Hanukkah starts today, but unless you count the oeuvre of Adam Sandler, there isn’t really much in the way of holiday entertainment.
No Jewish version of “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and definitely nothing all snowy and glamorous like “White Christmas.”
Still, there a few things (TV episodes and animated movies, mostly) that do a decent job of getting us in the spirit of Hanukkah — shows that reflect traditions like lighting a menorah, making latkes and playing dreidel. So if you’re looking for a bit of Hanukkah on your screen, here’s one thing to watch for each of the eight nights.
“Rugrats”: “A Rugrats Chanukah”
Set the tone on the first night with what’s considered definitive Hanukkah viewing: “A Rugrats Chanukah” (which is so authentic, it’s even spelled with a “ch”). This 25-minute cartoon from 1996 was the first-ever Hanukkah episode of a children’s TV series, and 25 years later, it still holds up. It’s a pretty accurate retelling of the story of Hanukkah — Maccabees (warriors) battling Antiochus, a king who wanted to assimilate his kingdom, therefore erasing Judaism. The episode also incorporates traditional Jewish songs and specific visual details, like characters wearing tallit (prayer shawls).
Where to watch: Paramount+. Also available for purchase on other streaming platforms.
“The O.C.”: “Best Chrismukkah Ever”
This iconic 2003 episode of the teen drama is how the world was introduced to the still-used phrase “Chrismukkah” (that eventually morphed into “Thanksgivukkah,” the holiday we’re celebrating this weekend). Introduced by the character Seth Cohen (played by Adam Brody), this show is a more accurate portrayal of how many American Jews celebrate the holidays — blending traditions like making latkes (potato pancakes) and hanging Christmas lights. Or as Seth giddily says, “Eight days of presents, followed by one day of many presents.”
Extra viewing: “The O.C.” did a Chrismukkah episode every season, so if you want to make it a marathon, watch Season 2’s “The Chrismukkah That Almost Wasn’t,” Season 3’s “The Chrismukkah Bar Mitz-vahkkah” and Season 4’s “The Chrismukk-huh?”
Where to watch: HBO Max and Hulu (with subscription). Some seasons are available for purchase on various streaming platforms.
“Love, Lights, Hanukkah!”
Yes, we have our own Hallmark movie! Not only that, but it stars Marilu Henner and Ben Savage (“Boy Meets World”). It’s about a Christmas-loving girl who gets her DNA results and discovers she’s half Jewish. She ends up meeting new relatives and — because it’s Hallmark — falling in love. OK, so the Jewish mom’s house has wreaths and ball ornaments (not a thing), but it does also sprinkle in Yiddish sayings, latkes humor and a bit of Hanukkah history.
Where to watch: Hallmark Channel, plus available to purchase on streaming platforms.
“High Maintenance”: “Soup”
It’s halfway through the holiday, time to get contemplative and talk about classic Jewish themes: anxiety and expectations. Who knew it would be done so poignantly on this HBO series about a Brooklyn marijuana dealer? In this Season 4 episode, The Guy (as the dealer is referred to) and his niece can’t fly home for the holidays because of a snowstorm. So, even though they aren’t too close, they decide to celebrate their own version of Hanukkah by lighting a bunch of candles, eating doughnuts and talking about mental illness and trying to live up to family expectations. It’s honest, relatable and bittersweet.
Extra viewing: Each episode of “High Maintenance” has various plots, so “Soup” is also about stranded flight attendants celebrating the holidays in their now overcrowded apartment.
Where to watch: HBO Max
“Puppy for Hanukkah” by Daveed Diggs
At this point, you might not be lighting the menorah, or you’ve forgotten that it’s even still Hanukkah. So add a small dose of pep with this short music video. In 2020, Broadway star and rapper Daveed Diggs gave us a new holiday staple, “Puppy for Hanukkah,” about a kid who really wants a puppy. The song was created for the Disney Channel and has funny, wholesome lines as well as specific Hanukkah references, like reciting a blessing followed by the line: that blessing is a bop, now I’ve said it. Not sure what it means but I learned it phonetic.
Where to watch: The video is streaming on YouTube.
Along with having a Hanukkah Hallmark movie, there’s also a Hanukkah horror film — a super violent one at that. The tagline is “A Torah-fying new tale of Horah,” so you get an idea of what you’re dealing with. Directed by Eben McGarr, it’s about a group of young people being stalked by a serial killer named Lazarus who goes after “bad Jews” and carves a “Scar of David” into his victims’ chests. It’s low budget and campy and completely untraditional. Watch at your own risk.
Where to watch: Available to rent on Amazon, iTunes and other streaming platforms.
“Seinfeld”: “The Strike”
This classic Season 9 episode opens up at a Hanukkah party, but it’s actually about the made-up holiday, Festivus, invented by George’s father, Frank Costanza. Here’s how you celebrate: start with the “airing of the grievances,” where you tell your family all the ways they’ve disappointed you, practice feats of strength, and instead of a menorah, you put out a pole that requires no decoration. “A Festivus for the rest of us!”
Extra viewing: Now that “Seinfeld” is streaming on Netflix, you can catch up on other Jewish-centric episodes, including “The Bris” and “The Raincoat Part II” (both in Season 5).
Where to watch: Netflix
“The Hanukkah Song” by Adam Sandler
Even though Sandler made a full-length animated Hanukkah movie called “Eight Crazy Nights,” he became known as America’s foremost Hanukkah entertainer thanks to his 1994 appearance on “SNL’s Weekend Update.” That’s where he debuted “The Hanukkah Song” with lyrics like Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah, followed by a list of celebrities who are Jewish.