Roasted chestnuts, toasty fireplaces, twinkly lights, freshly fallen snow, hot cocoa snug in clasped hands — all are images synonymous with the holiday season and, following suit, staples of festive flicks that warm our TV sets every year.
Such cozy and predictable made-for-TV movies are more welcome than ever in a year that has been nothing short of dreadful. Suffice it to say, the escapism is needed. Here’s a few new releases to add to your list, from Hallmark to Hulu.
Before you roast me for not including Vanessa Hudgens vehicle The Princess Switch: Switched Again, CityBeat’s Maija Zummo already wrote a roundup of Netflix’s new (cheesy) holiday offerings.
(We also added Princess Switch II it at the bottom of this round-up for good measure.)
Hulu // Now Streaming
If you’re on Twitter or TikTok, or anywhere really, you’ve likely already seen discourse about Clea DuVall’s romcom starring Kristen Stewart as Abby and Mackenzie Davis as Harper, a lesbian couple living in domestic bliss. That’s shook up when Harper invites Abby to her parents to spend Christmas and, just a few minutes before arriving, reveals she has yet to come out. The flick broke records for Hulu, becoming the platform’s most-watched original movie during its opening weekend — right after Thanksgiving — and it attracted more new subscribers than any other film on the streamer at that time. That’s a testament to the want (and need) for queer holiday stories, especially cozy ones! The star-studded supporting cast includes Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Alison Brie, Mary Holland, Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen. Among fans, there’s much debate about the ending of Happiest Season. But I’ll let you ponder that for yourselves.
Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special
Apple TV+ // Now Streaming
Mariah Carey is undoubtedly the queen of Christmas. As such, her musical special delivers plenty of yuletide cheer. Tiffany Haddish opens as the narrator, complete with a giant storybook in her lap. And Billy Eichner plays Santa’s top elf, who calls upon Carey to bring the world joy after the crappy year we’ve had. The plot? Incredible. And who better to warm our bitter hearts than Carey? No one, except maybe Dolly Parton — who has her own holiday special on Netflix. Carey’s film features appearances from Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Snoop Dogg, Misty Copeland and more. Charlie Brown characters even make an appearance. Come for the whistle-tone notes, stay for the glitter, campy dramatics, dancing elves and cozy scenery.
The Christmas Setup
Lifetime // Premieres Saturday, Dec. 12
Big city lawyer Hugo (Ben Lewis) heads home to Milwaukee for the holidays with his best friend (Ellen Wong) to spend time with his mom Kate (the one and only Fran Drescher!) and brother Aiden (Chad Connell). Of course, Kate is also in charge of the town’s holiday celebrations and is a self-declared matchmaker. She links her son up with his high school crush Patrick (Blake Lee), who is just as smitten. Starring real-life married couple Lewis and Lee, this fuzzy feel-good story marks Lifetime’s first-ever LGBTQ Christmas movie.
This season also saw Hallmark releasing their first-ever movie with a LGBTQ couple in the main storyline. The Christmas House premiered Nov. 22 and stars Mean Girls’ Jonathan Bennett as Brandon, who is planning to adopt a child with his husband Jake. The pair head to Brandon’s parents, who are navigating their own difficult life decisions.
Dash & Lily
Netflix // Now Streaming
I know, I know! This is not a movie. But the eight-episode series is bingeable in a weekend (or, in my case, a day). Based on YA series Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, it follows two mismatched teens (Dash is cynical; Lily is endearing) who play a game through a notebook Lily leaves in New York City’s famous The Strand bookstore. This coming-of-age story is downright adorable, fun and backdropped by a festive, swoon-worthy cityscape.
A Sugar & Spice Holiday
Lifetime // Premieres Dec. 13
Young architect Suzie (Jacky Lai) returns home to a small town in Maine, where her Chinese-American parents run a local lobster bar. Following in the steps of her late grandmother, a beloved baker in the community, she enters a local gingerbread house competition. In typical romcom fashion, she might just find love with an old high school friend in the process. Legendary actor Tzi Ma, whose credits include roles in Arrival, The Farewell, Rush Hour and 2020’s Mulan, plays Suzie’s dad.
Love, Lights, Hanukkah!
Hallmark // Premieres Dec. 12
Hallmark’s sole Hanukkah offering this year stars Mia Kirshner of Star Trek: Discovery fame as restaurant owner Christina who discovers she is half-Jewish through a DNA test. Queue ‘90s nostalgia: Boy Meets World’s Ben Savage also stars as David, who guides her through these newfound revelations as she connects with long-lost family and finds romance.
Lifetime // Premiered Oct. 24
There’s a whole subgenre of holiday flicks featuring journalists falling in love with their sources — bad representation for the field, but I digress. Executive produced by Tiffany Haddish, Christmas Unwrapped follows a reporter named Charity who investigates a quirky millionaire who insists that all the gifts that arrive on Christmas Day every year are from Ol’ Saint Nick himself. Will skeptical Charity learn the true reason for the season? You bet.
Too Close for Christmas
Lifetime // Premiered Dec. 4
2000s teen heartthrob Chad Michael Murray stars alongside 90120’s Jessica Lowndes in this film akin to The Family Stone. Hayley (Lowndes) spends the holiday at her sister-in-law's, where she befriends her sister’s husband’s brother (Murray) — the man responsible for ending her last relationship. You can probably guess how this one ends. And that’s the beauty!
Christmas Tree Lane
Hallmark // Premiered Oct. 24
Take You’ve Got Mail’s premise, infuse it with the holiday spirit and small-town charm and voila! It’s Christmas Tree Lane. Alicia Witt stars as the owner of a music store who is working to save her business, along with others, from a big-time developer. But aghast! She’s unknowingly falling head over heels for the man behind the deal.
The Princess Switch: Switched Again
Netflix // Premiered Nov. 19
This is a sequel to a beloved Vanessa Hudgens holiday vehicle (so glad she got into Christmas films), but instead of playing two separate people like she did in the original Princess Switch — wherein she plays both a baker from Chicago and a duchess from a fake European city who look identical and switch places during a bake-off in that town to walk a mile in each other's shoes, and also help the duchess avoid an unwanted marriage to a prince-type guy...who the baker ends up falling in love with — she now plays three different V. Hudges. This is some fuckery. From what I can glean from the trailer, the Chicago-baker Hudgens, named Stacy in the film (and now married to that prince guy), goes back to the European town for the coronation of Duchess Margaret, who had been in love with Stacy's baker BFF, but they broke things off. So Stacy brings her BFF to the coronation to see if he and Margaret can rekindle things. Stacy and Margaret switch again to give her more time alone with the baker BFF. WELL. Turns out there's a third goddamn Vanessa Hudgens, Margaret's cousin — who looks just like her but is blonde and slightly Evil Queenish — who wants a switch of her own...to take the throne. Drama ensues, as well as various romantic entanglements.