Although the holidays may look a bit different in the pandemic, one thing remains the same: Hallmark Channel’s sweet, funny and hopeful Christmas movies. And Holly Robinson Peete has eight under her belt, including 2020’s The Christmas Doctor, a love note to essential workers and Christmas in Evergreen: Bells Are Ringing, the fourth installment in the popular franchise.
And Peete who’s giving us love in Doctor (she also served as executive producer) and sisterhood in Evergreen, has been trying to get Black families to pay attention to the network’s Christmas gifts. “I don’t think they know how diverse [the content] has become. Hallmark has stepped it up in terms of diversity and representation,” says the wife and mom. “We’re turning a corner and the trajectory is really good, as far as representation, and especially at the top of call sheet.”
In Evergreen, Canadian actress Rukiya Bernard (Hannah Tucker) is the lead and Holly’s Michelle Lansing is set to marry Hannah’s brother Thomas (Colin Lawrence).
And Michelle or should we say Mayor Lansing, after much wrangling, finally gets her sister and father to Evergreen for the holidays. And Evergreen prides itself on doing Christmas right—including marshmallows and peppermint canes dunked in hot chocolate—even if they are bit over the top with it.
But as the sleigh bells ring, things don’t go as planned for the dutiful mayor and ambitious Hannah, who is prepping the opening of the Evergreen museum. Still, the mayor remains on chill mode. “Mayor Michelle is way more evolved in her ability to pivot and go with the flow. She has matured in these movies. In the very first movie, Michelle is a hot mess and very discombobulated,” Peete says, checking in from her home in California. “That’s been her journey and she’s passing on these life lessons to Hannah.”
While Christmas in the Peete house cannot compete with the picturesque Evergreen, it is all kinds of merry and bright, beginning with the tradition of opening one gift on Dec. 24. and the annual fried turkey competition between Holly and former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete.
Last year Rodney tried his hand at a teriyaki bird, but it was no match for his wife’s jerk flavorings. “Yeah, he tried, but he had to take his little carving knife and go home because mama had that one,” Holly says, laughing at the memory.
While the fried turkey is the star of the meal, Holly’s brussel sprout salad with truffle oil and Asiago cheese gets an Emmy for Outstanding Taste and Visual Effects. The mom of four only makes it during Thanksgiving and Christmas because the sprouts are chopped into green pieces of confetti, which takes forever to do, even if the result is delicious.
As Holly considers ideas for 2021 Christmas movies, two things come to mind. First, a chance to travel to France and show off her fluent French in what she dubs Evergreen in Paris. Fun fact: She studied French at The Sorbonne, so she was more than happy to use her skills in the current Evergreen movie. Second, as an autism advocate (her youngest son RJ is a young adult with autism), she says it’s time let the special needs community to deck the halls with boughs of holly. (No pun intended.)
“I’d love to do a Christmas movie and have a someone who, not only plays a character with autism, but actually has autism. Representation matters,” Holly says before wrapping the call. “And I’ve met a lot of actors with autism who are really good. There’s a lot to be said for a special Christmas like that.”