A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High-Sensing Male
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As the holiday season unfolds, I've discovered a somewhat unexpected tradition in my holiday routine — immersing myself in the “enchanting” world of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. It's a curious choice, particularly for a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) like me, who enjoys emotion-filled character studies in drama but bristles at formulaic stories. Yet, I have to ask: What draws individuals, especially HSP, to these saccharine, formulaic romantic comedies during this time of year? Let’s first look at the appeal.
The Enchanting Appeal of Hallmark Christmas Movies
- Charm and Formula: Hallmark Christmas movies, with their big festive events, gingerbread contests, and town-saving escapades, follow a sacrosanct and predictable formula. It's a ritualistic journey that captures the essence of the holiday season. For some, it’s like a batch of Grandma’s Christmas cookies. For others, it’s Aunt Maude’s fruitcake. To wit: you can count on the following: 1) a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, 2) a Christmas pageant, festival, carnival, or dance, usually preceded by the words “The Annual (fill in the blank), 3) Somebody is baking something, usually for the very competitive Gingerbread House assembly contest, which, of course, is at the big, annual festival or fill in the blank, 4) there has to be a snowman building or snowball throwing competition, with the occasional snow angel thrown in, 5) the hometown is always named – Evergreen, Pine Cone, Hollyville, Christmas Junction, Happy Valley, or some name that invokes Christmas, as if during the rest of the year the town hibernates until November 1st when Hallmark trots out their movie schedule.
- Meticulously Crafted Narratives: These movies employ a formulaic approach with meticulously choreographed narratives. This predictability isn’t necessarily a flaw but rather a comforting embrace, creating a sense of warmth and familiarity and setting a level of expectation that ends with a familiar happy ending. This is where we forget about the formula and focus on feeling and tradition. We don’t put up Palm Trees for Christmas, or serve Planter’s Punch; without fail, we bring out the ol’ Christmas tree, a real Douglas Fir or Scotch Pine, or the synthetic version of such trees. We serve egg nog, spiked or not, and do it fully aware that we did the exact same thing last year. If nothing else, Christmas is predictable, and we like it that way.
- Shared Tradition: Acknowledging the annual tradition of millions, predominantly women, partaking in this cinematic ritual to infuse the holiday spirit adds to the collective magic of the experience. Some may say that men should not watch these movies for fear of being infused with sentimental emotion, sentimentality, and the fluff of a good old romantic story. And I bet many men would not be caught dead watching these movies or at least admitting to having watched them. They may have been coaxed into it by their partners, or maybe, like me, watch them voluntarily to see what they’re all about. But I suspect that many men, HSP or not, actually enjoy the sappy predictability of the guy getting the girl just because it invokes the feeling of completeness at the end of the story. Everything reeks of traditionalism, but maybe there is some old-fashioned comfort at Christmas.
Understanding the Audience Connection
- Comfort and Warmth: Hallmark Christmas movies provide more than just a storyline. They offer a unique sense of comfort and warmth, creating a cozy holiday atmosphere that resonates with viewers. And, for those of us that are emotional junkies, then the predictable highs and lows encountered along these holiday journeys allow us to imbibe a wide range of emotions neatly wrapped in a two-hour capsule. Knowing that there will always be a kid needing a parent, a parent needing a spouse, and a more than convenient reason to meet, including random meetings, cars breaking down near small towns, the main character suddenly has amnesia, you name it, the contrivances are as abundant as hot chocolate and Christmas cookies.
- Emotional Connection: The emotional connection viewers establish with these films highlights the temporary escape from reality that these cinematic delights offer during the holiday season. Yes, the payoff comes in the last two minutes of every single Hallmark movie, as if by code, the two lead characters cannot kiss until all the deals are finalized, then cut to credits. I call this the consummation kiss, which is about as steamy as these movies get. Of course, just before that, at the thirty minutes to go mark, we always have the DARK MOMENT, when the characters create by design or by flaw, a single moment when the two prospective lovers fall out over anything from that big job offer to a disagreement over mistaken identity or intentions or some seemingly irreconcilable parenting obligation. It all works out – we know that, yet we fall for that brief moment on the idea that our not-yet-conjoined couple will make it to the consummation kiss.
The Promise Fulfilled in Each Christmas Movie
- Recurring Promises: The recurring promises fulfilled in each movie, from the comforting assurance that everything will work out okay to the exploration of timeless themes like love, family, and tradition, seem to work out magically. In some ways, it adds to the theme that Christmas was once and can be magical again. Our kid selves race down the stairs to promised gifts under the tree, because that after all is the Christmas Contract. Hallmark never lets us down.
- Contributions to Genre Appeal: These promises and themes contribute to the enduring appeal of the genre, providing a sense of hope and joy that aligns perfectly with the holiday spirit. We all know that after Christmas, we rejoin a forlorn world rife with divisive politics, a world filled with intrigue, war, feast, and famine. Still, for the moment, they have us; we are in Happy Valley or Christmas Creek, high in the mountains, snow-filled lanes, small town, big hearts, where everything is right in the end.
Beyond Gender Stereotypes: Why Men Also Love Hallmark Christmas Movies
- Challenge Stereotypes: There is a stereotype that only women enjoy these movies. But I would argue that there are universal benefits that men, including HSP men, can derive from them. We all need distractions, simple guilty pleasures that allow us to escape. Christmas is a time with highly charged emotions. Sometimes, mindless escapes are just what we need as men, as HSPs, and as humans. And I bet most men share the same emotions surrounding Christmas and the Holidays as females, even if some are hidden. Consider it a mindful meditation in conjuring happiness.
Personal Reflection: What I Get Out of These Movies
- Personal Journey: I tend to watch these movies if I’m single. Perhaps they provide some solace from spending the holidays without a partner. You get familiar with the actors and start showing preferences for certain actors over others. The story is always the same, and yeah, it does matter who is playing whom. Often, I mouth out saltier lines to the actors, sometimes to spice it up or maybe even make absurd the squeaky-clean nature of the dialogue. My parodies are funny to me; perhaps a church group would be offended, but I imagine the characters may even share my sentiments in their private spaces. In many ways, these schmaltzy vignettes give me a sense of hope for the future, a brief respite for my world-wary mind, and a place to recline and imagine a world where everything works out.
As we wrap up this exploration, it becomes evident that Hallmark Christmas movies hold a special place in viewers' hearts, transcending gender stereotypes. The universal desire for escapism and the comfort derived from the predictability of happy endings make these films a unique and cherished part of the holiday season. So, as we unwrap the magic of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, let's celebrate their ability to bring joy, hope, and a touch of enchantment to our lives during this festive time of year. Cheers to the heartwarming escape these films provide and the shared magic that unites us all during the holiday season! See you all in Fruitcake Village.
Bill Allen currently lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.