Millions of “When Calls the Heart” fans worldwide had long held Christmas dreams come true at last on Christmas Day. After sharing hours of memories and joys with family and friends, the time came on the evening of Christmas Day, December 25, to settle in and warm the soul with the residents of Hope Valley again after a long, and for many, very difficult hiatus since the end of Season 5, and the shocking death of Mountie Jack Thornton.

Erin Krakow has taken the character arc for the beloved teacher and newlywed wife on an incredible journey as Elizabeth Thornton. Within two episodes, she emotionally travels from the glow of the wedding of her dreams, deeply personal and authentic, with vows written by the actors themselves, to learn that her husband has been killed in his efforts to save his military men in training. And last the season finale, she endures the burial of her husband and learning that she will bear his child.

Erin Krakow, like the rest of her cast mates, has been delighted to embrace the adventures of motherhood for Elizabeth, and one of the first things most noticeable in “When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Christmas Blessing” is how the actress completely embodies the hobble of a heavily pregnant mother-to-be, from folding clothes to getting out from chairs, and out of motorcars. Elizabeth is getting loads, literally, of support from neighbors and friends, who are a little too touchy-feely over her soon-to-be-born baby.

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Elizabeth takes all that in stride but struggles to prepare herself and her home for the arrival that she dreamed of sharing with her husband.

Simultaneously, all of Hope Valley rallies to welcome a group of orphaned children and their caretakers en route to starting a new home, and Abigail (Lori Loughlin) and lawman, Bill Avery (Jack Wagner) all they can handle just getting food ready for the community feast. At every turn, there is a tender moment in “When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Christmas Blessing” and a surprise with timing that surprises everyone.

A place for everyone

Each of the “When Calls the Heart” actors has reflected on how Hope Valley is the kind of TV land place where everyone wants to live, with neighbors anyone would want around children. As when any major actor departs from a series, the drama has to respectfully honor the star, while still carrying on the storyline of all the characters. The tribute is genuine and authentic in this feature, without becoming maudlin and sappy.

Elizabeth is finishing school before the Christmas holiday with her students, helping them to think about their wishes for the Wishing Tree in the center of town. As she tells Opal (Ava Grace Cooper), the teacher’s only wish is to have a healthy baby, and both agree that Mountie Jack is watching over from heaven.

Rosemary (Pascale Hutton) is filled with the Christmas spirit, passing out ornaments for wishes to every resident she can find in Hope Valley, never daunted by less than enthusiastic responses.

Everyone needs a community star and team player like her.

The voices of children singing draw Elizabeth’s class and everyone in town to attention. A wagon load of two caretakers and eight children has traveled out of their way to make it to Hope Valley, and they are desperately in need of a wagon wheel to replace their broken spoke. The blacksmith in town is away until after Christmas, so the group must make Hope Valley home for the holiday. The talents and character appeal of actresses Morgan Kohan and Jocelyn Hudon as caretakers, Lillian and Grace, quickly appear. Both sisters were orphans themselves, split in different orphanages following the death of their parents. Grace never had the blessing of being adopted and was recently located by her sister. The newcomers will be leading stars in the Hallmark Movies Now subscription series, “When Hope Calls,” set for a spring launch in 2019.

The community welcomes the travelers with open arms, but Abigail and Avery have hunches that something is amiss about their story. The thankful and gracious caretakers do their part at every turn to help their hosts, but their minds are heavy. There are seven children authorized for the journey, but an eighth child, Millie (Audrey Wise Alvarez) is part of the group, a younger sister to Charlotte (Cassidy Nugent). She steals the show and Henry Gowen’s (Martin Cummins) heart without saying a word.

Help never hurts

While Bill has his suspicions about what's going on with the children, he is consumed with trying to replicate his mother's figgy pudding for the feast. He and Abigail come to loggerheads because she insists that love is the main ingredient missing in his recipe, and she is obsessed over the dilemma that there may not be enough desserts.

Cody (Carter Ryan Evancic) quickly inspires and recruits his classmates in giving up their own wishes, and making the wishes of the orphaned children as fulfilled as possible for Christmas.

While Elizabeth is presenting her “I can do it” attitude to neighbors and friends, she confesses to Abigail that she is overwhelmed by the prospect of parenthood and even preparing the nursery for the baby. In a flash, she is flanked by the strong women of Hope Valley, who create a lovely nursery in a night. In a tender scene, she speaks to her late husband, letting her feelings out. She adds the portrait of Jack as the loving finishing touch to her baby’s room.

Another understated, touching scene shows Elizabeth watching a father and daughter, and it must have reminded her of herself and her own father, as well as her impending situation. The story of “When Calls the Heart” has never been simply a love story, or merely centered in specific characters. The story in this Christmas treat is carried by the power of people, women, and men, who know that “together, we are stronger,” as Abigail reminds, and that family does not always mean blood relations.

Dr. Shepherd (Paul Greene) rules out any physical problems keeping little Millie from speaking. The trauma of being separated from her sister precipitated her silence, and he reiterates that her mental capacity is perfectly fine, including her love of reading. She chooses a Christmas story from Elizabeth’s library, and persistently tracks Henry Gowen as her preferred reader. After he realizes that she does not speak, and the reason why, along with the fact that he reminds the sisters of their father, his tender side surfaces. He reads the story day by day and tells Millie that he longs to hear her read the book to him.

Lee (Kavan Smith) and Rosemary dote on having the orphaned girls in their home, and when Jesse (Aren Buchholz) realizes that the Nutcracker ballet tickets that his boss helped him attain will require elegant evening wear, Lee calls on every good friend in town to loan an element of a put together suit.

Rosemary commits to take Elizabeth to buy a stroller in Benson Hills, and Abigail has to go along to buy a roast after her own dinner disaster. Restaurant owner Abigail has to settle for a Christmas salami when she arrives just after the roast has been sold, and surprises don't stop there. The icy roads are getting dangerous, and just as the friends share warm thoughts about the feelings of the season, Elizabeth asks about feelings of labor, sending Rosemary and the car off the road.

The trio treks to a hunting cabin, bracing Elizabeth through the pains along the way. As always, they prove to be troopers in the time of need. Rosemary shovels snow and finds wood for hot water, and when it comes to the big push, they are side by side. Little Jack is welcomed to the world just before Bill, Dr. Shepherd, and Lee find the ladies on a horseback rescue.

Lillian and Grace have to prove their case on keeping Millie and Charlotte together when an opposing director tries to take Millie away. Bill defends allowing the girls to share Christmas together. Ultimately, all agree that the sisters belong with Lillian and Grace.

It would have been more powerful to see Elizabeth Thornton more fully in the throes of childbirth, and the phrase, “Now, that’s what I’m talking about,” (which Bill shouts when he and the kids get the pudding right), never arose in 1900s vernacular.

These missteps can be forgiven, because “When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Christmas Blessing” gets it right when it comes to the big things in life—like unity, love, and selfless support. Those are the things we all need this Christmas-- and beyond.

Henry Gowen gets his wish from Millie, by the way, and so do the other orphans. People create happy endings in the real world, too, somehow, some way, every day.

Season 6 of "When Calls the Heart" commences in February 2019.

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