Ah, the Christmas season. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, ornaments sparkling on the tree, and cheesy romance movies playing on your TV.
Admit it: You’ve wiped away a few tears as the career-driven heroine kisses the single dad in the softly falling snow and learns the real meaning of Christmas.
But we also know the tired dramatic tropes like secret-boyfriend-back-home and the-lie-grown-out-of-control that don’t always depict particularly healthy or realistic relationships. And yeah, there are often inappropriate or even emotionally manipulative relationship habits on display. Fortunately, though, not every holiday romance movie falls into this trap.
If you're looking for a healthy, relatable holiday romance to capture that seasonal magic while also demonstrating what it really means to love another person, look no further than these gems:
The Christmas Ornament
Watching The Christmas Ornament each year feels a lot like unwrapping your favorite childhood decoration and hanging it on the tree. This quintessential Hallmark movie has all the trademarks: a grieving widow who has given up on Christmas, a handsome and funny Christmas tree salesman, and lots of ice skating. Come for the love story: the two leads' relationship starts slowly and respectfully as Tim gives Kathy lots of space and patience as she struggles to open up. Stay for the skating scenes: long, romantic, sequences mostly without dialogue, where the characters learn to connect with one another. Kathy's communication is often silent, but Tim understands her because he’s not just listening, he’s paying attention to her whole person. Even on a frozen rink, it warms the heart.
Netflix’s Holiday Rush brings a fun, fresh twist to the standard Christmas love story. When popular radio DJ Rashon “Rush” Williams loses his spot on-air, he and his long-time on-air partner Roxy set out to buy the failing hip-hop station where they got their start. Throughout the movie, their relationship evolves from a genuine friendship into something more. Roxy is sensitive to the fact that Rush and the kids are still mourning his late wife, and Rush is receptive and supportive when Roxy shares painful childhood memories with him. The movie avoids forcing drama into the relationship. There's no obligatory break up or "Big Lie." Instead, the pair supports each other differently at different times, working together to solve problems and keeping their eyes on a common goal.
Marriage is hard. Running a business with your spouse can spell trouble for anyone, even if that business is Cranberry Lane, a lifestyle brand designed to make life look like a Christmas card. Hallmark’s Cranberry Christmas is unique in that it features a married couple on the rocks after their vision for the future of their company puts them at odds with each other. But even though they're at a low point, Dawn and Gabe are always respectful and never cruel. When they have to put on a happy face for the cameras to help their local Christmas festival, this underlying mutual respect allows them to rediscover why they fell in love in the first place. This movie reminds us that a love story doesn’t end with that first magical kiss or at the moment when you say “I do,” but rather is a lifelong journey. After all, “There are no perfect marriages. Just imperfect people that don’t give up on each other.”
The Holiday Calendar
From the first moment we meet them, Abby and Josh are total #relationshipgoals. They laugh together, finish each other’s sentences, support each other, and trust each other. They click in every way, except one: Abby's not into him. Josh is stuck in the friend zone, which is wild considering how handsome, funny, and wholesome he is. But we’ll forgive Abby considering the other handsome, funny, and wholesome guy who has caught her attention (for now). As Abby’s Gramps says, “People can show you whatever they want, but it’s how they make you feel that counts.” Of all the couples on this list, Abby and Josh feel the most believable, like a couple you could invite over for a glass of wine and a Christmas movie. Plus, who doesn’t love a magical Advent calendar?
The Christmas House
What is family if not a collection of little love stories? In Hallmark’s The Christmas House, three couples in different stages of life navigate the joys and challenges of being in love. Bill and Phylis, who are finally both retired after decades of marriage, suddenly realize that they don’t have as much in common as they used to. Meanwhile, their son Brandon and his husband Jake are trying not to get their hopes up after multiple attempts at adoption have fallen through. Finally, their older son Robert finds himself reconnecting with his childhood sweetheart and the-one-who-got-away, Andi, after her recent divorce. The Christmas House is a sweet, simple story of familial love in all its variations.
A Christmas Movie Christmas
Unlike the other movies on this list, Hulu’s A Christmas Movie Christmas contains every awful relationship trope in the book - and it’s hilarious. Sisters Eve and Lacy wake up one morning to find themselves trapped in a Christmas romcom with no clue how to escape. If you love made-for-TV holiday movies as much as I do, you’ll crack up as this one hits every note in the Sugar Plum Symphony. This time around, though, the convoluted plot lines, inappropriate dating behavior, and unwarranted drama have a purpose. Both sisters learn that they are worthy of a real, honest relationship with a genuinely good person.
Bonus: Dash & Lily
This isn’t actually a movie, it’s an eight part mini-series! This delightful Netflix adaptation has everything you could want in a holiday binge: a couple with conflicting feelings about Christmas, a barrage of NYC holiday traditions, anonymous letters, several wild chases through the city, and a Jonas Brothers performance. (Nick Jonas produced the series and makes a cameo appearance.) Over the course of eight episodes, you see Dash and Lily's insecurities, dreams, and fears, which they share with each other in surprisingly vulnerable ways. They also have doubts about their own worthiness in love, which they have to overcome in order to find their way to each other. If you’re in it for the long holiday haul, I can't recommend this one enough.