For starters, seeing familiar traditions and tropes played out on screen (and knowing it’ll all turn out OK in the end) feels good mentally. “The human brain loves patterns and the predictability is cognitively rewarding,” explains Rutledge. “Those predictable story arcs that draw on the standard patterns we recognize from fairytales offer comfort by presenting life as simple and moralistic.” Which can serve as a much-needed break from the complexity of real-life holiday chaos.
As for the absence of cinematic wow factor that’s become a “hallmark” of these movies (sorry, had to), there’s a reason why we’re so forgiving of it. “The lack of reality at all levels, from plot to production, signals that the movies are meant to be escapism entertainment,” Rutledge explains. “The genre is well-defined, and our expectations follow. This enables us to suspend disbelief.”
What does that suspended disbelief do for us emotionally? “While few of us are going to switch places with a doppelgänger, save Christmas for ourselves or someone else, marry a prince/princess, fall for a person who turns out to be a billionaire or find true love in the span of an hour, [Hallmark movies] still allow us to experience the emotions associated with social validation, the yearning for connection, compassion and empathy,” says Rutledge. “The movies provide simplistic solutions to all those stressors that the holidays can bring: family conflict, isolation or financial pressures.”