I Just Don’t Get It: Why do movies and TV try to make Christmas romantic?

Anne T. Donahue
·Blogger

You know the scene: it's snowing (but not hard enough to make driving impossible), the music's on (a Christmas song that somehow doesn't seem terrible), and Christmas lights illuminate are illuminating a couple who are totally and blissfully in love. Christmas is magical! So magical, according to movies and TV that it's actually... romantic.

In the real world, however, we know what Christmas is really about: doing something embarrassing at a work party, stressing about family, and probably devouring a giant bag of Gummi Bears while trying to cope. For most people, Christmas isn't romantic. It's stressful, awkward, and kind of weird.

Yet despite the tried-and-true reality of awkward extended family interactions and last-minute shopping, pop culture keep's going back to the love pool. Tuesday night's Christmas episode of "The Mindy Project" saw a butterfly-inducing encounter between Danny (Chris Messina) and Mindy (Mindy Kaling): Having picked Mindy in the Secret Santa Pool, Danny gifted her with a choreographed dance to Aaliyah's "Try Again."

And then there are the holiday movies like "Love Actually" (now celebrating its 10th anniversary, thank you very much) that sell the message that Christmas is a time for love and confessing your undying love to your best friend's wife.

And it's cute! It's great! We love it! (This author is by no means anti-love.) But no matter how great any regular person's holiday is, it'll never live up to the hyped expectations. The holidays are absolutely filled with magic and love, but those "aw!" moments are arguably seasoned heavily with "how did I burn the turkey when the oven wasn't even on?" and "ah, let's just hang out and shout at 'It's A Wonderful Life.'"

There's magic in those moments just as much as there is with romantic holiday encounters. Shows like "The Office" actually executed this "beauty in real life" perfectly: not only did Jim and Pam infamously make a step towards repairing their broken friendship in the season 3 holiday episode (when they played a new prank on Dwight), but Michael actually broke up with Carol, and rebounded with a waitress. It wasn't glamorous, but it was real (and hilarious).

"Friends" got this right, too. Despite the cuteness of season 9's "Christmas in Tulsa" (when Chandler must spend Christmas in Tulsa, so he quits his job), each season used the holidays as a background -- much like they tend to be in real life. In season 4, Ross rode the train to Poughkeepsie because he met a girl (and ended up in Montreal), while in season 6, Monica and Ross performed their own dance routine for a New Year's special (and embarrassed themselves, like almost all of us do during the holidays). It wasn't groundbreaking, but it was a memory. It was fun. And while the characters may have been in relationships, it wasn't Christmas that inspired them.

Of course, only a monster would condemn "The Mindy Project" for the "will they or won't they?" of this week's dance between Danny and Mindy. Kaling knows her rom-coms -- she knows what works, and this did, beautifully. And we'll never condemn "New Girl" for the show's first Christmas episode, in which Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel) shared one of their first touching moments in the wake of Jess's breakup with Justin Long.

But in terms of Christmas movies and TV specials, maybe it's time to take a page out of the real world and focus not just on the romance prompted by the holidays, but on the beauty of hanging out with pals and eating so many cookies you actually want to die. Because, according to pharmacists selling Pepto Bismol over Christmas, there is totally a sitcom episode in there.