Weeks before Christmas, my family starts bingeing Hallmark movies and any other holiday movie we can find. Last year, we added Your Christmas or Mine and a Boy Called Christmas to our must-watch list that already includes It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf and Arthur Christmas.
But there is one movie we pass over every year.
Eighteen years ago, a new romcom was released, just in time for Christmas. My husband, Matt, was excited to take me to see it. I needed distraction. It had been a rough year. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer just after the previous Christmas, and was gone by mid August. Our kids were 10 and 13.
My mother loved Christmas
My mother loved Christmas and was giddy watching my daughters tear through wrapping paper to reveal her “big” present each year, like the Playmobil castle for Ellie, and an American Girl Doll for Maggie.
My mother was 69 and had organized a family vacation at a New Hampshire resort for her 70th in October. She had plans and the cancer was getting in her way. In the hospital, after the cancer was in her brain, tears rolled down her face. “I won’t have my birthday party,” she said. I couldn’t look at her. She loved parties.
Matt knew Christmas 2005 was going to be tough. So, he took me to see the new holiday romcom to take my mind off the fact that my mother would be missing at our celebrations.
My husband took me to a holiday romcom to lift my spirits
He had watched the trailers. It had an all-star cast, including Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel Adams and Dermot Mulroney. I was psyched. The movie promised to be funny – a family reunion at Christmas when one of the children introduces his new love into the family melee. Food is thrown, people slip on it and fall, the new love feels disrespected and leaves the house, only to be followed. She returns and everyone becomes friends.
But the trailers for The Family Stone neglected to reveal that the family matriarch not only has cancer, but she dies! I looked at my husband in the dark and very full theater. He looked back with panic in his eyes. “Oh no,” he must have thought. “Crap.”
I started to sob. My eyes didn’t just well up with tears. This was outright guttural sobbing. I shook as I bawled. In a public theater. If people could hear me, I didn’t care. My husband leaned over and reached for my hand. “Do you want to leave,” he whispered.“No,” I choked back. I had to see this through. I’m not a quitter.
After the movie ended I fell apart
When the movie ended, Matt acted as a football blocker as I walked up the aisle with the rest of our town following. I didn’t make it out the door. I collapsed into a corner and wept, like a toddler in a grocery store.
As my daughters got older, our movie line-up evolved. But we always aggressively avoided The Family Stone. It had become legend. This was the movie that made Mummy cry. In a theater. In public. No thanks.
No one wanted to watch that. They didn’t want to remind me of how sad I was when my mother died. It was time to “get with the program” as my mother would have said.
We knew the Hallmark formula and we were good at predicting within the first five minutes who was going to fall in love with whom, and that life would be peachy. Sick people got well. These were safe, boring, and comfortable like a worn-in sweater.
I was finally able to watch The Family Stone again
Last year when Ellie came home with Covid two weeks before Christmas, our plans for holiday shopping and holiday eating were curtailed. So, we double-downed on Christmas movies. Locked in her room, Ellie synchronized movies with Matt and me from her computer. We texted at funny scenes.
One evening, while searching for another movie to watch, Matt stumbled on The Family Stone. Together we watched the trailers. “See,” he said. “Funny.” He was vindicated. I still said no.
As he watched soccer and football the Sunday before presents, Maggie FaceTimed from L.A. “Guess what I’m watching? The Family Stone. It’s funny.”
“See,” my husband said.
“No, I have sobbed too,” she added.
Now, I was vindicated.
I, finally, watched The Family Stone again, and guess what? I was okay.
The spell has broken, or maybe there wasn’t a spell in the first place. Maybe I’d been afraid for no reason.
The way we celebrate Christmas as a family has changed in some ways
Our family still watches Hallmark movies, fights over who gets to hang the Clara (from the Nutcracker) ornament, drinks eggnog, strings lights on the front and back porches and setting up the creche Matt inherited from his mom. And I still miss having my mother waltz through our front door, shouting, “HO HO HO. Anyone home?”
But Christmas has changed a bit, too. This year, Matt and I are flying across the country for Christmas. There won’t be a Christmas tree in our house. But we’ll still watch our hokey holiday movies in L.A. with Ellie, Maggie, and her husband, Jay, in their new home.
Thanks to my daughter, I am no longer afraid of watching The Family Stone. In fact, we’ve added it to our annual movie line up. And, even if I do cry, it’s okay.
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