- Hallmark released two new holiday movies that include Jewish characters and Hanukkah plotlines, “Holiday Date” and “Double Holiday.”
- The Jewish characters are completely clueless about Christmas traditions – a constant surprise and source of frustration for the other characters, and unrealistic due to the ubiquity of Christmas in American culture.
- The Christian characters are not expected to know anything about Hanukkah, and are either gracefully taught without criticism or miraculously more adept at Hanukkah traditions than the Jewish characters themselves.
- These movies are the equivalent of a cheap, plastic menorah at a holiday party full of lush garlands and Christmas trees – a well-intentioned attempt at inclusion that ultimately falls flat.
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I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas. Raised in an Orthodox Jewish community, I went to Jewish day schools, where we made menorahs in woodworking classes and threw Hanukkah parties in the gym. I attended my first-ever Christmas celebration three years ago.
And yet, I still know the words to most Christmas carols and can recognise a Douglas fir tree when I see one. It’s simply an inescapable part of American culture for most people who grow up in the US.
Hallmark’s new holiday movies “Holiday Date” and “Double Holiday” include Jewish characters and Hanukkah storylines for the first time. Among the many differences between those who celebrate Hanukkah and those who celebrate Christmas, there is one consistent double standard in the two films.
Somehow, the Jewish characters are completely clueless about Christmas traditions.
When a Jewish character doesn’t know something about Christmas, everyone looks at them like they’re from another planet. Their lack of Christmas knowledge is a constant surprise and source of frustration.
In “Holiday Date,” Brooke’s boyfriend breaks up with her right before the holidays, and friends convince her to bring home an actor named Joel to pretend to be her boyfriend, instead. There’s just one catch – Joel is Jewish, and his lack of Christmas knowledge threatens to expose the ruse. He buys a Christmas tree that is too tall for the Millers’ house and decorates it without consulting them, not realising that doing these holiday activities together is a family tradition. He eats all of the popcorn that was meant to be strung up as a garland, doesn’t know the words to “Deck the Halls,” and is incapable of following directions to construct a gingerbread house.
“Double Holiday” follows two rival coworkers, Rebecca and Chris, who are forced to plan the company holiday party together while competing for the same promotion. While picking out the Christmas tree for the party, Rebecca, who is Jewish, appears completely unfamiliar with the species of Douglas fir trees. She’s then chided by her coworker Chris because the “symmetry is all off” when she decorates it.
“Seriously, you don’t know anything about Christmas trees?” Chris asks her incredulously. She shrugs. He sighs. “We’ve got so much to teach you.”
In turn, the non-Jewish characters are not expected to know anything about Hanukkah.
In both movies, no one is shocked when a question about Hanukkah is raised. They’re either gracefully taught without criticism, or turn out to be more adept at Hanukkah traditions than the Jewish characters themselves.
When Brooke’s family finds out that her “boyfriend” is Jewish in “Holiday Date,” they take it upon themselves to incorporate Hanukkah traditions into their family Christmas celebration. One night, Brooke’s mother makes sufganiyot (fried jelly doughnuts) and the other family members ask Joel about why they’re eaten on Hanukkah. Joel and Brooke’s mother explain the miracle of the long-lasting oil together.
“I’m sold,” Brooke’s father says as the rest of the family laughs good-naturedly at his powdered sugar mustache. “Hanukkah tastes just as good as Christmas.”
In “Double Holiday,” Rebecca sets off the smoke alarm when she tries to fry latkes – until Chris swoops in, dons an apron, and cooks them with ease. Chris also pledges to be “off book” and memorise the Hebrew blessing for lighting the menorah by the end of Hanukkah, and follows through by singing the words perfectly on the eighth night.
The movies seem to show that those who celebrate Hanukkah and those who celebrate Christmas both have a lot to learn about each other’s traditions. But in order to make this exchange plausible, the Jewish characters are rendered helpless with no apparent knowledge of Christmas, branding them further as outsiders (or as Brooke’s dad calls Joel, an “odd duck”) in a culture that already treats other holidays as an afterthought.
The discrepancies between their knowledge of the two holidays could have spurred some interesting moments of discovery. Why don’t the Christian characters know anything about Hanukkah, and why are the Jewish characters expected to know everything about Christmas? But the movies don’t go that deep. Their ignorance serves to advance the plot and play for comedic effect.
I don’t think that “Double Holiday” and “Holiday Date” set out to intentionally misrepresent Jewish people or holiday traditions. But it’s unfortunate that these movies turned out to be the equivalent of a cheap, plastic menorah at a holiday party full of lush garlands and Christmas trees – a well-intentioned attempt at inclusion that ultimately highlights the disparity even more.