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If there's such a thing as a queen of Christmas, Lacey Chabert is fit for the crown. In addition to roles in films like Mean Girls and TV shows like Party of Five, and voicing a surprising number of TV characters in shows like Voltron: Legendary Defender and Kung Fu Panda, she has carved out a niche as a Christmas movie heroine. Since being cast in the 2012 made-for-TV movie Matchmaker Santa, Chabert has earned a reputation as the go-to actress for directors looking for a spunky heroine to fall in love at Christmastime.

This year, Chabert can be seen in Hallmark's Christmas in Rome, where she plays an American tour guide who is rudely fired from her job days before Christmas. The only glimmer of hope comes in the form of Oliver (played by The Bold Type's Sam Page), a businessman who just so happens to need a guide to give him a personal tour of the Eternal City. It's the perfect Christmas rom-com and yet another example of why Chabert truly is the queen of Christmas.

We caught up with Chabert in Calgary, Alberta, where she is currently filming her 21 movie for Hallmark, this time for Winterfest, which starts airing on the Hallmark Channel right after Christmas. "When Christmas is over, don't despair," she says, laughing. "The holiday spirit is still thriving."

How much of the year do you spend pretending it's Christmas?

Typically, we film [Hallmark Christmas movies] in the summer, or late summer, early fall. So come summertime, I kind of kick off the Christmas spirit, even if it's 100 degrees outside. It takes about three weeks to film a movie, so I spend about three weeks in Christmasland in summer. Then I'm inspired to start celebrating early as soon as the movies start airing and we start promoting. I know it seems a bit early to some people, but I enjoy it.

Are you ever tired of Christmas by the time December rolls around?

No, not at all. I genuinely love Christmas and anyone who knows me knows that I'm pretty Christmas obsessed. I like to draw it out as long as possible, so it makes sense that I would enjoy making these movies. You would think I would be tired of Christmas, but no. In December, I'm actually even more excited because I can just relax and stay in my pajamas and cook and eat everything and be with my family and watch movies and play. You know some of those quintessential Hallmark scenes that we film? I just enjoy living them in real life.

What are some of your favorite family Christmas traditions?

I have started to realize how much I love our traditions now that I'm a mom. As I'm passing down those traditions to [my daughter], it's almost like we get to relive our childhood. My sisters and brother and all of my nephews—I have seven nephews—try to be in my parents' home for Christmas Eve. We have a white elephant-style party and and all end up fighting for a particular gift that is so silly. We eat and we cook the same things every year. There are recipes that have been passed down from my grandmother and my great-grandmother and my mom. It's stuff that I grew up eating as a child during the holidays. I love the tradition of doing the same thing year after year. On Christmas morning, we open presents and everyone stays in their pajamas all day long, eats a huge dinner, and we watch our favorite movies.

What are some of your favorite Christmas movies?

My top five are National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Christmas with the Kranks, Elf, Love Actually, and it's always a toss-up for the fifth one, but growing up it was Santa Claus: The Movie.

You mentioned that your family has holiday food traditions. What are some of the recipes that you cook every Christmas?

Pecan pie; sweet potato pie, but made with white sweet potatoes, real vanilla beans, and real homemade whipped cream; and pralines. They are so hard to make and it's so easy to burn them, but when you get a perfect batch, you feel so accomplished. I'm from the South and my dad is from Louisiana—he's Cajun French—so on Christmas Day we usually have gumbo and potato salad—just delicious Cajun food.

Is your family still in the South?

Yeah, everyone lives in Texas now. There are a lot of differences in the food and culture between Texas and Louisiana but, at the same time, I feel like—especially around the holidays—there's such a focus on family and being with the ones you love, whether that's friends or family. I think those are definitely the same in both places.

You grew up in Purvis, Mississippi, near your grandmother. Were there any holiday traditions you two shared?

We lived next door to my grandmother and we'd walk over her house constantly. One of my favorite childhood memories is baking with my grandmother in her kitchen. She passed away this year. She was one of my very best friends and my biggest cheerleader, so her passing was heartbreaking but I love that I have those memories with her of cooking in her kitchen. She had such a precise way of doing things—you had to do everything exactly the way it was planned. She was very much into following the recipe and she was a bit of a perfectionist. No one had more beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts than her, so we try and do her proud. That means taking the time to fold the corners perfectly and taping it on the inside of the paper so you can't see the Scotch tape. She also made all of her own Christmas bows. She taught me how, so I know how to make a pretty good Christmas bow too.

And did you have Christmas recipes that you would make together?

Coconut cake was the really special one at Christmas. [There was also a] candy, which was made out of peanut butter, marshmallows, peanuts, and white chocolate. It was delicious, but you weren't allowed to eat it before it dried. We would stand there just waiting, counting the minutes until we were allowed to dive in.

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Do you have a favorite Southern Christmas memory?

It didn't snow a lot growing up in Mississippi, but I remember the first time I saw snow was on Christmas morning. I was four or five. I had never seen snow before and when you've never seen it, it's so magical the first time. We woke up on Christmas morning and it had snowed all night, so everything was covered in this beautiful, white fluffy snow and we went out to play in it. We were even more excited about the snow than opening our presents, which is saying a lot!

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