Tonight marks the first night of Hanukkah 2020.
While it doesn’t overlap with Christmas this year, it seems like everyone and their mother is eager to watch every single holiday movie that has ever been aired without even acknowledging Hanukkah.
Hanukkah was traditionally a modest holiday in the religious calendar, but over the past 100+ years, it has become its own tradition for many American Jewish families.
In a 2010 conversation with NPR, scholar and Rowan University professor Diane Ashton shared how Hanukkah became far more prominent in America after The Civil War. The country underwent a lot of swift change during that period, including the emergence of a variety of consumer goods and marketing for those goods. With that marketing, came the tradition of wrapping Christmas presents, which left out many American Jewish families and their children. Giving gifts for Hanukkah was a way to be a part of something that was happening in America without celebrating the Christian holiday, which Ashton expands on more in her book, Hanukkah in America.
With that brief history lesson aside, we bring you our recommendations of TV episodes and movies to watch each night of Hanukkah 2020. Because it doesn’t get more American than celebrating each night of Hanukkah with Hollywood portrayals of the holiday that made it what it is now.
Night 1: All I Want Is Christmas
No, this isn’t a typo of that Mariah Carey hit Christmas song that is probably now stuck in your head (sorry about that, we know you hear it enough, but stay with us, it’s worth it).
This little-known 2012 comedy-musical movie follows a young Jewish named Ira Finkelstein (played by Elijah Nelson). Ira lives in sunny Los Angeles and has always dreamt of celebrating a snowy Christmas. Instead, his parents send him on a flight to visit his grandparents for Hanukkah in even sunnier Florida.
What happens next is a holiday version of The Parent Trap. During his layover in Chicago, Ira meets a young boy named Mikey. Mikey is headed to the wintry town of Christmastown, Washington to visit some relatives he hardly knows, and is envious of Ira’s plans to head to warmth and sunshine.
Aside from a pair of glasses, the boys resemble each other. The duo comes up with the very original idea to secretly switch places, resulting in all sorts of interesting shenanigans.
While the film is by no means an Oscar winner, but we’re sure it’ll entertain you. Plus, there’s some wholesome message about the true meaning of the holidays in there, too.
Night 2: The Prince of Egypt
Let us start by saying that we know The Prince of Egypt is not at all about Hanukkah, but I couldn’t write this list without thinking about this incredible animated film and how it portrayed the Jewish people..
For those who have been living under a rock since 1998, this animated film is based on the story behind the Jewish holiday Passover.
Although Passover is months away, the film’s soundtrack has one hit after another (including the most heart-wrenching duet between Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey) that will have you feeling as festive as you can without actually celebrating Christmas.
Due to the historical significance of the subject matter, filmmakers consulted a range of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scholars to ensure the film portrayed everything respectfully. From casting to research, Hollywood managed to get this film right, making it one of the most successful non-Disney animated films of its time, with $218.6M in worldwide ticket sales.
If you haven’t watched the film since the 90s, you may be surprised to hear some of the actors voicing the characters. Val Kilmer voiced both God and Moses, Jeff Goldblum voiced Aaron, Michelle Pfeiffer voiced Tzipporah, and Sandra Bullock voiced Miriam. As of now, you can stream it on Hulu.
Night 3: The Hebrew Hammer
This one is not family-friendly, nor was it a box-office success (at all).
Goldberg plays Mordechai Jefferson Carver, also known as “The Hebrew Hammer.” The Hebrew Hammer is a “streetwise Jewish private detective” who is called to save Hanukkah from the threat of Santa Clause’s evil son Damian (played by Andy Dick), who launches a campaign to end the Jewish holiday.
While some of the comedy may not have aged well, either way, it’s sure to make you laugh and forget about the fact that there aren’t many good Hanukkah movies out there.
Night 4: A Rugrats Chanukah
This one is for my 90s babies. Picture this: it’s December 1996, you’re wearing footie pajamas. Your mom says you can watch Rugrats until dinner is ready. It’s the Rugrats Chanukah special. Life is good.
As someone who grew up celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah, the Chanukah Rugrats special lives in my mind rent-free. As a kid, I never understood why I saw so many Christmas specials and so few Jewish specials. With Rugrats being one of my favorite shows, I soaked up every minute of this episode.
In this episode, you can experience the magic of Hanukkah from the perspective of some talking babies. Tommy and his friends learn about the story of Hanukkah while visiting the neighborhood synagogue.
As of right now, you can stream this classic holiday episode on Hulu! Trust me, it still holds up.
Night 5: An American Tail
This 1986 animated family movie tells a story familiar to so many Jewish families in a way that’s easy for kids to understand– through a family of mice.
Fievel Mousekewitz (voiced by Phillip Glasser) is celebrating Hanukkah with his family in Russia when cats attack the home where the mice reside. His family manages to escape on a ship to America, where there are no cats. Of course, a storm throws Fievel off of the ship, separating him from his family, but he manages to make it to New York and sets off on a search to find his family with the help from some new mouse friends and a surprisingly nice cat.
Despite the dark nature of the film, it’s an uplifting story that kids nowadays will appreciate. Who doesn’t like a talking and singing mouse?!
Night 6: Eight Crazy Nights
This far in, we could all use some true comedic relief from none other than Adam Sandler.
The 2002 American animated holiday movie Eight Crazy Nights is the first animated film from Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions.
Although animated, it’s not intended for kids. Sandler plays Davey Stone, a serial party animal forced by a judge to spend the holiday volunteering as assistant referree for a youth basketball league instead of having to go to jail. Along the way, he remembers the miracle of Hanukkah.
The film didn’t get the best reviews, but it had some catchy songs including The Chanukah Song, which aptly says, “Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!”
Night 7: The O.C. “The Best Chrismukkah Ever” (2003)
A little over 17 years ago, The O.C. aired “The Best Chrismukkah Ever” as its thirteenth episode in its premiere season, and some may think it’s the best episode ever in this 4-season hit series from the early 2000s.
The episode starts with Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) asking Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) if he prefers a menorah or a candy cane. Understandably confused, Seth goes on in his usual witty way to introduce the Cohen family tradition of Chrismukkah.
Chrismukkah if a fusion of the two holidays celebrated in his household due to his Jewish father (Peter Gallagher) and Christian mother (Kelly Rowan). As Seth aptly says, “dip a toe in the Chrismukkah pool, there’s room for all of us!”
The rest of the episode follows the drama surrounding a lavish holiday party and is just all around good television, especially for those who grew up watching this classic American teen drama. Go ahead and rewatch the entire series on HBO Max if you need an escape from all holidays for a little while.
Night 8: The Night Before
Wrap up these eight crazy nights of TV and film watching with this hilarious 2015 film directed by Jonathan Levine.
The lifelong best friends (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan, and Anthony Mackie) set out In New York City for their annual tradition of partying all night on Christmas Eve. It’s like a holiday version of The Hangover, with a nod to Hanukkah when Seth Rogan shows up to church in an ugly Hanukkah sweater.
While there aren’t many good Hanukkah movies to watch this year, there are plenty of classics that are ridiculous enough to laugh at. Did we forget any that you like to watch? Let us know on Facebook.
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