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The Strange Case Of Jewish Christmas Films

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She enters a business decked out in holiday brightness. She buys not one, not two, not three, but FOUR holly-covered wreaths, her eyes bright with delight. It’s the one she prefers, the one she always purchases for the windows of her Cleveland Italian restaurant. This is her first Christmas without her mother, she tells a colleague who wanders into a low-key culinary Santa’s workshop outpost.

The Strange Case Of Jewish Christmas Films

She cheers herself up by decorating with a plethora of tinsel garlands. A keen observer might conclude that they already know where this is going. In a small village in rural Ohio, she’ll encounter a man who hasn’t yet accepted the Christmas spirit into his heart. They’ll square off and then connect. They’ll square off and then connect. Under the mistletoe, they’ll kiss. With this new love interest, she’ll reclaim the family warmth she lost with her mother, and it’ll all be because of Christmas. However, approximately seven minutes in, this Hallmark movie takes a left turn. Christina, our lovely Christmas heroine, was adopted. She also sent her DNA to a 23andMe dupe after her adoptive mother died in order to learn more about her biological ancestry. Christina’s computer beeps, she opens her email, and — surprise! — she discovers that she is 50 percent European Jewish. This is where the Hanukkah segment of the Hallmark Channel’s “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” premiered earlier this month. “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” joins a handful of other Jewish-themed Christmas films, three of which were released in 2019: Hallmark’s “Double Holiday” and “Holiday Date,” as well as Lifetime’s “Mistletoe and Menorahs.”

These films all attempt, with varied degrees of sensitivity and success, to integrate Judaism and Jewish people into the hyper-specific genre of made-for-TV holiday (read: Christmas) movies. (“Holiday Date” in particular sparked a lot of backlash in 2019.) In the end, the trend is an assimilationist enterprise that seeks to define the meaning of increasingly buzzword-y, vague notions like “diversity” and “inclusion.” Is it truly necessary or desirable for Jews to see themselves in Christmas movies? And who are these films truly aimed at: Jewish viewers or Christian viewers yearning for reassurance that Jewish Americans aren’t all that different after all? The solutions are convoluted. A central figure who is a non-Jewish foreigner. Blonde shiksas who are pushed together by fate with Nice Jewish Boys — who are similarly naive about Christmas — play the “outsider” role in “Mistletoe and Menorahs” and “Holiday Date.” The outsider in “Double Holiday” is the Jewish female lead’s Christian job adversary. The most deft of the four is likely “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!”

Christina is both an outsider and an insider, learning about Judaism because she is passionately committed in it, despite the book’s intrinsically problematic genetics-based concept. A strong emphasis on Hanukkah as a Christmas substitute. I’ve never seen so many dreidels, blue string lights, and blue and white ornament-covered wreaths in my life! The idea that love may triumph above differences in culture or religion. “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” is the only one of the four movies I watched that technically portrays two Jews falling in love, and as previously stated, Christina discovers her Jewish history and family members only at the beginning of the film. According to Grace Overbeke, an assistant professor of comedy studies at Columbia College, “depictions of Jews in American popular culture are generally characterised by whether they emphasise universality (we’re just like you!) or particularity (we have unique experiences!).” If these are the two poles, Jewish Christmas movies from Hallmark and Lifetime clearly fall into the universality camp. These Jewish Christmas movies continue a long tradition of Jews appearing in Christmas-themed mainstream culture, albeit subtly. All four Jewish Christmas movies produced by Lifetime and Hallmark appear to have been created by Jewish screenwriters, with Jewish performers such as Mia Kirshner, Ben Savage, and others.

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