If it had been anyone other than Jen Lilley, talking about Christmas during a blistering hot summer day would come across as being a bit weird. But, Lilley is ready to talk about the holiday no matter the month.
“I absolutely love Christmas,” Lilley says in a most emphatic tone. “I love the spirit of giving back so much that I actually founded a company called Christmas Is Not Cancelled. So, every Christmas in July and every real Christmas, my company and I find ways to raise money for children in need.”
That alone justifies the untimely talk about the holiday but the connection between Lilley and Christmas doesn’t stop there. Lilley is set to host GAC Family’s first-ever “Great American Christmas in July” programming event scheduled to start July 2 and continue through the Independence Day weekend.
The event will include around the clock airings of Christmas movies starting at 6 a.m. July 2 with “A Cinderella Christmas.” Other films to be shown include “Christmas Time Is Here,” “The Great Christmas Switch,” “A Christmas Star,” “Jingle Bell Princess,” “A Kindhearted Christmas,” “A Christmas Miracle for Daisy,” “Royally Wrapped for Christmas,” “Joy for Christmas,” “A Lot Like Christmas,” “Angel Falls Christmas” and “Much Ado About Christmas.”
Also on the schedule are “Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle,” “Debbie Macomber’s Call Me Mrs. Miracle” and “A Match Made at Christmas.”
Handling the hosting duties for all of these holiday films was a breeze for Lilley because she already had seen all of the movies. Part of all that viewing came from her holiday spirit and part from seeing the work her peers had done. She also hosted a bake-a-thon last year as part of her Christmas Is Not Cancelled fundraising where a holiday-themed dessert was created for every movie.
Lilley’s passion for Christmas and her interest in acting started while growing up in Virginia.
“I don’t think there was a single Christmas tradition that my mother didn’t try at least once,” Lilley says. She compares her home to the one in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when she adds, “Our house had so many lights it was like the Griswold Christmas which is borderline embarrassing.”
That holiday spirit has stayed with Lilley as she has been building up her acting resume appearing on TV shows such as “Hanna Montana,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Criminal Minds” and “Castle.” She portrayed Maxie Jones on the ABC daytime drama “General Hospital” from September 2011 to August 2012 and played the character of Theresa Donovan on NBC’s “Days of Our Lives” from July 2013 to November 2016.
Lilley jokes that her work on daytime television made the hosting job easy because she was accustomed to working fast and trusting her instincts. She is convinced that anyone who works in daytime can handle any acting challenge.
Of course, her credits would have to include holiday films. She has appeared in at least 15 Hallmark movies including several holiday offerings – “Royally Wrapped for Christmas,” “Snowkissed,” “USS Christmas” and “Mingle All the Way.” She has another holiday films in the works but Lilley says that she can’t reveal any details at this point.
Holiday movies are often shot in the middle of the summer forcing actors to pretend they are cold despite warm weather. They have to do this while wearing layers of clothes more suited for snowy weather.
Lilley enjoys the challenge of the odd working schedule.
“I think it is always fun,” Lilley says. “The secret to it is getting ice packs and putting them on the nape of your neck under the coat. That actually cools you down quite quickly.”
Lilley and her fellow actors are willing to endure the heat because they know holiday movies are so incredibly popular. Her theory is that these movies fill the need for people who are looking for a bit of escapism from the demands of everyday life.
Holiday films often deal with conflict but it all leads to a happy ending. Lilley points out that holiday movies show how important it is to realize we have more in common with each other than differences.
“I think everybody is looking for that feel good, comfort TV where you know what is going to happen and we absolutely love it,” Lilley says. “Also, who doesn’t love hot chocolate and romance?
“It is the mac-and-cheese of television. It’s comforting.”
GAC Family will be dishing up a heavy helping of the genre through the Fourth of July holiday. “Great American Christmas in July” is designed for fans of holiday romantic comedies to celebrate Christmas early. At the same time, there also will be a first look previews of all-new holiday films planned for Great American Christmas 2022 set to start Oct. 28.