Okay, let’s be honest. Cinema may be a bit of an exaggeration when it comes to one of my favorite things about the holidays–made-for-tv Christmas movies. Yes, I’m talking Countdown to Christmas, Falalala Lifetime, Freeform (still likely known as ABC Family to most of us), UpTv. You name it, I watch it. And I start before the pumpkins are even carved. Between Hocus Pocus and horror movie classics, I’m jingle belling along to two hours of feel good tv. Because they always end happy. There’s no bad endings in made-for-tv Christmas movie land which is part of the appeal. We can all watch the news and realize that in general, sometimes the real world sucks. So escape into a snow globe where the leading lady always gets her man who may or may not be related to Santa, or in some cases, Santa himself.
I’m sharing my top five favorite made-for-tv Christmas movies. These are the ones that can’t be missed. And, yes, of course I’m a big lover of the classics like Rudolph, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (original cartoon version), A Charlie Brown Christmas and more, but that’s not what this list is about.
- Holiday In Your Heart: This is a classic and I’m betting one that hasn’t or wasn’t seen my many. This 1997 ABC Sunday Night Movie stars LeAnn Rimes and not the tabloid queen version, but the legitimate “Blue,” 14-year-old with big bangs version. She plays herself, of course, and is preparing to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Her debut is complicated by her grandmother being hospitalized. Does she perform or does she visit her grandmother? Oh the turmoil. While trying to figure it out, LeAnn befriends once famous country singer Faith Shawn played by Bernadette Peters. Faith shares a story about how she and her band were stuck in a snowstorm on a bus. Of course she’s a diabetic and doesn’t have enough insulin. I won’t ruin it for y’all, but this one is a winner. Peters also sings “On the Side of Angels” which is a favorite moment. If you can scrounge up a copy, do it. It occasionally pops up on a random channel as well, but that’s few and far between. My 12-year-old self recorded it on her 9-inch tv/VHS combo and the tape is probably still kicking around somewhere. The tv/VHS combo not so much.
- Snowglobe: Shown in 2007 on ABC Family (now Freeform), this Christmas classic starts Christina Milian as Angela. Angela loves Christmas, unlike the rest of her family who are all super overbearing and kind of loosely stereotypically Italian, it’s odd. At the mall, Angela receives a snowglobe. She winds it up before going to sleep and bam, she’s in the snowglobe surrounded by people who love Christmas. It’s not long before she’s hooked, continuously visiting the snowglobe and kind of falling for this super wholesome, vanilla Douglas Holiday. Holiday follows her out of the snowglobe and chaos ensues. This one is more easily found than “Holiday in Your Heart” and actually popped up on Netflix not long ago. I don’t think it’s still there, but it usually comes on cable at least once during the holiday season. There’s also a drink to accompany the movie. Christmas on Tree Fire is eggnog and cinnamon schnapps or cherry brandy. I’ve never tried it, but hey, there’s always time.
- A Christmas Melody: Is there any better Queen of Christmas than Mariah Carey? I think not. Carey stars in (and directs) this 2015 Hallmark Movie as Melissa, the PTA president and not at all reformed high school mean girl. Single mom Kristin, played by Lacey Chabert of Party of Five, has closed her small Manhattan boutique and moved back home to Ohio with her young daughter, Emily. And, you guessed it, Emily is a student at Melissa’s school. Melissa is not at all welcoming and sort of tries to block Emily’s entrance into the school’s Christmas pageant/talent show. Rounding out the main cast is music teacher Danny, Brennan Elliott, and Kristin’s aunt Sarah, Kathy Najimy (Hocus Pocus!). There’s a fantastic music number in this film that will get stuck in your head. If you find yourself singing “Oh Santa,” remember I warned you. Bonus, this one is super easy to find. It’s shown several times during the holiday season on Hallmark and is actually coming up Dec. 4 at 4:05 a.m. Set your DVRs!
- Christmas Under Wraps: If Mariah Carey is the Queen of Christmas, Candace Cameron Bure and Melissa Joan Hart are the queens of made-for-tv Christmas movies. I’ll be honest in that it was super hard to narrow down my favorite to just one for each, but up first is Bure’s “Christmas Under Wraps.” Dr. Lauren Brunell, played by Bure, is the daughter of a doctor and is a surgery resident planning on being accepted into a particular hospital fellowship. When she’s put on the wait list, she takes a general practitioner position in Garland, Alaska (super fictional, doesn’t exist). While there, she learns the ropes of life as a small town doctor and is charmed by local Andy who is kind of a do-it-all person, seriously does anyone else work in Garland? Andy’s father, Frank, owns a top-secret shipping warehouse. You can kind of see where this is going. Watch it and let me know what you think. It comes on often each holiday season on Hallmark. While you’re on the channel, check out Bure’s other holiday movies “Journey Back to Christmas” and “A Christmas Detour.” “Let It Snow” is also good and she has a new one coming out, “Christmas Town” Dec. 1 and has had at least one, sometimes two, holiday movies every year for nearly a decade.
- Holiday in Handcuffs: I’m not sure that there can be a list like this without including this 2007 ABC Family 25 Days of Christmas gem. Not only does it star Melissa Joan Hart as hot mess express, painter and waitress Trudie, but Mario Lopez is the male lead. This is a ’90 kids dream. Trudie has a crap day and can’t bear to go home for the holidays solo, so she does what any normal person would do and kidnaps one of her restaurant patrons, David Martin (Lopez), and forces him to be her pretend boyfriend, Nick. The two stay with her family which happens to be spending the holidays in an isolated cabin and David joins in on the plan, minus some failed escape attempts. I can’t share too much more without giving it away, but it’s definitely worth a watch. Also watch Hart’s “A Very Nutty Christmas” from last year’s Lifetime lineup which has workaholic baker Kate throwing in the towel on Christmas until a nutcracker, played by Barry Watson of “Seventh Heaven,” comes to life. His name is Chip, she’s a baker, cookies, it totally works.
Bonus: Naughty or Nice: No, it’s not that kind of movie. This 2012 Hallmark movie stars Hilarie Burton (where my Tree Hillers at?) as Krissy Kringle. I know, bear with me. Unlike her parents, she’s not into Christmas or as they say in holiday movie land, lacks the “Christmas Spirit.” Krissy finds a book that is actually intended for Santa Claus, but because of her name and Candy Cane Lane address, is delivered to her. And yes, seriously if she didn’t love Christmas why is she living on Candy Cane Lane, but whatever. She also has a job as a mall elf, so clearly she doesn’t make good decisions for someone who dislikes the holidays. Using the book, the Naughty or Nice book, she’s able to expose the naughty deeds of those around her. Obviously this causes a whole slew of issues, but makes for a pretty entertaining journey. This one comes on a few times a year with Dec. 4 at noon on Hallmark being the next showing.
So, did I miss any of your favorites? Anything I have to add to my must watch list this year? Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, I’m going to find some way to get “Oh Santa” out of my head.