Let’s just get this out of the way – CHRISTMAS IN LOVE is a terrible title. Now believe me, I know titles are hard. I’ve had to come up with them for more than 75 of my own books. And I know Hallmark has to come up with 37 of them this year alone, and that they have to be fairly generic while not being exact copies of ones they’ve done over the past couple of years. But even by these standards CHRISTMAS IN LOVE is just . . . not great. It’s not even good. I mean, it MIGHT be good if the movie were set in a town called Love. But it isn’t. It’s set in a town called White Deer, which is supposedly in Missouri. Frankly, this is also a not great name. There really is a White Deer, but it’s in Texas, and I suspect they think the name is a little silly too.
CHRISTMAS IN DEER would not work, obviously. Nor would MERRY CHRISTMAS, DEER, although that would be enormously fun. So, what would I call this movie? We’ll get to that later.
CHRISTMAS IN LOVE is your classic story of a corporate guy who wants to automate a small-town factory but comes to his senses after meeting a charming woman who convinces him that people are more important than profit. We’ve seen this many, many times before in Hallmark movies, but who cares, as it’s always a winner. The fun is in seeing what the writer and director do to make it a little bit different from the last time we saw it.
This time around, the factory in question is called Carlingson’s Bakery. They make different things, but their most popular product is something called the Christmas Kringle. A kringle is an actual thing. A pastry originating in Denmark, it’s basically layers of dough filled with things like jam, nuts, and what have you. If you have never had one, you absolutely should, and do not even try to tell me that they are basically an Entenmann’s because THEY ARE NOT.
The Carlingson’s in White Deer is one of several bakeries owned by the Carlingson family, who actually live in San Francisco because Mr. Carlingson likes to look at the water. Mr. Carlingson would like to retire and put his son, Nick (WHEN CALLS THE HEART’s Daniel LIssing), in charge so that he can spend all his time looking at water. But he’s not entirely convinced that Nick is ready, mostly because it is Nick who is obsessed with the idea of automating the bakery and increasing the company profits, which is a way of doing business he learned at the fancy business school he attended.
To give Nick a little lesson in not being such a capitalist Scrooge, Mr. Carlington sends him off to White Deer to learn all about kringles. Nick fears the employees will be suspicious if they know he’s the boss’s son, and so he decides not to be Nick Carlington and instead calls himself Nick Somethingelse. That’s not really it, but I forgot to write down what it was. The point is, he’s IN DISGUISE.
As the movie opens our leading lady, Ellie, is making a wreath. This was very exciting for me because 1. I love crafts and 2. Ellie is played by Brooke D’Orsay. Brooke D’Orsay is one of my favorite Hallmark Christmas movie actors. Last year she was Holly in MISS CHRISTMAS, and that movie ended up at #6 on my year-end list and Holly was my #7 favorite female character and those are both really great placements considering there were 28 movies and 29 female leads because Candace Cameron Bure played twins in SWITCHED FOR CHRISTMAS and they were so very different from one another that I ranked each of them separately. (They came in at #4 and #10, in case you were wondering.)
Ellie is making this wreath and thinking about the upcoming White Deer Christmas Festival, where things like handmade wreaths are sold. Only this wreath is not for the festival but instead is for her mother’s store, because Ellie is not yet confident enough in her wreath-making skills to believe that anyone would pay money for them. Ellie takes the completed wreath to her mother, and while she is there she looks out the window and sees a good-looking man in an EMT uniform who is obviously in charge of setting up the Festival because he is telling people to carry things. His name is Carl, and he used to be Ellie’s boyfriend but they broke up a year ago because they have different goals or whatever. The point, really, is that Ellie’s mom is thrilled with the wreath and tells Ellie that she really should be a professional wreath-maker. Ellie dismisses this as impractical and goes to her job at Carlingson’s Bakery, where she is informed that “another suit from corporate” is coming and that it’s her job to deal with him. This news is relayed to her by her father, who also works at the bakery along with everyone else in town except Ellie’s mother, Carl, and a couple of other people we will meet in a moment.
All the workers at the bakery are wearing cute hats and dubonnet aprons, and it looks like an awesome place to work and I wanted to immediately move to White Deer and learn how to make kringles. But they are not at all thrilled when Ellie announces the imminent arrival of a corporate stooge, and they all raise their fists and yell “Kringle!” in an alarming way that makes them sound like a cult, and so I tabled my moving plans for the time being.
On the other side of the country, in San Francisco, Nick is finding out about his trip to White Deer. He is not particularly excited about this, or about his father’s lack of enthusiasm for his suggestion to automate the kringle-making process. Nick feels that continuing to do things the old-fashioned way is making Carlingson’s seem antiquated, but his father says “As long as we make kringles we will never go extinct.” Father Carlingson tries to tell Nick that people are more important than being the number one producer of kringles, but Nick thinks money is more important and isn’t listening.
Back in White Deer, Ellie’s mom is decorating her house, which has the highest ceilings I have ever seen. We learn that Ellie wants to see the world beyond Missouri but is trapped there for some unexplained reason. If this were a different kind of movie, or a Stephen King novel, that reason might be an evil fairy who put a curse on her, or possibly a mysterious dome that dropped over the entire town of White Deer one night and is preventing anyone from leaving. But it is not that kind of a movie and there is no dome and so we have to assume that Ellie’s reasons are purely self-inflicted. Then we get a glimpse of her craft supply closet, which is super-organized and stacked with boxes labelled POINSETTIA and BEADS. Also in the closet is a random coffee table type book about San Francisco, which Ellie takes out and looks at longingly.
Being from San Francisco, where it very seldom snows, Nick is unprepared for the weather in White Deer. While attempting to traverse the sidewalks in his fancy city shoes on his first morning there, he slips and falls. He lands right next to Ellie’s parked car, and she adds to his misfortunes by hitting him in the head with her door when she opens it. She tries to be helpful, suggesting that he pay a visit to Doc Feeney, whose office is right around the corner, but Nick says “I’m fine and my shoes are fine too and it’s your stupid White Deer sidewalks that are the problem.” Then Ellie offers him a kringle and he says no to that too and Ellie goes into Eddie’s Diner and meets her friend Haley, who is an EMT just like Carl, Ellie’s ex, and is the other person in town who does not work at the bakery. And speaking of Carl, he shows up now looking adorable and tells Ellie that she should take a booth at the upcoming Christmas Festival and Ellie looks as if she suddenly doesn’t understand the meanings of English words. Haley thinks this is because Ellie wants to get back together with Carl, but Ellie insists that is not the case and we then learn that Ellie once interviewed for a job in San Francisco and didn’t get it and that sort of explains the book in her craft closet. But now Ellie says she doesn’t know what her dream is anymore and they see Nick walking by and he has taken Ellie’s advice and bought boots more suited to the snow and everyone thinks this is hilarious.
Having finished talking to Haley and reliving her past failures, Ellie goes to work at the bakery. There, Nick is getting a tour and now Ellie (who is wearing a dubonnet sweater) finds out who he is and cannot even believe it. Ellie’s dad, who as I mentioned earlier is not dead (making FOUR living parents in a Hallmark Christmas movie, which is astonishing) and who runs the bakery, hands Nick off to Ellie because he’s tired of his thirtysomething daughter not being married. Remember, nobody knows that Nick is Nick Carlingson yet, and so Ellie amusingly tells Nick the story of his own family and how they founded the bakery, and Nick pretends that this is all news to him and utterly fascinating. Then they talk about how beautiful San Francisco is, and this is true. I lived there for ten years myself, and it is a lovely city even if now nobody can afford to live there except wealthy bakery owners and their spoiled children.
Ellie informs Nick that he needs to learn how kringles are made by making some, and she gets him suited up in a kringle-making outfit and they go to it. While this is happening, she tells Nick that although she has lived in White Deer her whole life, she did go to college in St. Louis and is therefore a cosmopolitan kind of a girl. Then we finally get to see a kringle get made, and this is thrilling because most kringles are just circles of dough but Carlingson Christmas Kringles are shaped like SNOWFLAKES. I paused here to do an internet search to see if such a thing can actually be purchased anywhere online, and it cannot, and this was a disappointment because White Deer as I said before does not really exist and I will probably never get to experience a snowflake-shaped kringle and that makes me sad.
Nick finds the process of cutting the dough into a snowflake shape to be too painstaking for his liking, and suggests that things could be sped up considerably by automating the production line. Ellie, unsurprisingly, responds to this by saying that SOME OF US, which does not include Nick, care more about people than about the bottom line and Nick says that maybe SOME PEOPLE should learn more useful trades, like coding. I don’t even know what coding is, but I’m sure it’s horrible, as Ellie’s expression suggests as much, and if more coding means fewer kringle-making jobs then I am totally against it on general principle.
Later on, Ellie tells her dad that she doesn’t trust Nick and thinks that he’s shifty, which as we know is an accurate description given that he has lied about who he is. But then Nick comes in and compliments her wreath and says “You never really think about where wreaths come from, they just seem to appear” and Ellie tells him that a wreath is a perfect symbol because it is a circle and life is like a circle too. This is all a little much, as some of us DO think about where wreaths come from, Nick, and at least where I live they generally come from either the Home Depot or the Mennonite farm stand up near Route 40. Unless, of course, you’re making the wreath yourself, in which case your best bets are Michaels or Hobby Lobby.
After this enlightening discussion about the nature and history of wreaths, Ellie and Nick take a truckload of kringles that did not pass inspection to the local food bank. Ellie has also made a stocking for the food bank’s director, who is named Donna, and now we know that her craftiness extends beyond wreaths. Nick was totally unaware that Ellie has been funneling a significant portion of the bakery’s output to a non-paying entity, but he is nevertheless impressed. Donna explains that the food bank is necessary because so many people in town were laid off when the tire factory was automated and they lost their jobs. Nick ignores this pointed jab and says that his office organizes a toy drive every year, and Ellie displays a mean streak by saying “Yeah, but you probably order the toys online because you have no heart and don’t understand actual people.”
In the next scene, Ellie is wearing a dubonnet coat and goes to her mother’s store and says “Do you have any of that zigzaggy ribbon?” and makes a sound like a malfunctioning printer that I guess is supposed to sound like what zigzaggy ribbon sounds like. Her mother does have some of that zigzaggy ribbon, which is an unbelievable stroke of good luck. She has also been talking to Carl, and agrees with him that Ellie should take a booth at the Christmas Festival. Ellie says she has no time to do that, but the truth is that she is afraid that she’ll make a bunch of wreaths and stockings and nobody will buy them, which is a very real thing for artists to think and I have a lot of friends who are similarly reluctant to sell their handicrafts. I always tell them to go look at the junk that is being passed off as real art on Etsy, because I’m telling you that if someone can sell a tiny cardboard box covered in macaroni and spray-painted gold as a “keepsake treasure chest” for $45 then your crocheted booties for Pomeranians are going to do just fine.
Everyone in White Deer seems to congregate at Eddie’s Diner, which is run by a woman named Violet and not Eddie. Ellie goes there and finds Nick there because it is the only place in town to eat. She joins him and orders eggs, which for some reason she cuts with a knife and not her fork like a normal person. She asks Nick how he came to work for Carlingson’s, and because he cannot tell her the truth he makes up something, then turns the conversation to her so that we learn that she majored in English literature. I too majored in English literature, and I also enjoy baked goods and crafts, and so this made me feel a kinship with Ellie and I suspect she and I would be great friends if I lived in White Deer. Then things take an unfortunate turn when Nick asks Ellie if she’s happy working at the bakery and she says yes and Nick says he does not believe her. Ellie does not take this well and says “Maybe pretty good is all we can ask for” in a defensive way that suggests she has settled for less than she wants out of life.
Nick next asks her what she would do with her life if money was not a consideration. Ellie’s answer is that she likes turning branches and twigs into pretty things, and Nick says “Well then, you need to find a way to make that your career.” This is one of those statements that make me furious, because it is one that only people who do not have to worry about money ever make. It’s like people who tell kids that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. This is patently untrue, and sets children up for disappointment, and I wish people would stop saying it, because not everyone who wants to be an astronaut gets to be one and not everyone who likes making wreaths and is good at it can find a way to do it to the tune of a livable wage. If all of us COULD make a living at what we love doing, I would right this very moment be writing a recap about my very own Hallmark Christmas movie, and I am not, and so obviously Nick is wrong.
You can tell that Ellie is struggling with believing that she can be a wreath-making success story too, but she nonetheless marches over to where Carl is and tells him that she’ll take a booth for the festival. Carl responds by telling Nick, who has accompanied her, that Ellie once applied for a corporate job with Carlingson’s in San Francisco and didn’t get it, and so now we know more about that whole thing. Nick responds by telling Ellie that he thinks there might still be some “stuff” there between her and Carl and Ellie says there absolutely is not, and I could tell that this was true and she was getting tired of talking about it.
After this, Nick gets a lesson in how to ice a kringle. Ellie insists that no machine could do it, but Nick says of course a machine could do it they do things like this all the time and Ellie reminds him again that people are more important than machines. She also tells him how awesome his dad is, only because she doesn’t know Mr. Carlingson is his dad she doesn’t say “your dad” she says “Mr. Carlingson.” She then makes Nick frost his own kringle and he has premature frosting issues and makes a mess all over the place and that is about as risqué as any Hallmark movie is ever going to get, so enjoy it.
Nick is clearly falling for Ellie, but he is still convinced that automation is the way to go, and so later that night he calls his dad and tells him as much. Mr. Carlingson is growing weary of his son’s refusal to have a heart and says JUST GET TO KNOW THE PEOPLE. Nick to his credit does try to get to know them by accepting an invitation to dinner at Ellie’s parents’ house, where he and Ellie make cookies together and she tells him that family is the one thing you can always count on, especially at the holidays, and this is another thing that people say that makes me angry because it is not at all true for everyone and Ellie should know better.
Nick has clearly learned from his earlier embarrassing frosting incident, and has maybe been practicing in his hotel room, because he frosts some gingerbread men and they do not look half bad. Then there is some more holiday fun when Ellie’s parents drag out boxes of ornaments and everyone helps decorate the tree, about which her father reveals himself to have a lot of control issues. Ellie and her mother have a little heart-to-heart about Nick and Ellie says “I guess he’s okay for a soulless corporate robot” and her mother says “We are going to instill him with the spirit of a White Deer Christmas,” which is about as ominous as the earlier scene in which all the bakery workers shouted “Kringle!” and once more made me think that maybe everyone in White Deer is part of a cult and that Nick had better run for his life.
At the end of the evening Ellie walks Nick back to the lodge where he’s staying and Nick tells her that parking in San Francisco is a nightmare but the cable cars are awesome, and again as a former resident of that city I can tell you that one of those thing is true and one of them is a lie and you can work out for yourself which is which. Ellie then rehashes the failure of her interview with corporate and then they see one of her wreaths hanging in a window and Nick reminds her that she could absolutely sell them online.
Because Nick’s father is sick and tired of his “I want to turn the bakery into a robot dance party” nonsense, Nick calls his mom instead and says “I made cookies and decorated a Christmas tree but dad still won’t let me come home and you need to do something.” His mother ignores this and says “You and your dad are actually the same person and you need to stop fighting him and just accept that you are wrong and also give Ellie’s parents my love they are really great people and I hope you marry her.”
With nothing else to do, Nick makes more kringles. Ellie is impressed by how far he has come in such a short time. She is even more impressed when her dad comes through the bakery a little later collecting money for the food bank and Nick tosses a wad of cash into the pot. Later, she and Nick go to the food bank to give Donna the money and learn that an anonymous donor has sent in a cashier’s check for 5K, and you should tuck this information away for later because it might be important. Encouraged by all this giving, Ellie volunteers her and Nick to help out with the food bank Christmas Eve dinner, then apologizes to him for speaking for him when they aren’t even dating yet and Nick says “No, it’s fine, because I am becoming a different person and pretty soon you will be telling me what to do every day of my life anyway.”
Nick is really starting to enjoy spending time with Ellie, so when she attempts to ditch him after the food bank he offers to help her make wreaths. Ellie says she is making one with a San Francisco theme and while this is happening Carl calls her and Nick still won’t let that go and says “I think he still likes you” and Ellie says “Errrrrrm” and asks if Nick has anyone waiting for him back in San Francisco. Nick says he does not, and then they have a veiled discussion about what Nick wants to do with his life besides dash the dreams of bakery workers across the nation.
Ellie is in a full-blown wreath making frenzy now, and she makes yet another one and takes it to the firehouse for her friend Haley. Haley asks what’s going on with Nick and Ellie says nothing because he lives in San Francisco, to which Haley points out that San Francisco is not Uzbekistan, which is absolutely true and something for Ellie to consider. While they are chatting, Carl shows up and says he has something he wants to talk to Ellie about but then does not talk to her about it. Ellie feels this is probably going to be a problem, then notices that Haley has suddenly gotten all weird and realizes that Haley has a thing for Carl and Haley admits that she totally does.
When Ellie arrives at work, she discovers that Nick has gotten there even earlier and has already made six racks of perfect kringles all on his own. He’s worked up quite an appetite baking, and because kringles are delicious but not exactly nutritious, he and Ellie go to lunch at the diner, where Nick shows her all the research he has done on selling crafts and tries to convince her to start a website. She tosses out an objection about shipping and he asks her if there are any post offices in White Deer and she says that of course there are because it’s a town and not the moon and Nick points that then she doesn’t actually have a problem. Ellie keeps throwing out reasons why what he’s suggesting is impossible until he says “You never know until you try” and Ellie says “I never try until I know” and this sums up the differences in their personalities perfectly and so they stop talking.
A little later, Nick and Ellie wander around the site where the Christmas Festival is being set up and run into Santa, only it’s really Hal from the bakery but he asks them what they want for Christmas anyway as if he really is Santa because they are all pretending now. Then he tells them to be good, be kind, and always tell the truth and Nick has some truths he wants to share with Ellie but can’t. Also, Carl comes by to see Ellie’s booth and still wants to talk but still not right now. Then Ellie freaks out because she does not have enough inventory and Nick says WE can do it. By WE he means him and Ellie and Ellie’s parents. Everyone helps out, and Nick adds to his growing arsenal of skills by learning how to use a hot glue gun. When Nick leaves he tells Ellie how lucky she is to have what she has with her parents and because she does not yet know who his parents are she tells him that he’s lucky to smell salt air. Then Nick sort of kisses her, but not on the mouth, and this was a little weird because it looked like he was sniffing her hair.
Carl is finally ready to talk, but not to Ellie. Instead, he talks to Nick ABOUT Ellie. And what he says is that he’s seen a lot of corporate guys come through White Deer and then leave again and warns Nick that he’d better not play with Ellie’s heart. I think this is supposed to be charming and make us like Carl more, but someone needs to tell him that women are not property and that saying things like that just makes him look like he’s trying too hard.
Now it is time for the Christmas Festival, and it cannot come soon enough. Ellie has her booth all set up, and Donna comes by to remind her that she and Nick should come by the food bank around three because that will give them enough time to set up before the tree lighting. Then Carl comes by and finally talks to Ellie about the thing he wanted to talk to her about, which is that he was wondering if she would mind if he asked Haley to be his Christmas Eve date. Ellie doesn’t mind at all, and she has a question of her own, which is “Why did you encourage me to take a booth?” Carl says “Because selling wreaths is exactly what you are supposed to be doing and everyone can see this but you” and then Haley comes over to ask Ellie if she’s really, really okay with her and Carl dating and Ellie says she really, really is and Haley says “Now that I have a boyfriend and am no longer jealous of you, you should date Nick.”
Nick does not know any of this because he is in the lodge looking at the report he generated showing how much money Carlingson’s could save by replacing humans with robots. But he has changed as a person since writing that report, and now he almost deletes it but is distracted when Ellie knocks on the door. Ellie is all excited because she sold every last wreath in her booth, and she asks Nick to help her write a business plan because she has only taken one risk in her life and that didn’t work out and now she realizes that playing it safe is boring and she wants to kiss him. This makes Nick completely forget about robots, and so the report remains on his computer.
That night they have Christmas dinner at Ellie’s parents’ house, where everyone says one thing they are thankful for. Ellie is thankful for her family and her friends. Nick is grateful for Ellie’s family being nice to him. Ellie then informs her parents that she’s giving the whole wreath thing a go, but that it means she will have to leave the bakery. Her father says “Don’t worry, the bakery will always be there, right Nick?” and Nick says of course it will but leaves out the part that there will be nothing for Ellie to come back to because all the jobs will be taken over by soulless automatons.
Nick is feeling a little bit uncomfortable as everyone gathers at the food bank for the big event. He feels even more uncomfortable when Carl gives a speech thanking all of the volunteers and includes Nick. And he feels REALLY uncomfortable when a surprise guest is announced and his father appears to the delight of the crowd. Mr. Carlingson throws the switch to light the Christmas tree, and not even the news that Ellie sold every single wreath in her booth and got a stack of special orders can cheer Nick up. But he’s at least relieved that his father is pretending to be Mr. Carlingson his boss and not Mr. Carlingson his dad. Then Ellie thanks Mr. Carlingson for the 5K donation he made to the food bank and Mr. Carlingson says “I didn’t do that” and everyone looks shocked because now there is a mystery to solve.
Ellie is flush with Christmas spirit, and she has one last wreath to finish before getting started on all of those special orders. This is the San Francisco-themed wreath for Nick. She takes it to him at the lodge, only he isn’t there so she decides to hang it on his door as a surprise. But the surprise is on her, because the door opens and when she goes into Nick’s room she sees the laptop open on his desk. And what she sees there is the design for her very own website. This floods her heart with feelings, but unfortunately those feelings turn cold when the page for her website disappears and the report Nick forgot to delete shows up and Ellie learns both that he intends to fill the bakery with robots and that his name is really Nick Carlingson.
Nick is not in his room at the lodge because he is at Eddie’s Diner with his father (who is wearing a dubonnet sweater) telling him about how he has changed as a human being and that he’s the one who gave the 5K donation to the food bank. He says that automating the bakery would be a mistake and that there must be other options, which causes his father to shake his hand and say “You’re ready, son.” This makes Nick happy, but his happiness is short-lived because when he goes back to the lodge he sees Ellie’s wreath and his open laptop and knows that he is in big trouble.
And he’s right, because Ellie went straight from the lodge to her parents’ house, where she told them what’s going on and now everyone is upset. So when the doorbell rings a minute later Ellie says “Tell him I’m not here” and her dad opens the door and says “She’s not here.” Then he says some more things along the lines of “I don’t want to say anything I’ll regret and you are a weasel,” which I guess is not something he thinks he’ll regret saying. Then they have a battle of clichés that ends with “I think the best thing for you to do is go” and Nick goes and Ellie says “good” but it is not good because now everyone is sad.
What should be a joyous Christmas Day is anything but, as Ellie has to face a day at the festival with a broken heart. Nick shows up and wants to talk but Ellie says “I don’t know you, Nick STANWELL,” which I now remember is the name Nick used instead of Carlingson. Ellie is clearly not ready to make up, so Nick leaves. Then more wreaths get sold, Carl and Haley come by and because they are now a couple we will call them CarLey, and everyone is scared about what will happen when there are no bakery jobs and all of those people will have to join the tire factory people at the food bank for dinner. Then Nick finds an unattended microphone and makes a speech where he shares a quote about a tree, only the villagers of White Deer are not ready to forgive him and so they shake their pitchforks and prepare to run him out of town. But then Nick tells them that kringles aren’t just for Christmas anymore and that the bakery will be making clover kringles and heart kringles and American flag kringles and will hire MORE people and not robots.
Now everyone loves him, especially Ellie, but she does not apologize for thinking that he was leading her on and I really think she should, because it was a lousy thing to assume and he made her a website and normally that would cost her at least $1500 for a site with web commerce capabilities. But Nick apparently doesn’t care because he says “I love my wreath and have you thought about spending New Year’s Eve in San Francisco?”
Okay, so back to the title. I think we can all agree now that CHRISTMAS IN LOVE just doesn’t cut it. I mean, it’s a Hallmark Christmas movie, so of course they’re in love. But what else can we call this one? I kind of like KRINGLE ALL THE WAY myself, but we’re getting MINGLE ALL THE WAY in a couple of weeks so I guess that’s too similar. How about WREATHER MADNESS? I suppose not. CRAFTING CHRISTMAS? DOUGH HO HO?
CHRISTMAS IN LOVE it is.