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Under the Christmas Tree: Of strap-ons and other supportive holiday activities

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Photo courtesy of Lifetime
Photo courtesy of Lifetime

Amazon Prime

It's a given that, like superhero flicks, Christmas movies are a bulwark of candy-wrapped conservatism. The only people introducing new ideas are the big-city corporate boyfriend or the bedazzled, roided-out Grimace. The hallmarks of Hallmark (or, in this case, Lifetime) are that they return us to the bread and butter of American pseudo-idealism: the (typically white) nuclear household. Errant CEOs are returned to the kitchen to create lovingly decorated sugar cookies. Prodigal daughters leave the cities to wander through wreath-strewn, small-town markets, cocoa in hand.

And sometimes, like that shitty microwaveable mac and cheese from my youth, that's all I crave.

Under the Christmas Tree, from 2021, is among the first times that we Queers are welcomed into that bland, cheesy embrace. But what it means to ascend to the level of holiday-movie assimilation is complicated. Is being accepted into the dominant hierarchy perpetuating it? Is it possible to enjoy gingerbread without thinking about the slave labor that harvested the cardamom and the unsustainable agricultural practices that grew the pumpkin?

To summarize, Alma is the nominative protagonist, although her Bettie Page bangs are truly the star of the show. Her love interest is Charlie, a Black woman who, in the course of wooing Alma, the white protagonist, also finds enough time to be the magical Black character who solves Alma's father's broken relationship with music.

Alma is a successful businesswoman, but she's already in a small town and loves Christmas. She owns one of those year-round tourist traps you can wander into after your girlfriend breaks up with you in March and you decide that wallowing in the death-of-all-things-family fantasy seems like the right move. Alma eats eggnog ice cream in July and names her chickens after characters from classic Christmas movies.

Unfortunately, her issue (not solved in the movie) is that her store will soon be driven out of business by online shops and fast shipping. Alma decides to completely ignore all business projections and trust that her Christmas faith is enough. I don't know what to tell you, Alma, but I don't think Santa offers year-round same-day shipping.

Charlie comes to town looking for a Christmas tree for the governor's ball and has her heart set on a perfect one in Alma's yard, which Alma refuses to give up. Antics ensue.

Eventually, Charlie finds another tree to chop down and gets offered an executive director spot at a nearby tree sanctuary. Like true Gays, after a mere weekend spent together, Charlie moves her whole life to be with Alma and her festively named chickens.

Photo courtesy of Lifetime  

There are (thankfully) not real problems. Both parents are supportive of their Queer children. Alma's parents are actively encouraging her to get out and date, and they dote on Charlie. They even have a lovely family toast "to the Lesbians." The biggest adrenaline-rush is a gingerbread competition that Alma is intent on winning, since she's been runner-up for the past two years (with Charlie's help, she does). Alma confesses that her Queer awakening (and possibly why she's so hung up on Christmas) was while watching Vera-Ellen's lithe-legged dance in White Christmas.

There are also a few scenes that are almost kinky, at least for a Lifetime movie. The Christmas party Alma puts on has a "naughty or nice" theme, where everyone rolls the dice and dons either devil horns or angel wings. (A little role-play, maybe some light bondage in the placement of the wing straps?) When Charlie and Alma go up a boom lift to check out a tree, they don safety harnesses. Charlie says, "I like a good harness to start off my day." So we know they enjoy some strap time, even if it all happens off-screen.

I've watched my fair share of Christmas movies designed to serve the same processed sugar to the Queers as the straights have been able to enjoy for years. There's the depressing Carol, the rage-inducing Happiest Season, the faltering Looking for Her, the unlistenable Merry and Gay, the milquetoast Christmas at the Ranch. If what you're looking for is the media equivalent of a stick-to-your-teeth-sweet Christmas cookie and a glass of warm milk, this is no satisfying meal, but it hits the spot.