From The Side of the Road… a nod and a wink to Hallmark Christmas movies

You know how Christmas traditions get started: just do anything two years in a row, whether it’s using a draw system for family gifts or poisoning yourself with expired egg nog, and you’re forever obligated to repeat the procedure annually or “Christmas just isn’t Christmas.”

Thus it is with the Hallmark and Hallmark-like Christmas rom-com movies. I don’t think anyone really wanted to watch them when they first surfaced, but enough people found themselves watching Christmas at Windy Pines or A Prince at Christmas Inn one day while wrapping socks for the relatives; then it happened again the following year, and now it’s tradition.

I understand this principle well, because for at least two years now I’ve written a December column suggesting possible Hallmark-esque movie plots with a bluegrass music angle, and now it’s as much a part of Christmas for me as Jacob Marley and Tex Logan (perhaps you’ve heard their now-out-of-print duet record). 

So pour yourself an egg nog (preferably dated later than October 15th) and find some socks to wrap for Uncle Charlie; this tradition is continuing. It must, or I’ll be haunted tonight by three spirits.

This year, at last count, Hallmark has released 40 new Christmas movies, including A Cozy Christmas Inn, A Magical Christmas Village, and A Christmas Cookie Catastrophe (for the first time melding the Christmas rom-com and disaster movie genres). That’s a lot of disillusioned event planners and sentimental widower architects to fix up.

As in past years, these proposed movie plots contain bluegrass-related themes and I suggest pairing bluegrass artists with regular Hallmark movie actors in starring and supporting roles.

The Christmas Fiddle Project

A fiddle-playing architect (played by Jason Carter) is engaged to a hard-nosed investment banker he has very little in common with (played by Alicia Witt), including the fact that she hates Christmas and he loves it. He gets called away to play fiddle for a Christmas festival in a small fictional town in Colorado where everyone wears thick sweaters. The woman who is producing the show (played by Danica McKellar) works for the town’s extremely jolly mayor (played by Greg Cahill) and she loves everything about Christmas, and hits it off with the fiddling architect. Sparks fly when she accidentally kicks over a mic stand on the stage before sound check (she’s lovably clumsy) and they both kneel down to pick it up. Meanwhile his fiancee is furious that he took that “stupid Christmas gig” at all because she had planned a meeting with a consultant he was expected to be present for to discuss their high dollar wedding in Dubai. He stops answering her texts, especially because he’s busy with a pre-festival cookie-baking session with the mayor helping out (we are starting to suspect he may also be Santa Claus). The producer loves the architect’s fiddle playing and he confesses that his fiancee always hated it because she considered it a distraction from his lucrative architecture work. The mayor turns out to be an excellent banjo player and the two play a rousing version of the Stanley Brothers’ Christmas is Near while the cookies bake. The festival producer, during a post-cookie wintry walk convinces the architect to stay in their quaint town forever and just a make a living playing the fiddle and “doing Christmas things.” They kiss, he agrees, and it’s the best Christmas ever. The next year he also designs the town’s new city hall, which will be made of logs.

An Industrial Strength Christmas

A bluegrass singer (played by Rhonda Vincent) is struggling to make a living in Dayton, Ohio in 1958. She’s booked five nights a week at Jake’s Tavern. It’s late December, and a dashing young vending machine service man (played by Andrew Walker) chats her up one night during sound check. They discuss their shared country upbringing, their struggles with big city life, and their mutual love of Christmas. His wife back home was recently killed in a tragic snake-bite incident, and he has felt unready to open his heart again (until now). The meeting was secretly arranged by the helpful bartender (played by Joe Mullins) who we suspect may actually be an angel. Our vending man finishes installing the new pinball machine and has finished his route for the night. He hangs around to listen to the singer he’s bonded with, and during the first set is called up to sit in (he’s also a singer, but has never pursued it professionally), and they join together for a moving rendition of I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Red Allen appears to wink from a framed black and white photo behind the bar. 

Christmas at Sunny Ridge

An ambitious stockbroker (played by Ronnie McCoury) has lost the true spirit of Christmas, too caught up in his successful but all-consuming career. On Christmas Eve he’s visited by an angel (played by Claire Lynch) in the elevator of his luxurious high-rise building. She reminds him that he once loved everything about Christmas and even played the mandolin quite well. Her parting words were, “Go to Sunny Ridge. You’ll recapture your spirit there.” Shaken by the experience he drives his German sports car to Sunny Ridge, in an unnamed state or province, where by chance he meets a beautiful event planner (played by Lacey Chabert) when checking into his quaint B&B. She’s not normally his type (she’s wearing jeans and a scarf she knit herself), but he’s intrigued when she invites him to the local Christmas Apple Cider Festival. She had been married to their locally famous TV weather man, but they had parted ways over his dislike of snow and Christmas. The two bond over cider and gingerbread cookies and she reveals that she plays some rhythm guitar and knows all the words to Christmas Time’s a-Coming, her favorite song. She asks the stockbroker if he plays the vibes, so they could possibly play the song together, and he says no, but says that he happened to bring his mandolin along. Love and the Christmas spirit blossom as they jam and drink more cider (the hard variety now) in the reception area of the B&B, with the wry but kindly innkeeper (played by Larry Sparks) looking on and winking at both of them.