Here is the plot of the 2018 Lifetime film A Very Nutty Christmas, as summarized by the network that airs it:
Hard-working bakery owner Kate Holiday (Melissa Joan Hart), has more cookie orders than she has time to fill this holiday season, and when her boyfriend suddenly breaks up with her, any shred of Christmas joy she was hanging onto, immediately disappears. After Kate hangs the last ornament on the tree and goes to bed, she awakens the next morning to a little bit of Christmas magic. She gets the surprise of her life when Chip (Barry Watson), a handsome soldier who may or may not be the Nutcracker Prince from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, appears in her living room.
This description, despite its zaniness—I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that this enchanted nutcracker, ostensibly constructed of wood and also coming to life in the home of a bakery owner, is named Chip—doesn’t quite capture the particular kind of film that A Very Nutty Christmas is. The Hallmark holiday movie, whether it happens to be airing on Lifetime or on Freeform or on Netflix or, indeed, on Hallmark itself, is a genre that transcends its network. And, via a magical nutcracker, here it is on Lifetime, distilled down to its essence. There’s the small town and its quaint bakery. There are softly lit Christmas cookies. There’s a climactic Christmas pageant (in this case, a Christmas ball), and ice skating, and lots of snow, and liberal musical use of “The Nutcracker Suite.” And there’s a classic protagonist of the genre—a woman who is frazzled, but who does not need to be—who faces, as Lifetime’s summary suggests, the gravest threat these films can imagine on behalf of their heroines: Kate Holiday, yes, is in danger of losing her Christmas Spirit.
“There’s no Christmas for me this year, okay?” Kate tells her best friend and bakery assistant, Rosa (Marissa Jaret Winokur), after her cad of a boyfriend admits to cheating on her. “I’m just going to muddle through the holidays myself.”
This, when uttered in the context of a Hallmark holiday movie, is a beacon to the Christmas spirits, who know one thing, and pretty much one thing only: No one should simply muddle through the holidays. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not—however you find meaning in the time of year that these movies shorthand as “the season”—the ideal, these films insist, is unmitigated joy. Christmas, here, isn’t a religious observance or even a seasonal festival; it functions, often, simply as a deadline: the day by which, in the framework of the films, it is no longer tenable to keep putting off the thing that will bring that joy, whether it’s a declaration of love or an apology or a reunion or the rediscovery of one’s Christmas Spirit.