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The Bright Lights of Hanukkah: Saturday Night Live's Hanukkah Harry

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Dec 12, 2012 | 6:01am EST

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Hanukkah Harry

When it comes to Jewish holidays, Hanukkah ranks fairly low on the scale of importance. But thanks to the domination of Christmas every December, the profile of the eight-night menorah-lighting, dreidel-spinning, gift-giving celebration has been amplified to brand status. No one would have wondered why there weren't holiday specials dedicated Hanukkah if Rankin/Bass never established Christmas as the time for warm, cuddly stop-motion animation. Thus, the "Hanukkah Special" was born.

Thankfully, Saturday Night Live witnessed the forced evolution of Hanukkah into a marketable, Christmas-like beast and responded accordingly. On Dec. 16, 1989, Andie MacDowell hosted the ninth episode of SNL's 15th season and featured such staples as "Church Chat" and a "Dieter" sketch set in space. But it's most memorable moment came from a sharp piece of satire transformed into plain old goofy fun by Jon Lovitz's lax comedic style. Hanukkah Harry was the Jewish counterpart to Santa Claus ad executives wish they had conceived. In the spoof, Harry is called upon by Santa to save Christmas, as the elf man is sick in bed and unable to deliver gifts. Harry agrees, and his run in with two eager kids turned the character into Saturday Night Live history.

"On Moische! On Herschel! On Schlomo!" cries Harry as he rides his magic donkeys pull his cart to every house on the globe. The sketch goes beat by beat through all the iconography of Christmas, Lovitz approaching each one with his Jewish twist. He finds a glass of milk sitting out for Santa: "What's this? Better put in the fridge before it turns!" Lovitz preys on stereotypes of Jewish people, while poking fun at Christmas pastimes too — the only reason Harry is one of the more ridiculous creations in SNL is because Santa is a well-meaning myth completely warped by greeting card companies.

Over the years, Hanukkah Harry has proved one of SNL's biggest cultural impacts — finally, Jewish parents have an out when their kids wonder why Santa doesn't visit them — but in the end, the sketch continues to speak volumes about the exploitation of the holidays. On the positive side, it should provide at least eight days of laughter.

Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches

[Photo Credit: NBC]

More:

The Bright Lights of Hanukkah: The 'Rugrats' Special

The Bright Lights of Hanukkah: Shalom Sesame, Featuring Dreidel. of. Fortune!

Hanukkah Begins: A Lesson From The Holiday Armadillo On 'Friends'

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