By Lauren Levine
When the snow starts to fall and holiday shoppers invade the mall, you know the TV Christmas specials can’t be far behind. And while no one says Jews can’t enjoy A Charlie Brown Christmas or It’s A Wonderful Life, it’s always heartwarming to see the few-and-far-between Chanukah episodes of favorite shows. Here’s our countdown to the best Chanukah TV episode of all time.
There’s only one Jewish woman from Queens who had her own television show, and that’s Fran Drescher. In this episode, Fran’s Chanukah miracle is the whole family being together for the first night of Chanukah, despite Maxwell forgetting the holiday and taking a business trip to Boston for the day. As usual, her mother, Sylvia, and grandmother, Yetta, steal the show.
Sesame Street makes a cute cartoon segment to explain Chanukah to Elmo in a network-news-style report—short and sweet.
When little Paige asks her family why they celebrate Christmas and not Chanukah, her grandmother Nora, raised Jewish, takes it upon herself to educate her granddaughter about Chanukah. And Paige thinks that perhaps switching to Chanukah will move God to cure her diabetes. Though there are some ridiculous subplots in this episode, Paige’s probing questions about Judaism and Uncle Saul’s Chanukah prayers in Hebrew on prime-time network television are a rarity not to be missed.
Everyone’s favorite political commentator, Jon Stewart, born Jon Stuart Leibowitz, joins comedy giant Stephen Colbert to convince him that Chanukah is actually pretty fun. Isn’t everything more entertaining in song? “When’s it start?” “On the 25th!” “Of December?” “Kislev…” “Which is when exactly?” “I’ll check.”
For an example of an interfaith family doing the best it can, look no further than the Cohen home in Orange County, Calif., where, as son Seth tells us, you don’t have to choose between a menorah and a candy cane. Filled with its usual drama, this episode of The O.C. may not be the most sophisticated, but it has to make the list simply for coining the term “Chrismukkah.”
If I had to choose a Jewish superhero, I’m not sure Jon Lovitz would be first to come to mind. Nonetheless, he makes a great Hanukkah Harry when he saves Christmas because Santa is too ill to deliver presents, especially when he yells “Oy!” after falling down the chimney. Like any good SNL skit (especially from before 2000), this bit will have you laughing in no time.
The “Holiday Armadillo” episode illustrates one of the classic conundrums in interfaith marriages: how to get your child to appreciate Chanukah when Christmas is “more fun.” When Ross’ son, Ben, gets to stay with him for the holidays instead of with his ex-wife, Ross decides it’s the perfect opportunity to teach him more about his Jewish heritage. But when Ross tells Ben that Santa isn’t coming this year, Ben thinks he is being punished for being bad. To make amends, Ross rents the only costume available from the costume store, since it’s too late for a Santa suit: an armadillo. Thus, Ben’s appreciation of Chanukah is left up to none other than the Holiday Armadillo.
Any person, adult or child, Jewish or not Jewish, who watches “A Rugrats Chanukah” can’t help but feel touched by the passion of Grandpa Boris as he tells the story of Chanukah and the amusing curiosity of Tommy Pickles and his gang as they re-enact the timeless story of bravery and miracles. Grandpa Boris’ friend Schlomo provides a memorable and meaningful explanation of the menorah: “The nightlight of our people. In times of darkness it shines on the whole world, reminding us not to be afraid to be different, but to be proud of who we are.” Simply put, you can’t get a better Chanukah episode than this one.