In a world where the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier, few networks truly bring it like Hallmark Channel. As early as Halloween, they start bringing feel-good films into the fold, followed by a full takeover post-Thanksgiving.
They've amassed an impressive stable of straight-to-TV, less-than-50-percent-on-Rotten-Tomatoes movies. Despite their lack of accolades, they have the formula down to an art form. Here are just a few things you'll often find when you jingle all the way through their holiday marathon.
The Busy Executive
They're way too busy to have a life, let alone know that it's Christmas. They're probably holding their employees late on Christmas Eve or bolting out of their child's pageant to take a phone call right before the solo. Later, while looking down at their phone, they'll crash into an attractive stranger who will teach them to slow down and enjoy life.
See: My Christmas Dream, A Heavenly Christmas, Snow Bride
The Santa Swap
"You mean I have to do Santa's job?" Yes, Santa has caught a cold or is so burned out that he's gone to Hawaii right before Christmas Eve. Or perhaps our protagonist has to take a job as a department store Santa. Odds are, this person is a holiday Scrooge, such as Kevin Sorbo's character, pictured above, from The Santa Suit. You heard that right, Kevin Sorbo.
See: The Santa Suit, Christmas at Cartwright's, Santa Switch
Searching for a fresh start (or not even knowing they needed one), our main character stumbles into a situation where they must play along to a group of people, or better yet, a love interest, as someone they're not. Sooner than later, they'll be in too deep and have to 'fess up, only to be forgiven in the spirit of Christmas.
See: A December Bride, A Very Merry Mix-Up, Snow Bride
This person, who gave up believing in Santa at age 4, will most assuredly run into him on the street. It's likely he'll be a nice old man named "Nick" or "Kris" who often alludes to his true identity. "Join you for Christmas Eve dinner? I'm actually pretty ... um ... busy that night."
See: A Wish For Christmas, The Santa Incident, Matchmaker Santa
Stranded in a Small Town
A cancelled flight, broken-down car, or obligation drops them into a tiny town with bad Wi-Fi. They'll be surrounded by small-town love and realize that their big-city life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Their car will be fixed just before Christmas Eve — should they stay or should they go?
See: Love You Like Christmas, Every Christmas Has a Story, Christmas Under Wraps
Read on for more signs (including clarinets!) that you're watching a Hallmark Christmas movie
The Clarinet Means They're Falling in Love
They've locked eyes across the Christmas party and then you hear it: the hum of the clarinet, likely playing upbeat notes or slow, solemn versions of Christmas classics. You'll also hear piano plucking and sleigh bells off in the distance, signaling obvious soulmate status.
See: All of them. Literally, every single one.
Things aren't always jolly, y'all. For every protagonist on a path to Christmas joy, there are often antagonists waiting in the wings to try and derail things. Maybe it's a former classmate with a chip on their shoulder, or an ex seeing their chances of reconciliation squashed by the introduction of a charming stranger. In time, they'll get theirs, either by being defeated or realizing the error of their ways.
See: A Rose For Christmas, Looks Like Christmas, Ice Sculpture Christmas
The Corporate Takedown/Going Out of Business
A small-town establishment (probably a toy store) is being bullied by a corporation that wants to put them out of business. Or, the beloved shop can't make ends meet. If they want to survive, they must rally the locals' support. Oh, and Santa is probably there, too.
See: Christmas Cookies, Sleigh Bells Ring, Christmas Incorporated
Apparently, it's a bummer to just say, "Hey, relationships are hard and sometimes they don't work out." Instead, it's surprisingly less of a bummer to have a death lead the widow with a golden heart to find the next love of her life.
See: The Christmas Shepherd, The Christmas Note, Magic Stocking
The One with Lacey Chabert
... Which is pretty much all of them. Regina George's sidekick has maintained a solid non-holiday acting and voice acting career while quietly becoming the Queen of Christmas Movies. Other honorable mentions: Candace Cameron-Bure and Dean Cain.
See: A Wish For Christmas, Family For Christmas, A Christmas Melody
Bonus: The Holiday Yule Log
A magic greater than all others, this program is three beautiful hours of a dog and cat lounging together by the fire. This is a thing that exists. It really is the most wonderful season of all.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version, which first appeared in December 2015.