The sugar on these Christmas stories is pretty heavy, but the themes are positive and if you don't mind an overdose of the kinds of scenes that bring you to tears, there's plenty from Hallmark and the ABC Family channels for viewing this holiday season.
There is even a contemporary movie on the History Channel about the origins of Christmas traditions.
With more than a dozen original movies lined up, Hallmark and ABC Family stand ready to take viewers to a variety of bittersweet situations — from "November Christmas" where a child is battling cancer to "Gift of the Magi" where a pair of newlyweds trade in what they love most to get meaningful gifts for one another, to a couple of lighter stories where Santa is a reformed corporate suit and one where his sleigh is taken down by Homeland Security.
Hallmark and family movies by definition are slower paced and packed with photo moments.
The actors hired for this series are fairly well known and good at their craft, and the movies are well-shot with plenty of artistic beauty and pretty music, thus easy to watch.
If the family is into mild fun and fare that feeds the soul without having to endure much stress, mark the calendar for these:
"The Town Christmas Forgot"
Just days before Christmas, Annie (Lauren Holly) and Charles (Rick Roberts) Benson hit the road for a holiday ski trip with their two children, the materialistic Trish (Torri Webster) and the quiet and introverted Nolan (Holly's real-life son Azer Greco). Together, yet separate, each lives in a world of digital communication, satellite radio and cell phones. But when the family takes a short cut through back roads, contact with the outside world is lost, and when their SUV breaks down, they end up stuck in the rural burg of Nowhere. The town is dying and Christmas is bleak for the locals who can only exchange inexpensive or homemade gifts. In spite of the town's depressed economy, Samantha "Sam," the owner of the local café, lifts the town's spirits by organizing a Christmas Eve pageant, and enlists the Bensons' help. The chain reaction of enthusiasm grows as Annie lends her dancing skills, Trish offers to help out with the rock band, and Nolan rounds up Santa Claus. The family learns that life "simply" is better. Hallmark, Nov. 25, 7 p.m.
"Call Me Mrs. Miracle"
Doris Roberts stars in the world premiere of Debbie Macomber's "Call Me Mrs. Miracle." The telefilm is based on Macomber's upcoming literary release and is the sequel to the highest-rated Hallmark Channel original movie of 2009. The film also stars Jewel Staite, Eric Johnson and Lauren Holly. No one celebrates the holidays like Emily Merkle (Roberts) or "Mrs. Miracle" as she is known by some — who is back to ensure that this Christmas is the most magical and meaningful of all. When Mrs. Miracle appears as a seasonal employee in the toy department at the financially troubled Finley's Department Store, neither the store's owners nor the customers have any idea of the saintly events that are about to unfold. None of them can even say who hired Mrs. Merkle or where exactly she came from, but her illustrious and angelic spirit will dispel gloom, drive away misery, and prove that miracles happen every day, especially on Christmas. Hallmark, Nov. 27, 7 p.m.
"The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation"
This sequel to last year's hit "The Dog Who Saved Christmas" marks Paris Hilton's first voice-over role as French poodle Bella and the return of Mario Lopez as lovable and loyal Zeus, the lovesick dog who must save his family's Christmas vacation. The Bannister family and their well-intentioned pooch plan for a nice, relaxing holiday vacation, but their ideal winter wonderland getaway goes awry when an obnoxious brother arrives with his son and their new poodle, proving there is such a thing as too much family togetherness.
Zeus immediately falls head over paws for Bella and is desperate to win over her affection, but she will have nothing to do with him. The family's troubles get worse when inept thieves arrive at the resort to steal the $250,000 diamond necklace belonging to a starlet.
The thieves are forced to ditch the necklace, leading the way for it to be purchased as a dog collar for Bella. Once they realize where the priceless jewelry is, they dognap Bella, leaving it up to Zeus to once again foil their criminal plans. Hallmark, Nov. 28, 7 p.m.
This is the story of a little girl who is desperately ill and her father's attempts to be sure Christmas comes for her at least one last time, even if it has to come early. Sam Elliott stars as the gruff, kindly neighbor who helps her father's wishes come true and heals his own heart and broken relationships at the same time. John Corbett is the dad who keeps the family moving forward despite his fears. Karen Allen plays the neighbor's wife and Sarah Paulson as the mother. The story, based on a short story by Greg Coppa, is simple and sweet, eventually pulling in an entire town and bringing estranged friends and family members back together before the storybook concludes. Not one miracle but several in this film. CBS, Nov. 28, 8 p.m.
"The Real Story of Christmas"
Why do we prop trees up in our living rooms and exchange gifts? What exactly is a Yule log? Where did Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer come from? Many modern Christmas traditions originated in ancient times. This one-hour special looks across 2,000 years of history to explore the sacred and secular influences that gave rise to the Christmas we know today and makes sense of the holiday rituals, many of which evolved from strange, surprising or even disturbing beginnings. With its roots in the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, early Christmas was both a day of prayer and festival of drunken revelry. Rowdy medieval carolers begged for food and drink, threatening to throw rocks through the windows of those who refused. Christmas was actually banned for years in America during the 16th and 17th centuries. And the Santa of old world legend was accompanied not by elves but by a devil named Krampus who beat and kidnapped naughty children. History, Nov. 30, 7 p.m.
"The Santa Suit"
In "The Santa Suit," Kevin Sorbo plays greedy Hunter Toys CEO Drake Hunter, who looks down on the whole of humanity until he is suddenly transformed from Fortune 500 phenom to Santa Claus. Hunter has come up with a deliciously deceitful marketing plan. He has dispatched mall Santas throughout the city to whisper into the ears of boys and girls, "It isn't a great toy, unless it's from Hunter's!" Santa is watching, and he isn't amused. He transforms Hunter into his own image. Now Drake has a problem: He's mistaken for a vagrant, "Kriss," and forced into a homeless shelter. With no family or friends to miss him, Hunter strikes up a relationship with a social worker and must take a job as a mall Santa to maintain his living arrangement at the shelter. Humbled, Drake realizes the joy his toys will bring to children and the hope and security his company can be to parents who work there. Certain that Drake will be a transformational figure in the lives of others from now on, Santa returns the man to his original identity. Hallmark, Dec. 2, 7 p.m.
"Farewell Mr. Kringle"
Christine Taylor stars as cynical scrooge and jaded journalist Anna Wahl who is forced by her editor Zoe (Vivica Fox) to travel to a Christmas-themed town to meet a man whose passion for Christmas traditions has transformed a town. Wahl hates Christmas, which is exactly why her editor sends her on assignment to the small, charming town of Mistletoe. There, Kris Kringle (W. Morgan Sheppard), a self-proclaimed real Santa Claus, has been assuming the persona of St. Nick for 50 years. When she arrives in town, Wahl is ready to expose Kris as a fraudulent mall Santa. As she interviews the townspeople, she discovers Kris has touched the lives of everyone in Mistletoe, and Kris begins to prove to her Christmas isn't just a day on the calendar; it's a feeling of kindness that lasts all year. Hallmark, Dec. 4, 7 p.m.
"The Santa Incident"
Homeland Security's Asymmetrical Threats Division has unknowingly targeted Santa Claus for piloting an unidentified aircraft and flouting national sovereignty. Before fully identifying the target, their agent fires a heat-seeking missile into Father Christmas' dash wings. His reindeer rocked, his jingle bells jangled, Santa crashes to earth, where he is rescued by a couple of kids and nursed back to health by their mom. A pair of bumbling secret agents have also homed in on Santa's position, and they are determined to make Kris Kringle pay for their looking bad. The dumb luck duo repeatedly delay Santa, but he never takes his eye off the ticking clock. Christmas is coming and while Nick waits for a sign that his Elf Posse is coming to the rescue, he busies himself doing work-in-trade around town. Bartering his time for batteries, microchips and other materials, Santa magically makes stacks of toys with military precision and stashes them in a secret location. As agents rush in to plunder Santa's ad hoc toy factory, they hear a faint sound: jingle bells. Santa's eyes twinkle and he smiles. Hallmark, Dec. 9, 7 p.m.
"An Old-Fashioned Christmas"
International film star and Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominee Jacqueline Bisset reprises the role of "Isabella Crawford" in "An Old-Fashioned Christmas," the next chronicle in the saga that began with Louisa May Alcott's short story, "An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving." The show continues the narrative of Isabella (Bisset) and Tilly (Catherine Steadman) traveling the globe so the wealthy grandmother can teach her talented writer/granddaughter the nuances of character development and refined living.
This Christmas in Ireland, both Isabella and Tilly discover it takes the taste of an occasional turnip to make one truly appreciate the plain potato. Hallmark, Dec. 11, 7 p.m.
Christina Milian, Ashley Benson and Chad Michael Murray star in ABC Family's new holiday movie, "Christmas Cupid," premiering during ABC Family's annual 25 Days of Christmas. Milian stars as Sloane Spencer, a high powered Hollywood publicist who finds herself haunted by the ghost of her recently departed infamous client Caitlin (Ashley Benson). With just days before Christmas, Caitlin takes Sloane on a journey to meet the ghosts of her ex-boyfriends from the past, present and future to try to guide her to true love in a modern day take on the Charles Dickens holiday classic story "A Christmas Carol." Sloane reluctantly embarks on a soul-searching journey to redeem herself, find love, and experience a Christmas she will never forget. Mariah Carey's "Oh Santa" single from her new holiday album, "Merry Christmas II You," will make its television debut as the opening song featured in "Christmas Cupid." Amber Stevens ("Greek") will also be singing a new arrangement of "Deck The Halls." ABC Family, Dec. 12, 7 p.m.
"Three Wise Women"
Liz has everything a girl could ever want — a successful career as a doctor and an equally successful fiancé who can't wait to marry her. Yet somehow, things just aren't clicking for Liz as she can't help but remember some past relationships that ultimately let her down. And when she runs into Sean, a dear old friend, at a Christmas party, an impulsive moment under the mistletoe only sends Liz into a bigger spiral of confusion. Lucky for Liz, Tom has a plan to restore her faith in true love. He quickly travels back in time to recruit a younger Liz and then forward in time to find Liz as the more mature Beth only to return to steer present-day Liz from making a big mistake. With guidance from spirits of past and future, Liz suddenly realizes that she might be marrying the wrong man and must make up for past mistakes in time to secure her future with a lifelong love. Hallmark, Dec. 14, 7 p.m.
"Gift of the Magi"
O. Henry's timeless tale of treasures surrendered by loving hearts comes to life in "Gift of the Magi." Marla Sokoloff as Della Young and Mark Webber as her husband Jim are financially strapped newlyweds. Challenged to buy secret gifts for each other, both end up selling their most prized possessions. An amateur photographer, Della focuses her prized, but well-worn, Nikon 35mm camera on reluctant Jim, persuading him to pose with his beloved, but dilapidated '55 Chevy Bel Air convertible. Della longs for a professional zoom lens to take better pictures of the man she loves. Camera-shy Jim sits in the Chevy pretending to drive, but his four-wheel antique has no steering wheel. He can buy parts at the junkyard, but more than anything, Jim is passionate to own the original steering wheel. They both make selfless choices and discover the all-consuming love that comes from giving a lot, while expecting only a little. Hallmark, Dec. 15, 7 p.m.
"Battle of the Bulbs"Comment on this story
Daniel Stern ("Home Alone") and Matt Frewer ("Eureka") put the cool in Yule in "Battle of the Bulbs," a film about dueling neighbors whose Christmas decorating rivalry turns outrageous. Bob (Stern) and Stu (Frewer) are former best friends whose relationship went sour over a friendly wager. Though decades have passed, neither man is giving up on the grudge. Imagine Bob's surprise when he discovers his old nemisis is back, has moved into the house across the street, and is taking him on in a competition to win the town's annual Christmas decorating contest. There is no ornament too flimsy, no filament too thin to keep these two warriors from assaulting each other with laser-like illuminations. When Stu's son falls in love with Bob's daughter, the two men find exceeding abundantly in life is much more important than exceeding the maximum wattage. Hallmark, Dec. 18, 7 p.m.