This time of year is always filled with holiday cheer, glistening lights and cheesy movies on every screen. However, all of the excitement is always for the same holiday: Christmas. I get it, Christmas is the most important day of the year for Christian households. But, come on, would it really hurt to throw non-Christians a bone every now and then? The constant lack of attention toward other holidays — particularly Chanukah, the one I celebrate — has turned me into a bit of a Grinch, especially this year, when the two holidays overlap.
It’s not that I hate Christmas; it’s just that I wish Chanukah was included a little bit too. According to a recent study by Brandeis University, there are over 7 million Jewish people in America. While that might be only 2% of the population, it is still a large enough number to prove that there is an audience, and therefore a demand, for more Jewish content. Stores like Target and Walmart have started to realize this, creating a section for Chanukah decorations amidst the larger Christmas one. These little pockets of my culture make me so excited; this is exactly what I want. If only other major companies could start to do what Target and Walmart are doing.
Hallmark becomes a huge part of culture in December as they broadcast and produce festive holiday movies. They have a plethora of Christmas movies, most of them with almost the exact same plot, yet almost no Chanukah movies. This year, Hallmark tried something new.
Technically, two Chanukah movies, “Double Holiday” and “Holiday Date,” were released by Hallmark this year. The problem is they’re not actually Chanukah movies; they’re Christmas movies disguised as Chanukah movies. Personally, I haven’t seen either and don’t plan to — I’ve read the reviews and they’re not pretty.
“Double Holiday” has been praised for not being terribly offensive, meaning the bar is literally on the floor. Reviewers haven’t called this movie good, rather, simply not bad. It’s a watchable movie. “Holiday Date” on the other hand features some awful and offensive tropes. The main character hires an actor to play her boyfriend on Christmas, but he’s got a big problem: He’s Jewish.
Oh, what to do, what to do? Of course, this actor doesn’t have the slightest idea about Christmas because I guess the Hallmark Channel doesn’t exist in the Hallmark cineverse. I’ve seen countless Christmas movies; they’re unavoidable at this point. Not sure how this man made it into adulthood without knowing anything about Christmas, but it gives the other characters the perfect excuse to alienate him and treat him as Other. Wow, a Jewish person being treated as separate from the rest of the pack? How original, Hallmark.
Hallmark isn’t the only problem, of course. Lifetime also released a Chanukah film. This one almost seems to be the worst of the bunch. It’s the only one I’ve seen getting slammed on Twitter. “Mistletoe & Menorahs” is a fantastic title, but that’s all the film has going for it. The plot is that a gentile must learn how to throw a Chanukah party to impress a client, but she has literally no idea what the holiday is. So, she gets introduced to her friend’s son’s teacher, a Jewish man, so she can learn about proper traditions.
Throughout the film she seems to mock both the holiday and Jewish culture. She also needs a literal guide to do something that a simple Googling would’ve solved. Where Lifetime missed the biggest mark, though, was in not explaining any of the meaningful backstory behind Chanukah. If you’re going to have a movie that’s literally about the main character learning the true spirit of Chanukah, at least teach the story.
Other media corporations also often neglect other cultures. Disney is actually the only company I can think of that has a Chanukah movie prior to this year, and even then, they only have one. Though others existed, I don’t recall them being promoted or aired the way “Full-Court Miracle” was.
“Full-Court Miracle” is absolutely ridiculous and (now) infrequently aired, but it does exist. I was usually able to find it once in a while on Disney Channel as a kid, watching it every time. It turns a basketball game into the story of Chanukah. The team of the main character is the Maccabees, the underdogs going against the stronger opponent. The oil in the menorah is the battery of the generator. It’s a movie that I’m aware is terrible, but I also adore at the same time. I think this is how everyone feels about movies like “A Christmas Prince”.
Netflix has a huge selection of Christmas movies available; the company has produced a decent number of them. However, they haven’t made a single Chanukah movie, nor is one available for streaming. In fact, if you search “Chanukah” on Netflix, only Christmas movies pop up.
The actual story of Chanukah is incredibly interesting, so I’m not sure why it’s so often neglected. Basically, in a very loose recap, here’s how it all went down. King Antiochus IV took over Syria and decided that he didn’t like that the Jewish people didn’t worship the same things he did. Antiochus outlawed Judaism in all forms, but obviously the Jewish people weren’t going down without a fight.
We’ve been persecuted so many times, what’s another person trying to stop us? The Jewish people continued to practice their faith in secret, planning rebellion against the oppressors. This rebellion was led by Judah, who became known as Maccabee. He went on to lead the Maccabees, his warriors into battle against Antiochus — he won! The winning is not the miracle, however; the miracle is what came after the battle.
Celebrating their victory, they wanted to light a menorah. However, only a little bit of oil was left, barely enough for one night. But the oil lasted four days, just long enough to obtain more oil. And so, it was declared a miracle, a clear sign that the Jewish people were back in His good graces.
That is why modern Jewish people light the menorah for eight days just like the miracle oil in ancient times. Oil is a huge part of traditional Chanukah foods, like latkes and jelly donut treats known as sufganiyot. Chanukah is a really cool holiday, even if only moderately important on the religious scale. But since it’s the one that falls near Christmas, it’s the only one the rest of the country acknowledges. Honestly though, that might be a good thing — less reasons to call Jewish people weird since according to Hallmark and Lifetime this one holiday is already too much.