Christmas in June - Hallmark ChristmasCon
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”
It’s Christmas in July! If you’re questioning that, just turn on your Hallmark Channel where they’re showing Christmas movies the whole month long.
And for some of us true Hallmarkies, the celebrating began even earlier, back in June at ChristmasCon in Overland Park, Kansas.
ChristmasCon is this wonderful event held twice a year where Hallmark Christmas movie fans have the opportunity to meet their favorite stars in person.
The December convention is held in New Jersey, with the summer event moving to different locations each year. This was the first to be held close to my home in the Midwest.
If you’ve read my previous blog post about tracking down Hallmark Christmas movie filming locations around Vancouver, Canada, you already know how big a fan I am. There was no way I was going to pass up could well be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet some of my favorite actors and so I was there, with a few hundred other like-minded crazies.
There’s so much to unpack when trying to cover everything happening at a ChristmasCon. Let me start with the basics.
The convention is staged by a company called That’s4Entertainment that works with but is not directly tied to Hallmark.
While most, but not all, of the stars in appearance are from Hallmark movies, that has more to do with Hallmark being in the Christmas movie business much longer than anyone else and having more movies than anyone else.
This year’s lineup, for example, included Melissa Joan Hart, more of a Lifetime TV actor, and I Dream of Jeannie’s Barbara Eden, who also appeared on Hart’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and two or three others who recently left Hallmark for GAC.
By the way, and by the by, they’ve just announced that Chevy Chase from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation will be at the New Jersey ChristmasCon.
The convention spreads out over three days beginning Friday night and stretching to late Sunday afternoon. Friday tends to be a little lighter on activities, primarily focused on a chance to meet the celebrities and capped off with a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, of course they do.
Saturday and Sunday are filled with panel discussions and other activities with Saturday night at this convention featuring a special red carpet/sneak peek showing of a fall Hallmark movie.
You can purchase the full three-day package, yes I did, thank you very much, or do as many attendees did and purchase a one-day pass.
Photographs and Autographs
No doubt, the reason we all made the trip, paid for the convention, the hotel fees and the gasoline (and plane tickets for some), was the chance to meet our favorite Hallmark Christmas movie stars in person.
For me that meant getting my picture taken with the likes of Ashley Williams, Autumn Reeser, Erin Cahill and my brother from another mother, Paul Campbell. That dude is a lot taller than he looks on tv. I’m pushing six-feet and he was a solid three inches above me.
I have to tell you, meeting them, getting your photo taken, it’s a lot like an auction, or maybe a casino. It’s so very easy to get caught up in the excitement and before you know it, you’re spending more and more money.
You see, you have to pay for those photographs and autographs. That makes sense, nothing wrong with it. No complaints from me.
But it’s amazing how quickly you get drawn in, wanting to do more and more. I would have very much liked to have also met Taylor Cole and Alicia Witt but at some point, like when reaching for one more Christmas cookie, you just have to say no.
Many of the attendees, many others, had photos taken and even bought autographs from all of the 20 stars who were there. One woman, who flew in from a small town north of Quebec, had a three-ring binder, well organized to make sure she was getting each one.
Here’s how it worked, you have a couple of different options:
The higher priced of the two was to meet your chosen actor(s) at a specified time and have staged photos taken by a professional photographer.
There was a lot of flexibility and creativity with the photos. Aside from more traditional poses, I saw several people take advantage of the opportunity to pose something more candid such as the actor on one knee, mock marriage proposing to the attendee. That seemed to be an especially popular choice for Tyler Hynes fans.
I apologize, I don’t remember exactly the cost of those, but it was around $100.
I opted for the second option. For most of the event, the actors were available at individual booths. For $40 you could have a “selfie” with them, using your phone camera and taken by the person handling the money and other duties at the respective star’s table.
If you preferred just an autograph, that was the same price, or you could get both a photo and autograph for $70.
Generally speaking the lines weren’t too bad. I’m told the New Jersey event is much larger and people can stand in line for quite some time. (I’d also purchased the VIP pass which provided shorter waiting lines at both the stars’ tables and into the panel discussions.)
The exception was the aforementioned Tyler Hynes. Good golly, Miss Molly, there’s no doubt who the most popular male actor is amongst the female fandom. His table was a mob for most of the weekend.
Personally, I don’t see the attraction but I’m guessing that has more to do with the fact I spent my time near the actresses tables. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
P.S. I don’t have a photo to share of the area because, other than the ones you pay for at the booths, photos are not allowed, so don’t think you can just stand off to the side and take photos of the stars from afar.
What Are They Like? Part One
I know, I know, this is what you really want to know. What are the stars really like?
They’re great. Really, honestly, they’re great.
Many of them, but certainly not all, are quite the extroverts. I mean, come on, they’re actors after all, it kind of comes with the territory. There was a lot of enthusiasm, jumping up and down and random outbursts.
Having said that, not going to surprise anyone, especially those who know me, I’m very much on that extrovert scale as well, so no criticism from this camp.
I know it sounds a bit cliché but they are all very down to earth people. Every one of them was so easy to talk to and you really got the feeling they were excited to be there.
Erin Cahill, especially, has won a fan for life. We talked for so long I was actually the one who was trying to pull away. I mean, I would have happily stood and talked with her forever, but I was feeling guilty about the growing line of others waiting behind us.
And hey, she told me how beautiful my eyes are.
Autumn Reeser, Ashley Williams and Paul Campbell were all wonderful. I happened to be at Campbell’s table just as he arrived so we were able to talk a bit longer before the line got too long.
On a sidenote, he asked me if I was a Hallmark fan. That would have caught me off guard if I hadn’t been asked that a couple of times earlier by other attendees.
In my head I was thinking, of course, excluding a few husbands whose wives brought them along, even though I’m a guy, why else would I be here otherwise?
What I learned is there were autograph hounds amongst us. I happened to be standing in line with a man who said he’d attended 126 celebrity-style conventions. He didn’t really care about who they were, he just wanted their autographs. No doubt some of those are already showing up on eBay.
Campbell is from Canada so when I told him I’d made the pilgrimage to Vancouver, he knew instantly I was a true fan and that’s all we talked about.
What Are They Like? Part Two
They wanted to be there. Sure, they were being paid and it’s good publicity for their movies but you really felt like they wanted to meet with and appreciated the fans.
I noticed it early on, during the Friday night Christmas tree lighting. All of the celebrities were on stage, waiting for Paul Campbell and Kimberly Sustad to throw the big switch, and many of them had their own phones out, taking video and photos of the crowd and others on the stage.
They weren’t just showing up for some silly tree lighting because they had to, they were truly getting into it and having fun, along with the crowd.
That also came out during the panel discussions. Those discussions are pretty much what you imagine. Three or four actors take the stage for about 45 minutes, answer questions from a moderator and telling stories. The audience had time to ask questions near the end.
It was interesting hearing how much they appreciated working for Hallmark and the opportunities it provides them. In a nutshell, they know they have a great job, doing what they love, it’s pretty steady work and, to a certain extent, they can still have a somewhat normal life. There’s no doubt they are recognized when they go out but not to the extent of some really big name actors.
They also understand that’s possible because there are so many fans who make it possible by watching the movies. That’s something they are truly thankful for.
Just to get on my soapbox for a moment. In case you’re saying to yourself - sure, but that’s because they aren’t good enough for the big movies – let me just stop you right there.
Many of them have been in big Hollywood movies and major television shows. I recently watched The Night Agent on Netflix and saw four Hallmark actors in the first three episodes alone. They have chosen to do this because it’s what they really want in their lives.
On another note, full disclosure, I came away liking a couple of the actors even more. For example, Victor Webster is a great actor but I always thought he would be a bit stiff and impersonable IRL (In Real Life, like the kids like to say.)
Nothing could be further from the truth, he’s a very warm, kind of laid back and outgoing person. I’ll definitely be seeing him in an entirely different way in the future.
Strikes, Red Carpets, Lions and Charities
The big fish, the Hallmark queen, Lacey Chabert, was not there. Nor were such notables as Brennan Elliott, Jen Lilley or one of my favorites, Rachel Boston – that would have been another $40 out of my pocket if she had been.
Most of them were originally scheduled to be there, but shooting schedules for their new movies were moved up. During one panel discussion the comment was made that movies were scrambling to get completed in the next two weeks before the possible writers strike began.
A real highlight was the Saturday red carpet screening of Field Day starring Rachel Boston and Benjamin Ayres. The movie won’t be released on Hallmark until this fall and we were told it was unusual to get a chance to see a movie in advance. Photos and videos were strictly prohibited.
All of the Hallmark stars walked a short red carpet prior to the screening and Ayres talked about the movie before it began. He was also able to pull Boston in on a video phone chat.
It’s a little hard to hear but Hallmark Channel posted the discussion with Ayres on Instagram.
Barbara Eden told a great story during her panel about Larry Hagman, her I Dream of Jeannie co-star, and a lion. There’s a write-up about it on People Magazine’s website.
Benjamin Ayres and Jen Lilley have both established notable charity efforts.
Ayres is behind Romance University that kind of started at a New Jersey ChristmasCon when he began selling t-shirts and sweatshirts imprinted with a faux college crest and the words Hallmark University, playing off Harvard University.
Ayres talked about it during a panel session saying it was so popular he changed the name to Romance University, to make it more inclusive, and it’s now a full-fledged effort. Funds raised from the sales go to women’s shelters. Many other Hallmark actors have jumped on board including Nikki DeLoach, Erin Cahill, Taylor Cole, Rachel Boston and the three wisemen (Hallmark movie reference) Paul Campbell, Tyler Hynes and Andrew Walker.
Jen Lilley’s charity, Christmas is Not Cancelled, provides people a chance to donate essential items, backpacks, clothing, blankets and more, to children in foster care.
Ok, in this day and age when people complain about there not being enough wholesome entertainment, does it get any more wholesome than Hallmark Christmas movies? I’m just saying.
That being the case, you have to expect ChristmasCon fans are there for the fun and are some of the nicest people you’ll ever want to meet. I had almost as much fun, almost, meeting my fellow fans as I did the convention itself.
There was no secret you were attending a Christmas convention. As soon as you walked in the hotel you couldn’t help but notice the big inflated Santa and other decorations spread about the lobby.
As a person of the male gender there was no question I was in the minority but no one cared. I joked that one of the advantages I had was no line in the bathrooms. I was as welcome as everyone else and even had a group invite me to join them as I was sitting alone in the bar.
As the convention ended and I drove off to my next stop I had a bit of the feeling of leaving my family behind. If you’re a Hallmarky, you understand.
Finally, check out this Hallmark Instagram post from the convention floor for a cheesy video of the stars.
**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.