Christmas in the City

Skaters at Rockefeller Center
Some city Christmas magic from my trip to New York to research Damsel Under Stress

On Twitter, I’ve been playing around with what the opposite of the standard Hallmark Christmas movie would be, reversing or inverting all the tropes. So, instead of the city girl with a corporate career and a successful, wealthy boyfriend going to her hometown for Christmas to help save her family business and deciding to ditch her career and boyfriend and get back together with her high school boyfriend, you might have the small-town girl working for her family’s business and dating her high school boyfriend who goes to the city, where she ends up getting a corporate career and successful, wealthy boyfriend.

There are also the movies where the big-city girl has to go to a small town that she’s not from, where she discovers the wonder of Christmas and finds it all so magical. I can kind of see someone going to her hometown and being touched by traditions she remembers from childhood, but it seems less likely to me that a city girl would ditch everything for a small town she’s not from.

Really, I don’t get their fascination with small towns. I’m from a small town and have no desire to go back to one. Though I think we might disagree on the definition of “small town.” The town I’m from had a population of about 3,000 when I lived there. They’re a bit above 5,000 now. The “small” towns in these movies are more what I’d call a small city. I can somewhat see the appeal of moving from a major metro area to a smaller city that’s still an actual city and that isn’t part of a major metro area. But if we’re talking about a place where Christmas is particularly magical, I’ve had small-town Christmases and big-city Christmases, and the city wins, hands down. I guess if you’re from a city in the South, you might be charmed by a New England village where you get to take a sleigh ride, but it’s still not going to be a case of “Wow, I had no idea Christmas could be so magical!” unless she was living under a rock in the city.

In most small towns, Christmas amounts to some sad, weathered plastic tinsel and lights on the lampposts of the downtown area and a Christmas parade in which Santa rides on a fire truck. There might be a tree-lighting ceremony in a park. And these things happen early in December, not a day or two before Christmas. There are smaller towns that do bigger things for Christmas, but they do this for tourism purposes and bring in a lot of people from outside the area. One lone visitor wouldn’t stand out among the crowds enough to be adopted by the friendly locals (and that’s another thing — in my small-town experience, the locals are friendly to each other but suspicious of outsiders).

The “small town” in my area that comes closest to the Hallmark Christmas ideal isn’t truly a small town. It’s a former small town that has become a big city in the heart of a major metro area. It still has the quaint old downtown Main Street, and they do it up big for Christmas, but beyond that is major suburban sprawl. At Christmas, the downtown area gets really crowded and has a lot of traffic. People come in busloads, and they book vacation packages at the big resort hotels in the town. It is really festive and Christmassy, but it’s not a truly “small town” experience.

There’s a lot more Christmas stuff going on in big cities than in most small towns. Just about every city in the metro area has a light display, a parade, and a tree-lighting ceremony. There are holiday markets, outdoor concerts, outdoor ice rinks, and concerts involving big-name groups and artists. If I have to watch a production of The Nutcracker, I’d much rather watch the New York City Ballet than the kids at Miss Edna’s Dance ’n’ Twirl. You could do a different Christmas thing every night in December. When I was in high school in a small town, we had church youth group excursions to the big city, in which we’d load up the church van and go to Dallas to go to one of the big malls for Christmas shopping and ice skating. I think it’s far more likely that someone from a small town would go to the city and think everything was so magical than the reverse.

I’m not sure where Hallmark got this small town fetish, but their older movies don’t have it. If you look before 2016 or so, a lot of them take place in cities. No one has to give up their careers or get back with their high school boyfriends. I watched one last weekend, Naughty or Nice, that has the heroine living in the suburbs of a city, and she stays there and stays with her lawyer boyfriend. From around the same time, there’s It’s Christmas Carol, a retelling of A Christmas Carol in which a high-powered professional in Chicago becomes nicer but stays in her career. That one also has Carrie Fisher as all the ghosts, carrying around and drinking from a champagne bottle.

I’d toyed with drafting a Christmas story during this month as a way to keep the writing habit while I’m working on research, but then the month got away from me, and now it’s a week until Christmas. Instead of adding work, I’m going to take next week off, so no posts (especially since my scheduling doesn’t seem to be working). I may do a “year in review” post the week after Christmas, but I’m mostly going to take it easy, bake, and snark at Christmas movies.

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