I absolutely love Christmas. The twinkling lights, the decorated trees, the festive music, the holiday movies. I love it all.

But I’m also the type of person who doesn’t allow myself to get into the holiday spirit until after Thanksgiving. I’m not entirely sure why, though. I guess there’s just something about wanting to celebrate the holidays in order. First Halloween, then there’s Thanksgiving, and then at the end of November, the Christmas season starts.

At least, that’s how it usually is for me. But this year is different.

Maybe it was the early mid-October snow, or maybe it has to do with the seemingly nonstop series of unfortunate events that is 2020. All I know is I started watching Hallmark Christmas movies in October, and now there’s no turning back.

So much has happened this year that the beginning of 2020 feels like it was years ago. Watching coverage of Australia’s wildfires, hearing about Kobe Bryant’s death, tuning into the last Super Bowl and learning of this new thing called “coronavirus” do not feel like things I did just this year.

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We as a society have been through a lot. Even if the pandemic and other events of this year haven’t impacted you personally in terms of illness, job loss, financial stress or what have you, we’ve all still felt it. Having to stay inside, being separated from family and friends, missing out on much-anticipated events and stressing out over the next big news event have taken a toll on all of us, either mentally, physically or both.

Now, 2020 hasn’t come without its bright spots, too. My own family has added two new little additions this year, but, again, the pandemic has thrown a wrench in traveling and visits. And I think that’s why I’m embracing the Christmas spirit a little early this year. I need something to look forward to and be happy about — something that I can actually do without putting anyone’s health in jeopardy. And while I might not be able to go out with friends or travel to see family as much as I normally would, I can still happily put up a Christmas tree, dust off my holiday decorations and listen to some festive tunes. I can dig out my Santa mug, heat up some hot cocoa and switch on a Christmas movie while watching snow fly outside.

OK, so maybe I haven’t quite put my tree up yet, but it’s crossed my mind more than once.

What I have done, though, is allowed myself to get drawn into the Hallmark Channel and its continual loop of Christmas movies. I’ve watched at least four or five so far, and I think it’s made me just a little happier and calmer during this stressful time. For a couple hours, I can escape from the real world and lose myself in a fictitious land of picturesque winter scenery, cheesy romance and lots of holiday cheer.

Some readers may recall a column I wrote a couple winters ago attempting to figure out why Hallmark’s predictable and over-the-top corny holiday films are so popular. My conclusion was simplicity. Even though viewers can see every ending coming a mile away, there’s just something about the pretty snowy landscapes and the happy characters who value their family and friends and always seem to embody Christmas spirit. The movies serve as a break from reality in a normal year. But in 2020, I think having that outlet is even more important, which is why I’m so glad Hallmark has more than just festive movies this year.

In addition to a schedule and checklist of this season’s movies, the Hallmark Countdown to Christmas app features giveaways, holiday craft tutorials, Thanksgiving recipes, phone wallpapers and even a fantasy bracket game. Each week, users pick which movies airing that week they think will be the most watched for a chance to win $1,000. Additional trivia questions about the movies can boost scores. It’s a fun way to engage in the whole Hallmark Christmas experience beyond just watching movies.

So this holiday season, my message to everyone is do what you need to do for the sake of your mental health. But please, please, please keep in mind the physical health of those around you. We shouldn’t be having crowded holiday parties or large get-togethers, but we can still find ways to celebrate the season in a safe manner. Watch your favorite movies, bake your favorite cookies and deck the halls with your favorite decorations. If you already started back in October, good for you. If you haven’t yet and need to wait until December, fantastic. And if this year you need to keep your Christmas tree up well into February or March just to keep some of that holiday magic around, then by all means do it.

Oh, and if you’re looking for Hallmark recommendations, I’d suggest the “Christmas in Evergreen” series. There are four movies — the newest coming out later this year — set in the quaint little town of Evergreen with the same cast of characters but varying storylines.

Happy Hallmarking!

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.