What you should watch for Chanukah this year
Growing up Jewish, it was always exciting to see any television show or movie dedicate even a fraction of its time acknowledging that yes, Jews do exist. Even if the movie or special isn’t great, in the end it feels good to be acknowledged in a media landscape that largely ignores the Jewish faith. To help you deal with that suppressed Chanukah fever, we’ve compiled a nifty little list of some Chanukah goodness…or badness…to watch this year while eating latkes and playing dreidel.
This list should be prefaced by saying that finding actual Chanukah specials is extremely difficult. It’s almost as if Chanukah is not the primary winter holiday celebrated in the United States or something…
1) Rugrats Season 4, Ep 15: Chanukah
This is the best of the best when it comes to Chanukah specials. I think a lot of kids, even non-Jewish ones, have seen this episode of the Rugrats due to the show’s popularity. For many, it was very likely their first experience learning about the Jewish holiday.
In true Jewish grandma fashion, Tommy’s grandmother reads the history of the holiday to the babies, resulting in a trip to imagination land. Tommy (taking the role of Judah) fights against King “Antonica” (Antiochus IV Epiphanes) who forces the Jews to abandon their Jewish culture in favor of the Greek’s.
Featuring a fun climax staged against “The Meanie of Chanukah” and the classic tale of the eight menorah candles, this little special is fun for anyone to watch even if you don’t celebrate the Jewish holiday.
2) The Hebrew Hammer
First off, this movie is absolutely ridiculous, but that’s why it’s so great. In short, the Hebrew Hammer, a Jewish crimefighter, must defend the holiday from Santa’s evil son who wants everyone to celebrate Christmas.
Now, being a parody of blaxploitation films, the satire here may not be for everybody. However, there are many sentiments portrayed here that many Jews should be able to resonate with. One such image that comes to mind is that of Santa squashing the a dreidel under his foot, emphasizing Chanukah’s subservience to the Christmas holiday. There is a lot of dumb humor to be found here and maybe even some catharsis for those feeling overwhelmed by Christmas sentiments.
3) Lamb Chop’s Chanukah Special
When I decided to make this list and talked to friends about this special, no one knew what I was talking about. After desperately trying to convince my peers that the Chanukah lamb puppet existed and wasn’t just some some strange fever dream, a quick Google search revealed that yes, this movie is in fact real!
Now I can’t find any video, but look, a movie poster! I promise it’s real! You can even buy the VHS on Amazon for $20.00.
Honestly, the special is nothing…well…special…but it’s definitely cute. For those not in the know, the Lamb Chop Play-Along show is an Emmy award winning PBS show starring Shari Lewis and the sheep puppet, Lamb Chop. While obviously aimed at a younger audience, for those looking for a cute, child-friendly Chanukah experience, Shari has you covered.
4) 8 Crazy Nights
I’m going to be upfront here; I don’t like Adam Sandler’s humor, and I personally hate this movie. It’s mindlessly crude, cynical, and relentlessly annoying. Why is it on here? Because this is sadly the most popular Chanukah special on this list.
This animated film revolves around Davey Stone, a rather unlikable protagonist who is sentenced to do community service in the form of refereeing with the Whitey Duvall, a 70 year-old referee. Throughout the special we learn that Davey lost his parents as a child, leading to an adult life full of cynicism and alcoholism. Duvall attempts to reform Davey but is constantly road-blocked by Davey’s unpleasant actions.
To reiterate, yes this is a Chanukah special. There are a few (annoying) Chanukah songs, and Davey is obviously Jewish…so there you go. Yeah, this is how strapped the world is for Chanukah specials.
Why watch this? Well honestly it’s so dumb it deserves to be seen at least once. I’m just sad this movie may be some people’s only experience with the holiday. While pointlessly dumb, the animation does look pretty nice, so it has something going for it?
5) Even Stevens Season 1, Ep 15: Heck of a Hanukkah
What child hasn’t tried to sneak a peak at their holiday gifts? In this episode of Even Stevens, Louis can’t help himself, so he unwraps his hidden Chanukah presents and unfortunately for him, gets caught. Now grounded and believing he ruined the holiday for his family, Louis believes that the world would be better off without him. From here on out, the episode is a clear homage to the film It’s a Wonderful Life, as Louis’ great-great-great-great grandmother suddenly enters the frame and shows Louis what the world would be like without him.
If you’ve seen A Wonderful Life, you know how everything will turn out, but no one is watching this episode for any surprise factor. This delightfully campy episode is sure to please fans of the series and the movie it’s based off of. For Jewish children who, like Louis, mischievously peek at their presents, “Heck of a Hanukkah” offers a good story regarding the importance of patience and forgiveness.
6) South Park Short: “Santa vs. Jesus”
Often credited as one of the first viral videos, this short is the black sheep of this list. Opening with the four main boys singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” followed by a fight scene between Santa and Jesus Christ, this short doesn’t seem like something most would want to watch around Chanukah. However, the special ends with Kyle proclaiming that Jewish children get eight days of presents instead of one, and the cast breaks out into singing “The Dreidel Song”.
South Park can be pretty hit-and-miss for some people, and this specific short can further turn people off due to its extremely primitive animation. However, the idea of pushing aside everything we are told about “good cheer” and “doing good for others” in favor of embracing blind commercialism is pretty funny. Not to mention, this is one of the few holiday based pieces of media that frames Chanukah as the superior holiday in the end.
Overall, this short is definitely not a short for heartwarming holiday sentiments. Rather, it’s a dumb, fun short not meant to be taken too seriously.
While other example of television specials and Chanukah-based films exist here and there, I would say these are the best contenders for things to watch during Chanukah. What does this tell us? We need more Chanukah-based content. If we are settling for 8 Crazy Nights and a three minute South Park short, then something is very, very wrong.
Representation is important. For Jewish children, the holiday season is often a strange time. While the media glorifies the joys of Christmas, Jewish people are left in the shadows to quietly celebrate their little holiday in the corner. With an abundance of Christmas trees, stockings, mall santas, and candy canes about, it is often easy to forget about menorahs and dreidels.
Chanukah may not be the most popular holiday in the States, but these specials have plenty to offer for a range of audiences: bright colors, family bonding, Jewish culture, and even adult humor. So this year alongside your usual Christmas viewings, why not pick up one of these Chanukah specials as well?
Sources: YouTube, IMDb
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