Prepare for spoilers [twangs lute, plays Greensleeves in preparation] — or check out my review here.
It’s Christmastime, and medieval knight Sir Cole Lyons meets a crone in a snowy forest while hawking. He wants to get her to shelter, and because of his kindness to her she tells him she is going to send him on a quest; it will fulfil his destiny and he will become “a true knight”. She hands him a glowing medallion but warns him he must finish his quest by midnight on Christmas Eve.
Cole disappears from the forest, arriving at the “Christmas Castle”, a festive attraction in the small town of Bracebridge in 2019. He briefly meets schoolteacher Brooke Winters. Driving home, she knocks him down in her car; at the hospital it is assumed he has lost his memory, as he says he’s a medieval knight. Brooke lets him stay in her guesthouse as she feels guilty for knocking him over.
Over the coming days he and Brooke become great friends, though he is struggling to work out what his quest should be. Despite doing many worthwhile things in Bracebridge, he knows that’s not enough. Eventually, the town Santa Claus tells him that failure is giving up; if we carry on, our hope and determination will see us through. Cole tells Brooke that his true quest must channel his weakness but he doesn’t know what his weakness is.
On December 21st Brooke is chatting to her sister Madison, and admits that she is starting to believe he is who he says he is. Madison thinks he’s merely a medievalist who has lost his memory.
Next morning, Cole is practising his sword fighting in the snow. Brooke’s neighbour Allyson has the hots for him and asks him to come carolling but he refuses, pleading a made-up prior engagement.
Out playing in the snow, Madison’s daughter Claire gives her mittens to her friend Lily. Lily’s mum has died and she doesn’t like to ask her dad David for new things as they have no money. Despite this, David ensures his three children know Christmas is about giving back.
Cole is helping Brooke with her annual Christmas Eve Feast, started by her parents for family and friends and continued by Brooke and Madison as a ticketed event to raise money for less fortunate local people.
In the supermarket, shopping for rolls for the feast, Cole is unimpressed by the packet offerings and decides they will make their own bread.
It’s snowing heavily. Lily and Claire go out in the snow to play, but wander off. Back at Brooke’s house, Cole and Brooke make enormous amounts of bread dough, very seductively. He puts a bean into one loaf, telling her that whoever finds it gets to make a Christmas wish.
A distraught Madison calls Brooke, telling her that Lily and Claire are missing. Cole and Brooke go out searching for them, as Cole tracks their movements through the snow. They find them at the lake. Lily is safe by the edge but Claire is stuck on the cracking ice; Cole rescues her by crawling towards her while getting her to crawl back towards him. Even rescuing the girls isn’t enough to complete his quest, though.
Neither are his actions on the 23rd, when he chases down and catches a pickpocket. It’s still not enough, and later at Brooke’s house he has a crisis of confidence, which is somewhat assuaged when she tells him she believes in him.
Next morning they bake all their bread (there’s a lot). That evening they get ready for the feast, he in a borrowed suit and Brooke ravishing in red. Before they leave he’s touched when she gives him an orange and a half-dollar (he had earlier told her about Christmas back home, where he would find an orange and a halfpenny on his bed at Christmas).
They head to the Christmas Eve Feast, where Brooke makes a short speech about compassion and kindness at Christmas, then David and his three children are invited into a room and given Christmas presents. David is also handed an envelope of money. The town has had a whip-round to give them a good Christmas.
Later, Cole dresses up in his knight’s armour for photos with the children. Allyson gives him mistletoe, for him to use with someone he loves, knowing by now that it will never be her.
After the feast, Cole and Brooke kiss under his mistletoe, but his medallion is glowing and he realises he has to go home. It is Christmas Eve, his quest deadline. Outside, he disappears in a puff of smoke.
On her way home a heartbroken Brooke bumps into her student Paige. Previously Brooke had counselled Paige not to believe in true love; now she has to tell her pupil that she was wrong and true love really does exist outside fairytales: you know it when you can want the best for them even if their future is not with you. At home she discovers he has left his armoured gauntlets behind. Eating leftovers from the Christmas Eve Feast, she finds the bean in the bread and wishes for Cole to come back.
In 14th century Norwich it is now a snowy Christmas morning. Cole reunites with his brother Geoffrey, who is about to have his knighting ceremony. Cole tells him he is now a true knight, and that his weakness was in not realising for so long that his actual quest was simply to follow his heart. His brother sends him off with his blessing to find Brooke.
It’s Christmas Day 2019 in Ohio. Claire rushes in and finds a puppy in her Christmas stocking. Her parents and Brooke know nothing about it; Claire believes it to be Christmas magic.
Cole seeks out the crone in the snowy forest, calling to her that he now understands that love is the foremost of the knightly virtues. He wants to go back, so she returns him to Ohio.
At the Christmas Castle, he reappears and tells Brooke she was his quest all along, and that his heart is hers. She is delighted, and they kiss. They trot off on his horse and everyone claps.
Mid-credits scene: A joyous Geoffrey — now Sir Geoffrey — emerges from the castle in Norwich, his knighting ceremony complete. Among the well-wishers in the snow outside is the crone, who tells him he is handsome and asks him if he will help one as beauteous as her — the exact wording she used when she first met Cole, before sending him off through time on his quest. Geoffrey says he is at her service, and the medallion around her neck glows red.