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Hallmark Holidays for the Rest of Us

By Maggie Marangione December 19, 2023 Family

When my daughter walks in the door, Christmas walks in with her. Like Fezziwig in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, she makes Christmas a jubilant holiday for all with her unbridled joy. Also, having spent months buying presents so wonderful, heartfelt and personal, she has made my sons cry and left me in awe.

Fueled by adrenaline and Starbucks, she leaves New Hampshire with a car filled to the brim with goodies, often driving through the night, quite like a real-life Santa, because she does not expect anything in return. Simply, she takes delight in the giving.

My family waits with anticipation for her. There are candles in the window, pine boughs around all the doors, and my grandchildren and I have the kitchen table filled with Sugarplums (yes, we make them), Truffles and cherry almond fudge.

As she pulls up the driveway, we all run out to meet her. She exits the car, with her blond hair in beautiful disarray, and starts chiding her brothers to unload the trunk as she swoops her niece and nephew in a hug and spins their little legs around and around as they twirl. My heart wants to burst; I am so happy to see her.

The Christmas Eve menu has been discussed by my daughter and me weeks before and consists of mussels, lobsters, salmon and shrimp with a loaf of Italian bread. Homemade Tiramisu for desert. It is the night of the fishes. Inevitably, she’ll want to open presents after dinner, but we will all beg her off, wanting to keep the anticipation as long as possible.

Eventually, she will wear us down and pick one person that has to open a special present. It is always magical, custom made, and I am in awe of her preternatural ability to pick just the right thing.

It’s a Hallmark Movie Holiday ‘Till It’s Not

But she won’t be home for Christmas this year, and the entire family is dazed. We are in so much distress, we are not sure how we can celebrate without her or if there is even any Christmas if she is not here. But we will, because my family is resilient despite the additional wrench of the first Christmas without grandchildren due to my son’s recent break-up.

I have some experience in this department, having suffered through many years of facing being alone for both Thanksgiving and Christmas because my children were with my ex. The sadness, disbelief and loneliness when your Hallmark movie goes sideways to Hell are as dark as the winter nighttime.

Spitting into the Wind

Yet, after some time of wallowing in a grief and absolutely hating and dreading the holiday season, I acted.

I remember one gray, cold, icy Christmas Eve where I sobbed so hard I gave myself a migraine. The next year’s holiday season, however, I accepted invitations from friends. Getting out of the house helped despite my dread and how awkward I felt.

Then, I got braver and began hosting framily holiday parties, inviting friends, strangers and other people who were going to be alone on the holidays, to my house. Once again, the holidays were filled with life and laughter.

As my confidence in my alternative holidays grew, I signed up for delivering meals on wheels and serving holiday meals at local churches. In an incredible final act of holiday Hallmark defiance, I trailered my horse deep into the woods on Christmas Day and rode for hours, my dogs trotting along at my side, experiencing nature, silence and a peaceful divine oneness that was unmeasurable.

What This Christmas Looks Like for Me

So, this Christmas, as my son spends his first holiday without his children and my daughter is miles and miles away, he and I are going fly fishing far up a mountain stream for native trout. We will bring two cast iron frying pans, two deck chairs, which we will sling across our backs, some potatoes in a knapsack, and fry up any catch over an open fire.

And my daughter? She is hosting her own framily get together, having invited friends who are estranged from or can’t travel to family. At her house, they will gather for her signature cocktails, a bountiful charcuterie board, and I am sure her laughter, which I always hear, especially at Christmas time.

Hallmark movies, for the holidays and otherwise, should really catch on.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How do you handle holidays when your life has brought change? Hallmark movies or Festivus? What’s your alternative to Family gatherings? Do you have someone or someplace special that captures holiday magic for you?

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Teddee Grace

I was unable to have children and am divorced. All of my immediate relatives are deceased, my younger brother most recently. I have usually celebrated solo and don’t find it lonely. How many people get to do exactly what they want to do when they want to on any specific holiday?


Because our grandsons (now 16 & 18) have had custody agreements to work around so we never celebrate Christmas Eve or Christmas day with the boys. Our daughter’s schedule (or trips) are irregular, too. Even though I struggled with this for a couple of years I learned it doesn’t matter at all that we all aren’t together on these days. We’ve instead shared our Family Christmas day around their time with mom or dad. We’ve celebrated early and late. But – we have had our time together. And – I always pray for those that suffer from lonlieness during Christmas. Those that “endure”. Dings to the heart from a granddaughter we are not allowed to see, a daughter that has chosen her bio-family over ours, and those that we miss hurt. I let it hurt for a bit and then make the choice to CELEBRATE (this has taken me years!)

Hallmark movies are good for background noise while wrapping presents, etc. They have no story line that’s worth sitting down and watching. I want a Christmas movie that has depth and a real story. I want inspiring movies. Movies with real life experiences. Boy/girl meet, clash, kiss in the end. Ridiculous. Where’s the harried Grandma trying to put all the pieces together? Where are themes in which those of us at a certain age are the primary actors and not simply in the background? I could go on & on. There is another channel that is closer to my liking.

Merry Christmas to every woman reading this. I wish you all PEACE and comfort because I truly care!


Love your story, Laura. It’s so unHallmark-like. I detest those movies too. I kinda like watching Krampus! People think I’m weird because of that but maybe I’m just decrying all the fake happy happy shows. Lest we forget, suffering occurs all over the world. Even at Christmas.
Merry Christmas to you, also, and thank you.

Irene Wilson

We never had a huge crowd for Christmas but this year we are down to just three. Our closest family and their children with their spouses have all moved to Alberta. My brother-in-law passed away just last week so celebrations will definately be muted with his passing. For the first time ever, I will not be cooking the traditional turkey dinner, but have allowed myself to order same from a wonderful caterer instead. I will revel in spending time with my children as this may be the new norm for us. Just hoping God will bless us with good health for the coming year so that we can enjoy whatever comes our way.

S Miller


Lisa Simmons

This really speaks to me. Living with alcoholism, I cancelled the holidays so not to be disappointed. I love the phrase “ Hallmark holidays “. I often use it. Today in recovery our family is intact and we enjoy whatever the day brings. This year we will have everyone together and I am prepared for any drama, but have great tools to enjoy it no matter what! Happy Holidays and thank you for always speaking to me with your articles.

Laurine Gustke

I am hoping for a wonderful Christmas for you and your family, Lisa!


The Author

Margaret S. Marangione is a Professor of writing at the University of Virginia and Blue Ridge Community College. Her novel, Across the Blue Ridge Mountains, has been submitted for the Pen Faulkner award. Additionally, her short stories, essays and poetry have been published in Appalachian Journal, The Upper New Review, Lumina Journal, Enchanted Living and Sagewoman magazine.

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