There’s a funny misconception among Gentiles that Hanukkah is one of Judaism’s most important religious holidays, i.e., Jewish Christmas. Not to be a Jewcrooge (“Jewish scrooge,” obviously), but that simply is not the case. Hanukkah is actually one of our less religious holidays — but important nonetheless. Hanukkah commemorates the historically accurate story of a Jewish revolt against forced assimilation by the Greeks. It happened in 167 B.C.E., which is generally regarded as far past the era when Jewish religious texts were written. Therefore, celebrating Hanukkah is less about religious duty and more about celebrating how hard we dunked (and continue to dunk) on antisemitic weirdos.
Given the dramatic elements of the Hanukkah story (oppression, bloodshed, really dope hash browns), one would think this story would inspire thousands — if not millions — of media interpretations, yet the amount of Hanukkah movies and TV episodes is quite limited. Unfortunately, at a time when many need to be reminded of the painful reality of antisemitism — and the consequences of fucking around and finding out with the Jews — we need these stories now more than ever. That’s why, to celebrate this week’s Festival of Lights/continued dunking on antisemites, we’ve put together our list of the ultimate Hanukkah movies and specials.
Eight Crazy Nights
In 1995, the heads of Jewish kids everywhere exploded when Adam Sandler performed “The Chanukah Song” for the first time on SNL. Its success led to an additional three versions of the song as well as this animated feature whose title is a nod to the famous verse “Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!”
Make no mistake: Eight Crazy Nights is no kids’ movie. While the song is a whimsical listing of Jewish celebrities intended to make Jewish kids feel more included during the holiday season, the movie is much raunchier and darker — but with no less heart. In the movie musical, Sandler plays Davey Stone, an orphaned alcoholic whose parents died during Hanukkah when he was a kid. Now an adult, Davey terrorizes his small town during the holidays because he refuses to process his trauma. No, seriously. Davey gets in trouble with the law and has to perform community service under a weird elderly man who teaches him to love the holidays (and basketball?) again. There’s a lot going on with this movie, and not all of it is good, especially if that trademark gross-out Sandler humor isn’t your thing. Still, the film retains a lot of Sandler’s genuine, schmaltzy heart (his IRL wife voices his love interest) and gives Jewish kids young and old a taste of their own holiday spirit.
On the opposite side of the family-movie spectrum from Eight Crazy Nights is Full-Court Miracle. A part of the DCOM canon, Full Court Miracle tells the story of a Jewish middle-school basketball team that seeks coaching help from a college basketball star during the Hanukkah season. It’s inspired by the true story of Lamont Carr, an injured University of Virginia basketball star who was asked to help coach the Boca Raton JCC basketball camp (during Passover, ironically). Like all DCOMs — and all good things about the holiday season — this one is cheesy and nostalgic.
“A Rugrats Chanukah” (Rugrats)
When it comes to making the Jews proud, no one does it better than Rugrats. Full transparency, I am a Rugrats Passover stan first and foremost, but “A Rugrats Chanukah” is a close second. This episode focuses on the babies learning about the “meaning of Hanukkah,” which their baby brains have translated to “the meanie of Hanukkah.” The meanie of Hanukkah is, of course, Grandpa Boris’s frenemy at synagogue who continues to outshine him in the Hanukkah play. The babies decide to avenge Grandpa Boris, and along the way, we somehow learn about the real Hanukkah story.
The Hebrew Hammer
The Hebrew Hammer is a ridiculous movie that, like Santa, must be seen to be believed. In it, the title character (think Shaft but Jewish) must fight Santa Claus after he announces his plan to destroy Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in a bid for Christmas domination. In many ways, this parody of blaxploitation movies has aged as poorly as you would expect, but the overarching theme of Jewish and Black solidarity remains strong throughout.
Love, Lights, Hanukkah
Best known for its arsenal of Christmas movies, Hallmark has recently taken a shine to the Festival of Lights as well. Enter Love, Lights, Hanukkah starring Mia Kirshner (the polarizing Jenny on the original L Word) and Ben Savage (Cory on Boy Meets World, obviously). In the movie, Kirshner’s character, who was adopted, learns through a DNA test that she is 50 percent Jewish and ends up finding her birth family during the Hanukkah season. For Hallmark, this 2020 movie was a fumbling foray into the Hanukkah canon but a good start nonetheless.
Eight Gifts of Hanukkah
For its sophomore season of Hanukkah movies, Hallmark really hit its groove with Eight Gifts of Hanukkah. In this perfectly cheesy movie, optometrist Sara Levin (Israeli actress Inbar Lavi) receives a gift from a secret admirer on each night of Hanukkah. She doesn’t know who could be sending these gifts, but it sure couldn’t be just-a-friend Daniel (Degrassi hunk Craig Epstein), could it?!
Mistletoe & Menorahs
While Hallmark’s entrée into the Hanukkah canon came off as both cute and clumsy, Lifetime’s path is far more unhinged. From the jump, it’s no secret that this Hanukkah movie is actually, shocker, a Christmas movie. In the film, ambitious toy executive and staunch Christmas celebrator Christy (Pitch Perfect’s Kelley Jakle) is tasked with wooing a Jewish client during the Hanukkah season. Christy makes a pact with history teacher Jonathan (Craig Epstein again, the only Hanukkah-celebrating man, apparently) to teach each other about their respective winter holidays so Jonathan can impress his girlfriend’s dad and Christy can land the account. In the end, Jonathan and Christy learn about love and the real meaning of Hanukkah: Christmas.
An American Tail
While very different from The Hebrew Hammer in terms of content, tone, and appropriateness, An American Tail is nonetheless similarly insane on paper. This Steven Spielberg animated film follows a Jewish mouse named Fievel Mousekewitz (yup) whose family is run out of Russia by antisemetic cats while celebrating Hanukkah. From there, Fievel and his family must make the journey to America where, according to Fievel’s father, “there are no cats.” Fievel gets lost on the journey and has to find his family while navigating 19th-century New York, which, surprise surprise, actually has a lot of cats.
If it weren’t obvious, all of this is a metaphor for Jewish immigration during the pogroms in Russia, and this musical film pulls it off quite well. However, be fairly warned: Where the movie is heavy-handed with its poignant rendition of the Jewish American plight, it’s a little light on traditional holiday cheer. Still, this heartwarming classic does a fantastic job of mirroring the Jewish triumph that can be found in the Hanukkah story.
The “Chrismukkah” Episodes (The OC)
If you were a living, breathing millennial in 2004, you knew teen melodrama The OC was the be-all and end-all of cool. Luckily for us Jewish peeps, The OC took care to include Hanukkah in its pool of cool, and thus “Chrismukkah” was born. A little Chrismukkah explainer for all you Gen Zers out there: Chrismukkah is the combination holiday of Christmas and Hanukkah created by main character and half-Jewish hottie Seth Cohen (Adam Brody). Hope this helps!
“The Hanukkah Story” (The Nanny)
Any Jew who knows their way around a latke knows the Nanny is one of the most Jewish shows ever to grace our TV screens. But did you know it almost wasn’t? Apparently, TV execs wanted Drescher to make her character Italian so she would be more appealing to American viewers. Drescher refused and went on to make the show as Jewish as she could. This sixth-season Hanukkah episode is a perfect example. Fran tries to get all the Sheffields to celebrate Hanukkah, only for Maxwell and Gracie to get in a car accident when they skip out on the festivities. Luckily, through the miracle of Hanukkah, everyone returns in the end to light the menorah.
“The One With the Holiday Armadillo” (Friends)
In keeping with the “Christmas envy” tradition of Hanukkah plots, in this seventh-season Friends episode, Ross tries to convince his son, Ben, that Hanukkah is just as good as Christmas. Naturally, how else does one do that but by dressing as a giant “Holiday Armadillo” and teaching Ben about the story of the Maccabees? This one is weird and fun and then weird again — perfect Hanukkah vibes!
“A Christmas Story” (The Goldbergs)
The Goldbergs is one of the most Jewish shows to come out in recent years, and its “Christmas” episode is no exception. In it, classic Jewish “smother” Beverly tries to compete with the neighbors to make Hanukkah as exciting as Christmas. In doing so, she accidentally turns Hanukkah into Christmas, losing the meaning behind the holiday. Eventually, she learns from her mistakes and the family celebrates this knowledge in the most Jewish of ways: eating Chinese food on Christmas.
“Shalom Sesame Chanukah”
In the 1980s and ’90s, Sesame Street produced a series of Jewish educational specials entitled Shalom Sesame. One of these, Shalom Sesame Chanukah, features the Sesame Street gang (plus some of their Israeli counterparts) getting up to Chanukah antics. This one is really a nostalgia grab for any of my fellow Jewish ’90s kids whose parents stuck them in front of this to try to distract them from Rudolph.
Lamb Chop’s Special Chanukah
Another ’90s deep cut, Lamb Chop’s Special Chanukah features Shari Lewis and the Lamb Chop’s Play-Along gang learning about Hanukkah. Again, this one is more of a nostalgic pick than something that might actually grab the attention of a full-fledged adult. However, for those looking to soothe their inner Jewish kid (or maybe those who have a kid — the show’s viewers are of childbearing age now), look no further than Shari and Lamb Chop.
Hanukkah on Rye
Hanukkah on Rye is Hallmark’s 2022 shot at a Hanukkah movie, and it’s poised to be the network’s greatest hit yet. The plot? Two feuding deli owners unexpectedly fall in love during the Hanukkah season — and Christmas is not part of the plot. Need we say more?!