will have dimples you can bathe a baby in, really great hair and a dreamy smile of pearly veneers. Many times, he will be Mario Lopez. Most importantly, he will scuffle with our heroine upon first meeting her, either by stealing a cab from her, eyeing her suspiciously as the former big-city girl who moved back to her hometown, or knocking a pile of festively wrapped presents out of her arms. The potential lovebirds will be the only people in the script who cannot see they are destined for each other, despite glaring roadblocks such as his Grinchian dislike of Christmas, her inconvenient but long-coveted promotion to open a cupcake bakery in Machu Picchu, or the fact he is actually an undercover reporter dispatched to investigate a suspicious rash of brandy-related fires at her father’s eggnog factory.
- Sometimes, a love rival is thrown into the mix — typically a scheming yoga teacher, a ruthlessly ambitious senior vice president, a jealous ex or a smitten doctor who we know won’t get the girl because he has too many teeth.
- There must be a wacky sidekick: Typically a wise-cracking best friend who has frizzy hair and a few extra pounds and is so co-dependently enmeshed in her best friend’s love life that we are concerned for her.
- After many scenes between the protagonists as they fall in love over gingerbread house-building, there will be a Big Third Act Misunderstanding, which threatens to sink the mistletoe. She will discover that he has secretly been throwing away her sugar cookies because he’s actually gluten intolerant or he will overhear a conversation in which he thinks she’s professing her love for another man when it turns out she’s really professing her love for Frosty the Snowman.
- But never fear. In the history of Hallmarkland, there has rarely (if ever?) been a heroine who walked alone into the sunset. He will redeem himself via a grand gesture, either by writing all the words to "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" with his skis into a mountain or by building her an actual gingerbread factory for her out of gingerbread.
- Everyone will live happily ever after. Even the wacky sidekick. I mean, who else will date Dr. Tootootherson?
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.