I enjoy Hallmark Christmas movies as much as the next person. There's something so comforting about these cozy, made-for-TV holiday specials that warms my heart. They're all the same, yet all a teeny bit different. While I love Hallmark Christmas movies, I'm Jewish, and so I was extra excited for the lineup this year when I learned that Hallmark would be airing two — count 'em, two — Hanukkah movies.
Finally, I thought. A blue and white Hallmark movie instead of a red and green one. I thought the Hallmark Hanukkah movies would follow the exact same formula as their Christmas movies, only the snowed-in family would be centered around a menorah instead of a Christmas tree. And I was so there for that idea. But I was wrong. The Hallmark Channel has released the two plots for their so-called "Hanukkah movies," and not only are they just Christmas movies that feature Jewish characters but one of them seems to border on actually being anti-Semitic.
Journalist Erin Biba was one of the first people to point this out on Twitter. Perhaps the first clue that neither of these Hanukkah movies is actually about Hanukkah is the fact that neither of them has the word "Hanukkah" in the title. Among the Christmas movies airing this year is A Christmas Duet, Check Inn to Christmas, A Boyfriend for Christmas, A Bride for Christmas, A Dream of Christmas, A Perfect Christmas, and more.
The two supposed Hanukkah movies are called Holiday Date and Double Holiday. Hm. First red flag. But it gets worse when you get to the actual plot summaries.
Holiday Date, the first of the two to air, is arguably the more egregious one. It is about a Jewish actor named Joel who gets hired to attend a Christmas celebration and hide his Jewishness, then causes "suspicion" when he doesn't celebrate the Christian holiday properly. What? The Hallmark Channel's description of the movie contains the line, "When his secret is revealed, the family is eager to add Joel's Hanukkah traditions into their holiday celebration but soon become suspicious about his true identity." (The emphasis is mine.)
I know that they mean the family becomes suspicious that he is an actor, but as Erin points out on Twitter, it's really not a good look to have an entire movie full of Christians who are suspicious of the one Jewish character for any reason. "We all know the trope of the 'sneaky Jew' is, like, one of the worst anti-Semitic tropes that exist, right?" she wrote.
Truly, what were they possibly thinking? They could have taken the script for A Perfect Christmas, Ctrl+F'd "Christmas" and replaced it with "Hanukkah," swapped out sets, called it A Perfect Hanukkah, and everyone would have been happy. (OK, maybe this wouldn't have totally worked, but it would have been pretty close.) Several people had much better ideas for Hallmark Hanukkah movies.
Yes! This would have been an acceptable route if they insisted on injecting Christmas into a Hanukkah movie. But they could have also taken a generic Christmas movie in the Hallmark library and change the plot to revolve around a Jewish persona at Hanukkah. That's all they had to do. People who aren't Jewish would still understand the movie. Believe me.
Writer Seth Christenfeld pitched this idea: "A Chanukah movie where a hotshot big city lawyer (Ben Rappaport) is forced to move to Bethesda to take care of his ailing father (Steve Guttenberg) and finds love and the true meaning of Chanukah with an artisanal gelt maker (Carly Chaikin)." Yes please. See? This is easy. And yet, it continues to get worse.
When Hallmark first announced that they would be releasing two "Hanukkah-themed" movies, they did say that the "celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas overlap" in them. But Holiday Date seems actually bad for Jews and Double Holiday is still a Christmas movie. They could have just made said nothing about Double Holiday and we'd all be like, "Oh nice! A Christmas movie that acknowledges Hanukkah!" But they just had to go and make it difficult for us.
It's seriously so dumb that we have to be here admonishing Hallmark for their dumb choices. There are about a million ways this could have been avoided. But as Erin again points out, it seems like the head of the Hallmark Channel, Bill Abbott, is the one to blame here.
In an episode of the Hollywood Reporter podcast on which he was a guest, Bill Abbott skirted around the issue and got defensive when asked why neither of the movies is "identifiably" Hanukkah-themed. He said it's hard if they "start to slice up the pie, so to speak, and make movies based off of specific holidays"...but Christmas is a specific holiday, is it not? (It is. That was a rhetorical question.)
He actually says that Christmas has become a "more secular type holiday" and that Hanukkah has "more of a religious feel." That ignorant comment is a whole 'nother can of worms we can't get into right now. But I will a little bit! Hanukkah is one of the least religious Jewish holidays in the whole religion. Religious Jews still go to work on Hanukkah, unlike on Rosh Hashanah or Passover or one of the other High Holy Days. Hoo boy. Bill Abbott claiming that Hanukkah has a "more religious feel" than Christmas is a statement of bias.
The moral of this story is that the Hallmark Channel has a lot of work to do and that you should definitely skip Holiday Date and Double Holiday this year. In fact, might as well skip the Hallmark Channel holiday movies altogether. I hear Netflix is really upping their holiday movie game this year. Might be worth checking out.