December 16, 2020

Preservation + Love = Holiday Movies!

Over the past few years, holiday romance television movies have become as ubiquitous as “Black Friday” specials and peppermint mochas in the holiday lexicon. Once exclusively a staple of the Hallmark channel, they’re now seemingly everywhere—Netflix, Lifetime, Hulu and more—and this year, that might be a good thing. 2020 has been challenging in its best moments and devastating at its worst, making two-hour bursts of sugary-sweet happily ever after feel almost therapeutic.

While the genre is imperfect—a majority of the leads are white, straight couples, and a distressing number of women abandon successful careers for love—many channels are making an effort to modernize and diversify their stories, while still holding to the tropes that make these movies wildly popular. And, rather surprisingly, one of those tropes is preservation. Our leads often find love while saving a place that is meaningful to one or both of them.

Don’t believe me? Even NPR has noticed… “save the critical community asset” is one of the themes that pop culture writer Linda Holmes flagged in her annual holiday movie guide, a critical resource in the development of this story.

Without further ado, here are a handful of holiday movies to watch that bring the love to both their stars and the places that matter to them.

Behind the Scenes view of The Shadows dressed for Lifetime's 2019 Christmas in Louisiana

photo by: The Shadows

A behind-the-scenes view of National Trust Historic Site The Shadows during the filming of Lifetime's 2019 "Christmas in Louisiana."

Christmas on Ice

A city’s outdoor ice rink is at risk because its maintenance no longer fits in the municipal budget, and because a new, indoor rink has opened in Christmas on Ice (Lifetime). Former Olympic hopeful Courtney, who learned to skate at the rink and teaches a new generation of kids, is determined to save it. One of her tactics: a letter-writing campaign to the mayor—in the form of Christmas cards! Will recently-retired NHLer and local hockey hero Noah help or hurt her cause?

Christmas Tree Lane

Meg is a second-generation proprietor of a music store who takes up preservation when she and her neighbors receive eviction notices to make way for a new office complex in Christmas Tree Lane (Hallmark Movies + Mysteries). Newly returned Denverite Nate falls for Meg and her cause, but they’re both in for a surprise when they find out who is behind the project. This movie demonstrates a pretty solid grassroots preservation campaign and name drops a bunch of successful preservation projects in Denver, so the writers clearly did their homework. And if you know the Four Point Approach from Main Street America, you may figure out part of the resolution in advance.

The Christmas Setup

A historic train station in Milwaukee—reopened annually for a letters-to-Santa celebration—is the place at risk in The Christmas Setup (Lifetime), as it’s to be replaced with a charm-free ticketing kiosk for commuters. Big city lawyer Hugo returns to his hometown and meets up with tech mogul-turned-Christmas tree farmer Patrick, and they fall for each other while decorating the station and researching how to save it. In all honesty, the preservation process here relies mostly on a lucky-but-improbable discovery, but it’s a charming movie nevertheless.

A screencapture from the movie The Christmas Set Up

photo by: Lifetime

Scene from Lifetime's "The Christmas Setup" featuring an old train station that our main characters are trying to save.

On the 12th Date of Christmas and Dash & Lily

In what might be considered a sub-genre of the place-saving holiday movies are the stories that eliminate the threatened place and instead focus on falling in love with a city while also falling in love with a person. On the 12th Date of Christmas (Hallmark) falls into this category, as competing game designers Jennifer and Aiden fall in love with each other and the city of Chicago as they plan a scavenger hunt to celebrate the grand re-opening of a historic hotel. Dash & Lily (Netflix) is in this same group, as two teenagers fall in love with both New York City and each other as they create their own hunt by passing a notebook back and forth over the holidays.

Christmas in Louisiana

Then there are holiday romances that get their preservation hit in other ways, such as last year’s Christmas in Louisiana (Lifetime, still available in reruns). Filmed in New Iberia, Louisiana and at National Trust Historic Site The Shadows, former Miss Christmas Sarah and her onetime Mr. Christmas Luke—who are infamous for an onstage breakup at their crowning—explore their hometown (and, of course, rekindle their romance) as they return for the 50th anniversary of the town’s Christmas tradition.

Phylicia Rashad in Jingle Jangle on Netflix

photo by: Courtesy of Netflix

African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Advisory Council Co-Chair Phylicia Rashad stars in Netflix's "Jingle Jangle."

Jingle Jangle

And, finally, while it’s neither a romance nor focused on saving a place, the holiday musical Jingle Jangle on Netflix is a delight with an unexpected preservation connection: it features Phylicia Rashad, co-chair of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Advisory Council—and a host of other incredibly talented actors, including Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, and Anika Noni Rose. There’s singing and dancing galore as young Journey finds a way to warm the heart (and spark the creativity) of her crotchety grandfather, who never recovered from a years-old betrayal by his one-time protege.

This is, of course, by no means a comprehensive listing of all the preservation-friendly holiday fare, but there are only so many hours in a day to dive into holiday romance. Happy watching, and may you meet cute with a stranger the next time you save a place.

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Sarah Heffern, the National Trust's former director of social media, embraces all things online and pixel-centric, but she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having first fallen for historic places in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class.

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