This post is not about religion or Christmas. Rather, it's about the portrayal of family-owned businesses in a pervasive (and seasonally relevant) form of popular entertainment, Christmas movies made for and shown on the Hallmark cable channel. Hallmark Christmas movies have many recurring themes, primarily romantic love and gorgeous set decoration—both of which they present as desirable objectives. They also often extol the virtues and benefits of family-owned businesses.
If you are a family business owner who is fatigued by all the challenges of this past year, you may want to take some time to grab a pint of peppermint ice cream and a spoon, plop yourself on the couch, and watch a Hallmark Christmas movie about someone saving a family business. It may leave you reinvigorated, hopeful, and feeling validated. If you like the movie, make your family watch it. It may start a conversation about why your family owns a business and why our society seems to admire and trust family businesses.
Why is the author of this blog watching Hallmark Christmas movies?
Look, I grew up in a family with limited financial resources. Most of the year was hard work. December, however, was different. During the Christmas season, my father took off most of the month, we children had winter break from school, and we all were able to relax and celebrate the blessings we had as a family. For that reason, apart from any religious significance, I still have a romantic affection for Christmas, its atmosphere, and its ideals of good cheer and goodwill.
Two years ago, I channel-surfed my way into a Hallmark Christmas movie and settled in for a few minutes of ironic viewing pleasure. Almost instantly, however, I was seduced by the imagery—the bright Christmas colors, the twinkling Christmas lights and tinsel, the soft snow falling in big flakes, the evergreen trees, the gaudy baubles, the giant cookies—all set against a narrative in which nothing bad ever happened. Resistance was futile. Hallmark Christmas movies are now the background hum in my house from Thanksgiving to January 1.
What should you know before watching Hallmark Christmas movies?
First, Hallmark has two or three cable channels. You have to pick the right one to watch the Christmas movies I'm talking about. One of the channels mainly plays reruns of "The Waltons," from what I can tell. The other two channels play the Christmas movies, but one of them sometimes slips in movies with a little religious content, which can be a shock to the system.
Second, don't worry about the acting.
Third, do not expect the unexpected in the storyline. Everything in the plot of a Hallmark Christmas movie will be completely predictable. There will be no nuance, no innovation, no dark turns. That's a good thing. Approach a Hallmark Christmas movie the way you approach a Christmas gift: Be happy if you get what you were expecting. If you ask your parents for a PlayStation 5, you don't want to open the box and find a vacuum cleaner.
Fourth, sometimes, you will see the same person playing different characters in different movies. Do not worry about this. The movies are completely unrelated, so you do not need to try to remember or reconcile conflicting events from one movie to the next. If Lacey Chabert has a child or a dog in one movie but not in the next one, it's ok. Nothing untoward has happened to her child or the dog. They just lived happily ever after when the first movie ended. No need for a sequel, so we're starting fresh with different characters and a totally different story. (Well, don't expect the story to be totallydifferent. Ha ha.)
Is the author of this blog going to get around to family businesses in this post?
If you keep Hallmark Christmas movies running on your TV non-stop, sooner or later you will pick up some of the recurring themes. To me, the most fascinating theme is the celebration of family business, because it is not necessitated by Christmas tradition. Hallmark, as an institution, seems to have concluded that the values of family business are consistent with other values usually associated with Christmas.
Every Hallmark Christmas movie that features a family business involves either a family member choosing to leave a high-paying job at a random large corporation to return to work in the family business or various characters rescuing a family business from being displaced in the community by a random large corporation. Often, the plot is a combination of both scenarios.
Family businesses in a Hallmark Christmas movie are portrayed as beneficial on multiple levels:
First, they provide personal fulfillment for the main character by giving him or her an occupation and life work that is more meaningful than just a job. For example, see "Christmas Land," in which a successful professional leaves her career in order to run a Christmas tree farm/theme park that she inherited from her grandmother.
Second, family businesses in Hallmark Christmas movies support family unity. For example, in "Check Inn to Christmas," two families must reconcile and unite around preventing their family inns from being forced out of business by competition from a big corporate developer.
Third, family businesses in Hallmark Christmas movies are better for the community than the businesses owned by large corporations, especially "conglomerates." For example, in "Christmas Cookies," the local owner decides not to sell control because of the adverse affect it would have on the employees and their families. Similarly, in "A Timeless Christmas," the main character travels one hundred years into the future and sees how his rival's family business improved generations of townspeople by providing good jobs and local philanthropy.
Finally, family businesses in Hallmark Christmas movies allow characters to honor and participate in their families' legacies. In "The Christmas Ring," for example, two brothers decide not to liquidate the family grocery store after a journalist helps them uncover and recall some meaningful family history.
What does all of this mean?
To me, all of this means that there are many people out there who have a positive view of family businesses and who associate them with some of the best things in life. Therefore, if you own a family business, know that the hard work this year is worth it because your community appreciates your family business and will support it, especially in challenging times. In 2020, that's a blessing.