Faithful “Hearties” are marking off the days until Christmas now, and not just because of the joy of the sacred season, or any treats left by Santa. The Christmas night tradition of a “When Calls the Heart” movie feature continues on the evening of December 25 with “When Calls the Heart: Home for Christmas.”

The feelings in this year's film are as warm and cozy as ever, but also longing and wistful. In a preview feature posted on December 16, the castmates of the Hallmark Channel’s most beloved series share the perspective of blending old and new traditions in Hope Valley as Elizabeth celebrates her son’s first birthday.

Her devoted circle of friends is determined to spoil the little boy, and the newest residents, saloon owner, Lucas Bouchard (Chris McNally) and Constable Nathan Grant (Kevin McGarry) also sense the confirmation of being welcomed in personal and unique ways.

In a December 19 feature in the Deseret News, “When Calls the Heart” co-creators, Brian Bird and Michael Landon Jr. discuss what keeps their partnership and personal relationship strong and growing. They also give a glimpse as to what awaits Erin Krakow’s future as Elizabeth Thornton and what “Hearties” will be busy doing in Season 7.

More than a surface resemblance

Millions of fans fell in love with the striking good looks, the wavy dark hair, and the compassionate sensibility of Michael Landon on the small screen in classic TV from “Bonanza,” “Little House on the Prairie,” and “Highway to Heaven.” These family dramas gracing screens in syndication, and multiple generations still appreciate their focus on roots, faith, fortitude through struggle, and what matters most in life.

Brian Bird describes Michael Landon Jr. as the “spitting image” of his dad, but their resemblance has little to do with “the long brown mane” familiar in his father. Instead, Bird praises that Landon inherited the traits of his dad “creatively, emotionally, and professionally,” and all those qualities come across the screen on “When Calls the Heart.” He adheres to the tradition of telling “life and faith-affirming stories,” stresses Bird.

Likewise, Landon has just as much appreciation for his partner. “He’s great to collaborate with and always has your back,” Landon praises regarding Bird.

That kind of steadfast trust and confidence was tested through the financial crisis of the 2008 recession when they were left with a “half-finished movie (that would launch the series), half-broken hearts, and over $1 million in debt. The situation was dire, but both seasoned television professionals resisted the temptation to quit.

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Eyes on the future

Taking cues from the uniquely-crafted, resilient characters of Hope Valley, Brian Bird and Michael Landon Jr. weathered the storm and went on to develop the fictional community as a place that viewers can “escape to and yearn for,” as Landon puts it. Kavan Smith, who portrays Leland Coulter, as often called Hope Valley a place where everyone dreams to live and raise children. The community is the “village” that every parent hopes will surround a child.

Calamities and personal conflicts do happen in Hope Valley, but the strength of the characters in seeking resolution is what speaks to the “When Calls the Heart” audience.

Brian Bird continued to be characteristically coy in concealing the details of Season 7, but affirmed that “Elizabeth, Lucas, and Nathan are three pretty good choices for some extra scrutiny by the Hearties.” His remarks seemed to indicate that both men in Elizabeth's life are going to have plenty to keep them busy, romantically and otherwise. In the preview, co-star and veteran actor, Jack Wagner, who portrays Judge Bill Avery, says that both Kevin McGarry and Chris McNally have “great story arcs” in the coming season.

“The past is present in our hearts, but the future is in our eyes,” Bird provides as a teaser to the Christmas special. Erin Krakow is excited for the future, both for her television son and Elizabeth's romantic future. “She deserves this attention,” the spirited actress declares. After the trauma of becoming a widow and expectant mom, now returned to teaching as a working parent, no one can disagree.

Gifts of the heart outshine anything from a merchant this Christmas, as always on “When Calls the Heart.” Love is all around and waiting ahead in Hope Valley, and fans couldn’t be happier.

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