Why we love Hallmark Christmas Movies (at least, why I do)

I confess. I love watching the marathon of Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channels (Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries). Yes, the plots are predictable, the sentimentality definitely over the top and one must get used to the idea of seeing the same actors play somewhat same characters in multiple movies but,  I’m a sucker. For a majority of the movies, there isn’t a lot of character development or a need to analyze outcomes, just very recognizable story lines and a whole lot of cliché in the tugging-on-heartstrings-tear-jerking department.

So, why am I addicted? Why do I set the television channels to Cox 2085 and 2086 beginning Thanksgiving weekend and never look back until January 1? For someone who enjoys the complexity of William Faulkner, the richness of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the strong storytelling of Barbara Kingsolver, why is it I find myself completely immersed in The Heart of TV?

We need these Hallmark movies. For many, Christmas is stressful, time-consuming, a financial nightmare, and a little melancholy. While I love Christmas and look forward to the season throughout the year, there are days I find myself caught up in the pressures of the holiday. Did I forget anyone on my list? What do we buy your mother? Will I have time to mail out Christmas cards? Damn, I overspent my Christmas budget, again. Ugh, another weekend of Christmas parties when all I want to do is stay home. I forgot to buy stamps! Look at the lines!!

And, while the Christmas movie classics bring us warm moments of nostalgia and childlike laughter, they can also bestow immeasurable sadness with reminders of a childhood long gone or the absence of a loved one. Sure, Hallmark Christmas movies can be cavity-inducing but they can also be somewhat comforting. For two hours, we are provided perfect Christmas moments filled with forgiveness, generosity, love and most importantly, hope. In a Hallmark Christmas world, love does not go on unrequited; overbearing parents reveal their inner fears; children are reunited with families or united with best friends of the four-legged variety; loves lost always return home; longtime wrongs are always righted; love prevails; and all against the backdrop of hope and snow. Lots of snow.

Sure, they’re cheesy and brimming with Christmas miracles, as well as perfectly decorated small towns and the inevitable St. Nick or angel in disguise, but I find it easy to forgive all of the above. These days, Christmas angels and miracles seem fewer and fewer, and as for St. Nick, well, if we find it hard to believe in one another or ourselves, how can we possibly give St. Nick a break. And while I’ve yet to see a storyline involving a minority or gay couple, I remain hopeful (there’s that word, again) each year and know Hallmark will soon right this wrong, as all love should prevail in Hallmark world.

So, give me Hallmark Christmas movies and plenty of them. When the season is at a close and the final kiss is given under the mistletoe between two former flames or once bitter rivals, I’ll be content to hang my Santa hat on hope, no matter how trite or predictable. Christmas without any sign of hope is simply another holiday. And for me, Christmas will never be just another holiday. Christmas will always be a season of hope and love, wherever you can find it, even if just for a moment in a made-for-television Christmas movie.



A Holiday from Social Media

My favorite time of year is upon us. I rejoice the first day of fall, knowing long, hot days are at an end and the leaves will begin to turn to gold before covering the ground, the first earth blanket before the snows. And, my favorite trilogy of holidays approaches with autumn equinox: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. My soul is rejuvenated with the hint of winter in the air, Irish coffees around the fire pit, and the anticipation of putting up the Christmas tree.

Last year, this season was not kind or rejuvenating, but filled with emptiness and sorrow with the loss of Jeff and Angie. It was difficult to embrace my favorite time of year with a heart laden in grief. This year, as I celebrated autumn equinox with a good wine, I contemplated my approach. My very being ached for a return to the normal, but I knew then that with the anxieties of the upcoming election and the charged atmosphere of social media, finding my norm was going to be difficult.

I am heartbroken by the results of the election, and let me reiterate it has naught to do with my candidate losing. It is the realization we as a community have been living blindly in our assumptions that hate in its many forms had been reduced to a tiny monster we could sweep away under a rug of social progress. Despite the fact we’ve been privy to its ugliness more and more through social media comments and posts, as well as the unrest in our communities, the shootings, and the media spewing; while we were celebrating our victories, the monster was feeding upon our trustfulness and waiting to pull the rug out from under us.

Throughout all of this, the one thing that has disturbed me the most is social media. I engaged in social media, specifically Facebook, to stay in touch with my niece and nephew in Illinois. To be able to “see” them on a daily basis, to watch their life path, to let them know I was watching. This form of contact helped ease the guilt and sadness of not being able to visit more often. And as I became engaged, soon I was searching for all of my relatives out-of-state or even across the city, as our daily lives prevented us from those cherished family gatherings of our childhood.

But the place I turn to feel connected has become disconnected. It, too, is feeding the monster. Like a shot of whiskey or a case of beer, the internet has become our modern-day “liquid courage.” There have always been those individuals whose inner demons appear whenever they have too much to drink or sadly, just a little drink. As soon as the alcohol warms their bloodstream, they blurt their feelings, no matter how dark or hurtful, and for some their demons take shape in physical harm. A little booze and these individuals want to fight the world, or at least the world in their immediate proximity, and especially those who do not share in their beliefs or those whom they fear. The computer age has brought about this new form of liquid courage, or “keyboard courage.” Individuals now feel empowered to shout their views at others whose beliefs are not in line with theirs, cyberbully, and engage in hurtfulness against complete strangers all the while hidden behind their new drug of choice, be it laptop, PC, tablet or phone. It’s easy to throw cyber punches and be downright offensive within the confines of your home or office, miles away from the individual(s) whom you are attacking. An alcoholic beverage is no longer needed nor the excuse of not being able to handle your liquor, just sign in and punch away.

I try to be very thoughtful in my postings on social media, yet I know I am not innocent in this online bickering. I’m sure I have stated a view or shared a post which offended or hurt others, as it has become too easy to be drawn into the fight. And to me, there is nothing more embarrassing or distressing than a “comments brawl” where individuals flail wildly in the comments area of their own postings or, even more distressing, by invading the post of another. And with the recent unveiling of our continued social disparities and the inability of many to be respectful of one another, Facebook has become its own little demon, egging on the madness as if determined to convince us that we are all monsters.

So, I’m taking a holiday from the crazy. At the close of Thanksgiving Day, I am taking a reprieve from all social media. I’m going to enjoy the Christmas season “old school.” I’m going to read Dickens, buy gifts, sip wine in the glow of our tree and if there is a party or event, you’ll need to contact me by phone or one of those rare methods from long ago, as in the paper invitation sent by mail. I’m not going to stress myself in multiple directions by promising to attend every Facebook event invitation and I’m not going to damper the Christmas spirit by stumbling upon one of those keyboard courage rants or lose faith in mankind just by reading the headline of a fake news story.

This holiday, I’m going to engage by disengaging. And, if the climate has changed by January 1, or I feel a pull to catch up with the happenings of my family and friends, I may return but with a shortened friend list and possibly on a part time basis. Who knows, I may not ever return and that would be more than okay. I find it of interest to become one of those elusive individuals who are not on Facebook, who don’t tweet and have no idea what a snap chat implies. They are a mysterious people and quite likely, much healthier than the rest of us.

So, the countdown begins. Only four more days until Social Media Holiday begins. For those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, I hope you’ll look for me here, afloat the calming waters of Mermaid of the Plains. With less time spent reviewing status updates and announcing check-ins, my goal is to write and share here. And, I encourage you to join me in this holiday break. Let’s truly return to a season of hope, love, and respect for one another. We are all in this together and we are all we got. As a great woman once wrote, “we are more alike my friends, than we are unalike.”

We need to remember this, now more than ever.

Thanksgiving…in March

Every day since the first of the year, I open Pandora and listen to George Winston radio. And almost every time, the first song to play is Thanksgiving from his album, December. I usually only listen to George from November to January, his piano playing reminiscent of frost on fallen leaves, the hush of snow, sleigh bells, and evenings spent by the glow of a Christmas tree.

But, not this year. It is early March and still I find myself spending time with George while sitting at my desk at work, in my car on the drive home, or like now, reading or writing in the dimness of the day. Tomorrow is March 9 and spring is just a few weeks away, and yet, here I sit listening to Night, Part One: Snow. At this very moment, I am longing for snows that will not come and staring toward the spot near the large window where the Christmas tree stood sentry just a few months ago.

This past holiday season seemed vague and disjointed, at best. The moments of childlike anticipation and joyful weariness were few, the majority of time spent carrying the weight of a sorrowful heart. It was like reading a story with an unrealistic plot set against the backdrop of the holidays and told by an author unsure of his or her own voice. Some of the characters were familiar, even some of the settings, and there were a handful of chapters so beautiful it was hard to imagine them tucked between such chaos. But, I couldn’t stay focused and found myself rereading passages, as if I was afraid I’d missed something between the lines and pages, all the while wishing I could just get to the end.

Maybe that is why I find myself spending time with George. For someone who loves the holidays and looks forward to the shortening of the days, the headiness and pace from Halloween to New Years, and the wearing of Christmas like a coat of metallic colors, possibly I feel cheated. Christmas always weighs upon me like a down comforter, providing warmth and a sense of security. Instead, I feel as if I spent October through January barely covered by a short cotton sheet and no matter how tight I curled myself up, hugging my knees to my chest, my feet and head were always exposed, the cold air seeping through the thin threads.

So, I listen to George in hopes of recapturing a bit of what went amiss. And now that the initial guilt has somewhat worn off and I’m less embarrassed by my obsession with Holly and the Ivy at this time of year, I find myself filled with bliss when I hear those first refrains of Some Children See Him. I don’t know if I will still be listening to December come the 100-degree days of July, but for now, George and I will continue our post-holiday venture. Like one of Dickens’ ghosts, George will bring to mind many a holiday past and I will swear there is a faint scent of pine in the air, all the while my Christmas heart will heal with the budding of the daffodils. Come October, I hope George will be waiting, like the old friend that he is, to drop in during the holidays. And like a dear friend, he won’t mention our time spent well into pints of Guinness and colored eggs and how it took me until the rains of May to read the final chapter and finally close the book.







O, Christmas Tree

Last year, my parents announced they would no longer be putting up a tree at Christmas. Both in their 80s, handing down the ornaments from the attic and dragging the tree from the basement had become too much. I was saddened by the news.

Since I was a baby, there has been a Christmas tree gracing the front window of my parent’s home. My first Christmas photo, adorned in a red dress and sitting awkwardly in a carrier, the small, live evergreen peeks from behind me, it’s large, multicolored lights stealing the show.

Throughout my childhood our trees were purchased from the Knights of Columbus tree lot at either St. Patrick Catholic Church or St. Jude. Although I do recall standing in front of the Otasco one cold evening with my mother ordering my father, “No, not that one. Hold up the one next to it. No, the other one.”

And my father, always expertly and slowing spinning the tree, asking, “Does it look straight? Are there any bare spots?” I thought my father profoundly smart for bringing his work gloves so we didn’t have to wait on the KOC men or young boys to show us the trees, putting us in charge of discovering the perfect tree.

Then, roped or bungeed to the car, we’d drive home to only discover a gaping hole at the top or lower half of the tree, “just face that side to the wall,” or the trunk had a slight crook which would lead to my father taking the tree to the back yard and sawing off a good inch or two. Somehow, the tree that looked so majestically tall under the generator lights of the parking lot always seemed a little short and dumpy once squeezed into the tree stand and partially lit by the table lamps in the living room.

But, I loved our trees. Short, tall, fat, skinny, full, or skimpy. Once decorated, I always enjoyed gazing upon the tree with the lights off, especially on Christmas morning. I recall a Christmas when my brother and I awoke at dawn and we tiptoed into the living room. I flipped the light switch and immediately the room filled with an amber glow, flushing the cheeks of my little brother as he eyed the packages beneath. Once he’d taken stock of the wrapped gifts from Santa, he rushed off to awaken my parents. I just stood in the living room, alone with the tree and that soft light and while I didn’t understand it at the time, I felt an aching in my chest and thought I might begin to cry. Now, looking back, I understand and am familiar with that emotion, the hope and anticipation, the joy and belief in Christmas spirit.

So, not seeing the tree standing in the window as I pulled into their driveway during Christmas was unimaginable to me. I even offered to come over and set up the tree for them, but they were insistent it was time to retire the old artificial tree. A few days before Christmas, I joined my parents for lunch and took photos of the tree, including a few of the handmade ornaments courtesy of me and my siblings. I walked around the tree, touching the ornaments from my childhood as if to hold those Christmas memories once more in my hand. When dad took down the tree shortly after Christmas, I figured the photos would have to serve as a reminder of the Christmas spirit that was.

This year, the week following Thanksgiving, I asked my mom if she would consider a small tabletop tree to set up in the living room, one big enough to hold her favorite and cherished ornaments. I’d decided I could convince them to put up a smaller version of the family tree, one they could easily cover and hide, fully decorated, in the closet until the following year. I offered to buy one I’d seen at Target.

“No, mija. You don’t need to buy a tree for us. Your dad, well, he’s decided to go ahead and put up the tree, again.”

“What? Really?”

“Yes, he says it’s not time, especially with the little grandkids. They need a tree when they come for Christmas.”

I agreed. I need the tree, too. Still.

On this Christmas Eve, we’ll join my parents for an early Mass, indulge in posolė, and exchange small gifts while seated around the tree. I understand time with the old Christmas tree is limited, just as I recognize each Christmas spent with my parents is precious. Until that time when we are only able gather beneath the branches of Christmas memories and fill the room with the amber glow of Christmases past, I will immerse myself in each moment, each Christmas, and all that is familiar which brings hope, anticipation, and joy to my soul.

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All year through

The day after Christmas and the day I pack up the Christmas decorations are two of the saddest days of the year. At least, for me. I love Christmas. Yes, the season is hectic, at times overwhelming, and Christmas Eve is the anniversary of the death of my niece, Andrea, but I still hold Christmas within the chambers of my heart where memories of childhood dwell: the tingling cold of my fingers after a snowball fight, the smell of fresh-baked Mexican bread and the sound of distant wind chimes. In short, my favorite things.

With each ornament I remove from the tree, I relive the memory of when I bought the tiny ballet slippers after a performance of The Nutcracker in Chicago, or received from my mother the snowman holding the long string of glittering snowflakes or was first handed the tiny triangle made from red and green macaroni threaded with red ribbon from a hesitant small boy. And while I revisit those memories when I put up the tree, taking them off the tree and wrapping them in wrinkled tissue to place in the ancient Holiday Greetings box seems so far away, so final, like packing for a long trip and knowing it will be months before you open that box, months before you hold in your hand forty-plus years worth of Christmases all in a tiny, pink ceramic angel.

So, how do I withstand the 330 days (give or take) leading to Thanksgiving weekend when I carry, well, mostly drag those nine tubs out of storage?

JIngle Bells

It sits atop my box of Frida Kahlo notecards, on the side of my nightstand closest to the bedroom door where, if compelled, I can quickly pick it up and give it a gentle shake. It shimmers in the glow from the bedroom lamp and its jingle echoes down the hall. I don’t do this every day, just when I need to be reminded of rushing home from school to watch Santa and Kakeman (or Toy Boy, depending on your age), burning my tongue on hot chocolate while circling items in the Sears or JcPenney catalogues, the smell of the evergreens bunched together behind the chain link fence in the parking lot of St. Patrick’s Church. The sound of those simple bells helps me to forget the headache of a work day, the 100 degree heat, the loss of a friend.

It is not cliché nor sentimental to try to keep a little Christmas within our grasp throughout the year. Johnny Mathis sings about it, Ebenezer Scrooge promises it, but what if we could keep Christmas if just for a few moments each week, each month. I highly recommend it, because for me with just one simple movement of the wrist, all is right with the world.

A Happy Christmas

Well, another Christmas come and gone. The season always passes so quickly. I barely get my sports tree up, when I’m taking it down. This year, I’m thinking I’ll leave it up until Superbowl. At least the sports tree and all my Bears Christmas stuff, especially the stocking. After all, I did ask Santa for a few things…a division championship, playoff berth, first-round bye,  a trip to the Superbowl…and the stocking is not full. Not yet.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. First things first.

Bears versus Packers. A lot rests on this game. Not just the usual, as in Lovie’s #1 priority as head coach: beat the Packers. Or my seasonal mantra: beat the Packers, as in if the Bears only win two games in a season, those two wins better be against Green Bay.

Come Sunday, it’s more than the usual. In order for the Bears to clinch a first-round bye, they need for the Eagles to lose or to beat the Packers. I vote for beating the Packers. And as if I needed another reason to beat the Pack, if Green Bay wins their in. The only other way they can make the playoffs is if Tampa Bay and New York both lose. It’s that time of year when playoff berths are contingent upon wins and losses not only by your own team, but by others. It’s muddled. It’s crazy. It’s playoff season.

To sum it all up, I’m cheering for a Packer beating. Plus, I’ll be rooting for the Redskins and the Saints. And just in case, while I won’t cheer on the Vikings, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Tuesday night game in Philadelphia. More than just to see them play in all that snow.

Then, it will truly be a Happy Christmas. And possibly an outstanding New Year.

All you need is love…and some giant Christmas trees or Muppets

If you have not heard about or seen this video on YouTube, do yourself a favor and take a few moments to not only view, but to read the blog. Quite an amazing story. And quite an amazing proposal. It is a marriage proposal via a movie trailer featuring two personalized Muppets.

As my good friend Chandra pointed out when she forwarded me the link, I like mushy things. I confess, I do. I embrace the mushy things in life. I believe embracing the mushy makes us better humans. Gives us bigger hearts. Enriches our souls.

And I’m a sucker for creative, endearing marriage proposals. Forget the ballpark, jumbo-tron crap. If I never see another non-creative man on bended knee either court side or on the court, it will be way too soon. Give me a break, fellas. That has been done to death. Not to mention, I go to games to watch the game. And besides, proposals are significant. These are important moments for both the asker and the asked or the proposer and the proposee. Or something like that. Any way, proposals are meant to be personal. Not part of the wave in a stadium of strangers.

But I guess I’m a little biased due to my own experience. It was  December 5th, a cold but clear Saturday evening following the Winterfest fireworks. We sat bundled in the car, sipping red wine from Christmas glasses, oohing and ahhing. The winter air seems to make the fireworks brighter, wider, slower. It was as if we were viewing them in slow motion, a beat or two behind the synchronized radio music. Beautiful. My love of (at the time) four years suggested instead of streaming into the traffic on Central and curving around the Mid-American Indian Center, we take a walk in the cold. View the Christmas lights in Riverside from across the river, just behind the tennis courts. We’ll take the wine.

Hand in hand we walked until we were directly beneath two giant evergreens. In between hung a brightly lit Christmas star. I’d seen these trees holding hands with the shining star every year as I circled through the park. They were amazing up close. I was so in awe, peering up to the tops of the waving trees that I’d failed to notice my man on one knee. In the patches of leftover snow. His breath hanging in the air, anticipating his next words. That was twelve years ago.

We both grew up in and near the Riverside area. Every year we attended the Winterfest fireworks. He knew how much I loved Christmas, after all my name by definition means “a child of Christmas.” And this was a new beginning. What better way to start than beneath the beacon of a familiar, shining Christmas star.

And every year we return. Sometimes we just park across the river and toast those big trees.

Do I love the Muppet proposal? Absolutely. Do I love the story behind the creation and implementation of the Muppet proposal? Without a doubt. But it will never hold a candle to my proposal. As it shouldn’t. Which is why I love the Muppet proposal. Because time was taken, thought was given, and it was personal. So personal. A story only to be shared. Afterward.