Grumpy Old Men and Hallmark Christmas Movies: Exhausted by Change

When I was a kid, I used to be perplexed by what I considered the stodginess of elderly people. They seemed desperate to maintain their routines, angry even. This type of character is captured comically in Disney’s Up and beautifully in Frederick Bachman’s A Man Called Ove. In both stories, the main character, a man, follows a strict routine every day. Bachman describes Ove :

Every morning for the almost four decades they had lived in this house, Ove had put on the coffee percolator, using exactly the same amount of coffee as on any other morning, and then drank a cup with his wife.

After this routine would come his daily inspection of his neighborhood and the general maintenance of his home. He was diligent and hard-working, but he was also bitter. What is introduced initially as a grumpy old man, the likes of which we’ve all encountered, is then slowly revealed to us to be a man who has suffered greatly and who uses the routine to bring comfort into his life. Backman reveals the man he used to be  and why he changed, and we are left loving him instead of hating him. To be sure, like Disney’s Carl, both men have an encounter with love that helps them place their hope in something else, but learning their backstory immediately gives us sympathy for these characters.

Hallmark Christmas Movies Value Tradition

Hallmark Christmas movies also play with the same theme–tradition brings comfort. A base storyline for many Hallmark Christmas movies is a woman or man leaving the city to return to their hometown for Christmas. They are drawn in by the familiar traditions of small-town Christmas and see that this is the answer to the longing they feel within. It is in the familiar routines of home that they find themselves and find peace. I can think of three or four movies already with this theme.

I’ve asked myself why these movies appeal to me–I’m an English teacher after all. I used to make fun of people who watched these movies. Despite this, about two or three years ago, I felt an urge to start watching them, and now I’m hooked. The truth is I was going through a difficult time, and I felt comfort in watching these predictable storylines.

I reveled in beautiful Christmas scenes, a quickly resolved romantic crisis, and the sense of belonging somewhere that the characters experienced. As I age, I see this need articulated more clearly. I look back over my life and see a blur of experience, and I feel bewildered. I’ve never lived anywhere longer than five years, and this rootlessness haunts me. I long, like Ove, who lives in one house for forty years, to know a place. Though Backman is talking metaphorically about a relationship, his comparison haunts me:

Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there,and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfections, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.

As I feel my mortality, I need there to be places that I know intimately and where my imprint has been worn into it. My pushback from the realization that I am here so temporarily is to connect. Tradition and routine seem to be an easy way to do this.

Tradition Is An Invitation

Tradition invites me into a history that reaches further back than me and will extend beyond me. Participating in tradition invites me into an inner circle, giving me a connection to those around me. It is also a protection from the excessive change around me.

When I ponder the characters of Ove and Carl, and even many in my Hallmark Christmas movies, they all seek peace in the midst of change. We sympathize with them because we too are victims of the capriciousness of time. I keep waiting to finally “arrive” in my life the way it’s supposed to be, but I am cruelly tricked by the continued change. My body changes, my children change, my job changes–all the while I want to yell for it to stop for a minute, so I can catch my breath.

My response is to dig in and hold on, find a place to nail me down, so I won’t be swept away with the tide. However, we all know this won’t work. My heart cries out for comfort though and promises bitterness if I don’t deliver.

I don’t think this longing for routine is wrong–I think in many ways it is the necessity of life. There are many routines I cannot avoid–I must eat every day, breathe every moment, drink and sleep. The danger comes when I decide what these routines must be in order for me to feel safe.

Only God Provides What We Need

Like Ove and Carl, we all need to release the tight-fisted hold we have on the routines of life in order to allow God to step in and do His redeeming work. Love alone is powerful enough to unclench my fist. I cannot stop the tide that flows ever onward pushing me towards my end; however, I can choose to trust the One who controls the tide. When I realize that there are things and people that are more important than my comfort, I can allow traditions and routine to take their proper place in my life, as a stabilizer but not my foundation.

There is no proper defense against the rush of life, except to lose ourselves in the eternal God. He is the one who goes before us, providing a home that cannot be taken from us (John 14:3). Then, we will be able to fully enjoy the peace Christ offers when He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Our decaying world gives and takes back–with God it is not so. We are growing into his peace and into our new homes that await us. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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