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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

This season, holiday movies are falling for Europe


In “A Heidelberg Holiday,” Heidi (Ginna Claire Mason) heads to Germany to sell her handmade ornaments at a market, where she falls for a local hunk (Frédéric Brossier).

By Claire Moses


Christmas is magical. Christmas is inescapable.


And, according to an increasing number of holiday movies, it’s in Europe.


Browse Hallmark and Lifetime’s channels, and you will find a Christmas in Rome. In Vienna. In Switzerland. In Scotland. In Notting Hill. We’re having a Belgian Chocolate Christmas. A jolly good Christmas. A merry Scottish Christmas and even a merry Swissmas. You can enjoy a Heidelberg holiday and a Joyeux Noel (that one’s in France).


Europe, with its cobblestoned streets (a nightmare in heels), old buildings (no central heating) and Christmas markets (those can be as good as they look on-screen), provides the perfect setting for a magical holiday adventure.


“Hallmark fans get to experience these incredible destinations through the eyes of our character,” said Ali Liebert, the director of one of the network’s 2023 offerings, “Christmas in Notting Hill.”


In many of these films, an American girl is undervalued at her big city job. She leaves the city and finds a rugged local, who embodies all the wholesome values of a small town. Sometimes her love interest is a widower. Sometimes he has an adorable child, or he may have a dog. (If he lives in Scotland, the dog’s name may be Hamish.)


Certain European spots have been deemed more appropriately Christmassy than others. (We’re yet to see “My Barcelona Christmas,” despite the December temperatures there being pretty similar to London.) In these films, Europe is awash with eligible princes from royal families presiding over countries with names such as Aldovia or Cordinia, which you would be hard pressed to find on a map.


And for those holiday movie fans expecting a white Christmas in England, it’s more likely you’ll get a drizzly one. The last time Britain saw a festive blanketing of snow for the holiday, the way Charles Dickens intended, was in 2010.


But none of that matters. Christmas movies let you vicariously live your best European Christmas, which may be significantly better than the holidays experienced by actual Europeans.


And as far as snow goes — there are visual effects for that.


Hallmark is releasing 42 new holiday movies this year, with a catalog of many more, and shooting some in European locations “gives us more cultural traditions to dig into,” said Lisa Hamilton Daly, the head of programming at Hallmark Media. “Our audiences love to travel with us.”


Daly is already looking ahead to next year’s Christmas, she said, adding that Hallmark crews will probably be returning to Europe for the network’s 2024 holiday movie slate.


And for viewers, getting to Europe — whether it’s because of pandemic delays, high ticket prices or general travel stress during the holidays — has not gotten any easier.


“U.S. audiences may not always be able to go to these exotic foreign lands,” said Dustin Rikert, the director of the new Hallmark film “A Merry Scottish Christmas,” which centers on estranged siblings in a castle in Scotland.


American audiences seem to enjoy watching stories set in the beautiful Scottish countryside. In Netflix’s 2021 film “A Castle for Christmas,” a bestselling author (Brooke Shields) ends up in a Scottish village and falls in love with a local duke.


In Lifetime’s 2020 film “Christmas at the Castle,” a big city girl is sent to the Scottish Highlands to find a rare fragrance. She, too, falls in love with a local.


These stories and settings are pure escapism, according to David Lumsden and Toby Trueman, the director and an executive producer of “Christmas in Scotland,” a 2023 movie streaming on Plex and Xumo.


“We never have white Christmases, it’s always a gray Christmas,” said Trueman, who lives in Edinburgh. “This is not a realist film.”


Lumsden has also directed other genres, including horror, and he has enjoyed the switch to holiday content. “My family rarely gets to see the stuff I do,” he said, because it’s “too scary for my niece or nephew.” Christmas movies, he added, can be watched by everyone.


Movies set around the holidays have long been popular, and in the 2000s, festive romance films including “Love Actually” and “The Holiday” made big money at the box office, before joining films such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Home Alone” in the rotation of classic holiday movies.


Over the past few years, Hallmark and Lifetime have bet big on cheesy, formulaic Christmas movies with a guaranteed happy ending, releasing dozens of new titles every year.


These movies’ predictable and cozy nature fuels their popularity. “The formula exists for a very good reason,” Daly said. “It makes people happy.”


At the end of a Christmas movie, you know that the beautiful Scotsman (or Germanic prince or English soccer star) will end up with the ambitious American blonde (or brunette). They will kiss — and nothing else! Hands where I can see them! — at the exact moment soft snowflakes start falling.


Our American heroine may even make a permanent move to that drafty old castle without modern amenities. But I digress. What happens after the credits roll is not important.

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