Holiday television movies - especially those of the Hallmark variety - are a predictable bunch.
The lead actress leaves the big city to visit her impossibly festive small hometown which she meanders making wistful, nostalgic faces while wearing a chic outfit.
She then meets the man from her past – usually high school. At some point in the movie, the pair spends two hours of holly-jolly activities, a 10-minute-long bout of passive-aggressive fighting over a non-issue and, finally, they seal the Hershey Kiss-wrapped ending under the mistletoe.
The town, named something too festive, always appears as if it's rivaling the North Pole for a spot on the front page of the New York Times' travel section.
Predictable, yes. But the characters always look like they're having fun, right?
So here's how my attempt at re-creating a Hallmark movie went, along with some ideas for you. Cheesy dialogue is not only allowed but encouraged.
[Related: See the Hallmark Christmas movie schedule for 2018]
Picturesque small-town streets are a staple of holiday movies and we have a few spots locally that will fill in quite nicely. In fact, East Aurora was the snowy filming location of "A Prince for Christmas," a popular holiday movie that has aired on ION TV. It has another familiar story: a prince falls in love with an American waitress even though he's engaged in an arranged marriage back home.
While watching "A Prince for Christmas," you'll notice Vidler's 5 & 10 and Aurora Theatre, two of East Aurora's attractions that drip with novelty.
[Related: Jeff Miers spends 90 minutes in East Aurora]
Main Street in Williamsville boasts small boutiques where you can find curated secondhand clothing, high-end goods and jewelry, as well as wine bars, dives and a range of restaurants.
Visit a wine bar for the romantic date-night scene or a dive to re-create the "catching up after not seeing each other for high school" scene. For that, one of you has to be surprisingly talented at darts or pool and teach the other one. There are no exceptions to this.
Ellicottville secured a spot in The New York Times' travel section in 2008 twice. (Take that, Santaville.) One is headlined The Ski Town That Aspen Used to Be Like"and the other, A Laid-Back Village With Lots of Snow and Comfort.
Assuming the roles of scout, cheesy character and curious observer, I took the scenic route down the 219 to the hills of Cattaraugus County, to the town that promised carriage rides and Aspen vibes. Luckily, I already have a typical Hallmark job. Writer is up there with event planner and aspiring chef in the small pool of characteristics Hallmark scriptwriters choose for women characters.
Five minutes after arriving in Ellicottville, we pass a man standing under a tree holding a brown and white reindeer – yes, a reindeer – by a leash.
Does that sound too good to be true? I mean we are, hypothetically, in a Hallmark movie. While Dancer – and yes, that's his name – isn't chilling in the village all the time, he was there that day for Ellicottville's annual Christmas celebration.
A father asked me to take a photo of him and his son by Dancer. I later see him snapping another photo of his son with his smartphone, this time the little boy is imitating an excited life-size cut-out of Buddy the Elf.
So far, it's pretty festive.
Following the reindeer excitement – where I pictured the two Hallmark characters I've created in my head deciding to do something crazy, like renting a reindeer for their annual Christmas cookie bake-off – we walked into a T-shirt-themed coffee and ice cream shop called The Tee Bar, an athletic ski attire shop Mud Sweat n' Gears, apres ski attire shop Gado Gado, and a shop dedicated to novelty socks, The Purple Doorknob. This would be the shopping montage in the movie, if you're following along.
We grabbed coffees (but let's pretend it was hot chocolate) at Katy's Cafe, dining next to three people in Santa hats.
A horse-drawn hayride sat outside with no line as we left the cafe, which was the closest we came to a serendipitous Hallmark movie moment. Two jet-black horses covered in chains of jingle bells clopped and clanked around the block while we gawked over them for a few minutes.
[Read more: Follow the crowd to Ellicottville, from 2015]
Outdoor ice skating (and falling) and hot chocolate
There are never any crowds at ice rinks in these kinds of movies, not even in the middle of New York City's Central Park.
You'll find those at The Ice at Canalside, but if two boys are racing on ice bikes right next to you causing you to nearly tumble, you'll just be playing the part better.
Nobody keeps their balance on skates in Hallmark movies. That's Hallmark dating 101.
Comedy writer Mindy Kaling aptly describes "the klutz" female character in romantic comedies in the New Yorker: "She trips and falls and spills soup on her affable date... The Klutz clangs into stop signs while riding her bike and knocks over giant displays of fine china in department stores... she is basically like a drunk buffalo who has never been a part of human society."
For the hot chocolate portion of the date – arguably the most important part – drink a hot chocolate there or walk over to Tim Hortons in the HarborCenter.
Stop by Rotary Rink in downtown Buffalo for free public ice skating amidst picturesque urban views of skyscrapers and the Gold Dome building. A Christmas tree sits in the background as you glide around the small rink. Afterward, grab a hot chocolate and discuss saving Christmas or ambiguous relationship trauma, as they do in the movies.
Knock a couple of things off of your Hallmark master list at once by skating at The Healthy Zone Rink in East Aurora, an indoor-outdoor rink with public skating hours from Friday through Sunday. Once you're done skating (and falling), visit Taste for your creamy chocolate drink and gooey table s'mores.
Find, chop and decorate a Christmas tree
Can you picture the Christmas tree scene? There are a few variations. There's the scene at the farm where the couple chops it down – a dog or child or both are often with them – and bring it home to decorate it. Usually, the two leads step back, stare at the tree, embrace and say "it's perfect." In the city version, two characters drag a tree through the streets as people keep bumping into them.
Either way, there's always a tree.
Ultimate Hallmark movie fan Toni Ruberto compiled a list of Christmas tree farms to re-create this scene.
Ride a horse-drawn carriage
Hop on a romantic sleigh ride through the park, or through Hotel Henry. Banner Farms is bringing its horses and holiday sleigh to the boutique hotel for $15 carriage rides. There are only two dates left: from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 16 and 23. If you want to secure a spot, make a reservation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 860-0777.
Kelkenberg Farm of Clarence also offers horse-drawn sleigh rides, depending on weather conditions. Follow its Facebook page for event postings. $8.50 admission includes sleigh rides, refreshments, visiting the farm animals and pony rides for children.
Baking (and burning) cookies
It happens in every movie – baking of holiday cookies to bring people together and someone always burns them.
You could just grab cookie supplies from the store, bring them home, bake and frost cookies yourself. Or you could go to a local baking event.
The Terrace hosts its inaugural Cookie Fest from noon to 4 p.m. Dec. 15 where you can sample cookies from Buffalo bakeries and enjoy holiday-themed drinks. Maybe they'll even give you some baking tips so you don't burn them.
Chrusciki Bakery in Lancaster is hosting a family friendly holiday cupcake decorating party on Dec. 20 and gingerbread decorating party on Dec. 22. Fairy Cakes Cupcakery and Bakeshop on Parkside is also hosting a cookie and cupcake decorating class for all ages on Dec. 15.
*Read more: December events to mark on your calendar.