December 15, 2021

Empowering Nostalgia: A 2021 Holiday Movie Guide

In 2014, John Koenig, author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, coined the term “anemoia,” meaning, “nostalgia for a time you’ve never known.” The idea of people feeling wistful for a period they have never lived during may seem strange, especially if you’ve never experienced it, but it also speaks volumes about how connected people feel—and are—to the past. It is easy to forget that the world we live in is a product of that past, built up and up and up, and historic sites are tangible remnants of that past.

In one of the movies listed below, Christmas Time is Here, a real estate agent is torn between whether she should sell the inn her family has run for years (which she strongly associates with her late mother). The inn therefore wields a kind of power over her; she feels compelled to protect it. In this way, nostalgia acts as a quasi-defense mechanism for historic sites, a force that can protect them from crumbling away. Some may dismiss the holiday movies below as ‘tropey’ or ‘predictable,’ but maybe it’s more interesting to think of them as explorative studies into the many ways nostalgia can inspire historic preservation.

After all, underneath the heavily ornamented wreaths and cookies, these are stories about preservation. The theater in Sister Swap: A Hometown Holiday is based, for instance, on a real site in Franklin, Tennessee. In The Holiday Fix Up, designer Coop lets his preservationist flag fly when he is irritated by his co-designer dismissing an antique piece in favor of a new one and snaps, “There’s something special about holding on to something from the past.”

So, if you like your preservation stories dressed in holiday cheer and served with a generous portion of romance, please dive into our list below. And for more holiday movies that feature history and preservation, check out our guide from last year.

A woman stands in the middle of a decorated Mexican bakery.

photo by: ©2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Kailey Schwerman

Maya (Merritt Patterson) stands in the middle of the Mexican bakery which is at the heart of "The Gingerbread Miracle."

1In The Holiday Fix Up (Lifetime), two designers—Sam and Coop, who were previously engaged—team up to renovate the Bell Harbor Inn, a beloved site in their hometown. However, there’s a twist: Sam is a stalwart believer in sourcing new materials for the renovation, while Coop believes in recycling and repurposing existing materials. Consequently, the two designers navigate much tension as their relationship history and opposing schools of thought clash throughout the renovation, even while they are united in their desire to repair this community site.

2In The Gingerbread Miracle (Hallmark), attorney Maya is determined to find the right buyer for a beloved Mexican bakery, the Casillas Panadería, after the owner decides to sell (enter the owner’s nephew and Maya’s old childhood friend, Alejandro Casilla). This movie shares Mexican holiday traditions and explores how memories—both tangible and intangible—are essential when trying to understand the past.

Two people embracing in front of a decorated brownstone in Harlem.

photo by: ©2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Robert Clark

Jazmin (Olivia Washington) embraces her past to find community and love with Caleb (Will Adams) in "A Holiday in Harlem."

3Nia is a successful small-town realtor who is reluctantly supporting her father in selling their family’s resort in Christmas Time is Here (GAC Family). When she takes on a new client, Julian, who is intent on purchasing a resort property before Christmas, she becomes increasingly concerned that he is interested in buying and commercializing her family’s resort. As Nia grapples with her own conflicting feelings about losing her connection to the resort, Julian begins concocting a plan himself. One of my favorite movies on this list, this story explores how grief can influence our decisions and desires by acting as a source of inspiration.

4In A Holiday in Harlem (Hallmark), Jazmin Carter comes home to celebrate Christmas in the neighborhood where she grew up. When she is unexpectedly pulled into planning the neighborhood holiday block party, she is reminded of the importance of community and tradition, but with an eye to the future. Like The Gingerbread Miracle, place plays a key part in this narrative, with Jazmin identifying that her own personal experiences contribute to the value she places on this neighborhood.

5In Sister Swap: A Hometown Holiday (Hallmark), sisters Meg and Jennifer switch places: Meg takes over at Jennifer’s restaurant in Salt Lake City, while Jennifer and her son visit their hometown for the holiday. There, they learn that The Madison, a local theater that belonged to their late uncle, has been put up for sale. Wishing to spend one more Christmas at The Madison, Jennifer decides to try and renovate the theater—with help from their community—for one last hurrah. Inspired by the real-life fight to preserve The Franklin Theatre in Tennessee, this movie explores the importance of place and memory as a central to identity as both sisters find a renewed sense of purpose in their new pursuits.

Three people standing in front of a theatre marquee that says "thanks for the memories, theatre for sale."

photo by: ©2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

Jennifer Swift (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) her son Simon (Jacob Buster) and old friend Eric (Mark Deklin) stand in front of the Swift's family theatre as they prepare to say goodbye.

6A designer and a new homeowner team up to renovate a landmark ranch home in Montana before Christmas Eve in A Christmas Miracle for Daisy (GAC Family). The twist: the homeowner and designer were previously engaged before splitting up in order to focus on their careers. While engaged, they had spent time in Marietta, Montana (where the movie is set), and felt it to be a perfect small town. Now, years later, they both find themselves having returned to Marietta of their own accord. This movie underlines the power of place, and how people can feel chemistry with a place they aren’t from (so much so that they decide to rebuild their lives there).

Image of a stone castle decorated with holiday lights and garlands. There are two individuals in front of the building on horses.

photo by: Mark Mainz/NETFLIX

Sophie Brown (Brooke Shields) and Duke Myles (Cary Elwes) arrive at a decorated Scottish Castle, where Brown's family worked before moving to the United States.

7Looking to go international? In A Castle for Christmas (Netflix), famous author Sophie Brown falls out of favor with her fans after she kills off a beloved character. Recently divorced and in need of time away after her book scandal, Sophie decides to travel to Scotland to visit the ancestral home of her late father. Upon arriving, Sophie begins to feel a deep connection to the castle her family once tended. When she learns that it's for sale, she decides to buy it. But in doing so, Sophie pits herself against the castle’s current owner, Myles, the Duke of Dunbar, who is reluctant to sell. We then watch as the two grapple with who should own the property, and what it really means to belong to a place.

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Emma Peters is the Associate Manager to the Chief Marketing Officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A history graduate, she is constantly humbled by the way past lives and societies can alter the way we consume the present.

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