Saturday, 7 December 2019

Chanukah Isn't Christmas (But You Knew That Already)

Somewhere in the backlog of these posts, I have mentioned how much I really like Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies.

There is absolutely no logical reason for this weird-assed fandom. These movies are really terrible. Trust me. Cheaply made, poorly acted, and poorly produced stories that stretch the limits of credulity of even the most devoted of Christmas movie fans, these formulaic films should be an affront to every single tenet of entertainment value that I hold dear, and yet, I am captivated and entranced when the first showings hit the airwaves in November. I watch them a lot. All of them. Often. It is a wee bit disturbing.

I will save you the trouble of subjecting yourselves to sitting through a painful two hours of these Harlequin Romances of the season with what I like to call Dawn's Quick Synopsis of Every Single Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas Movie Ever Made.

Beginning-first half hour. Our heroine (because it's always a woman) finds herself in some sort of quandary that involves the upcoming holiday. It could be work-related, (because these are modern millenial women) family issues, travel problems, dinner plans, or a nostalgic pining for home. There is always a cute best friend who is unbelievably supportive, a child (these can include our ingenue's own offspring, a niece, nephew, or street urchin, or the son or daughter of the man she is about to meet) who will act as a matchmaker, and a jackass of a boyfriend. Our heroine will travel in this first half-hour to a quaint town, where she will be mesmerized by the locals, love the indelible spirit of Christmas which is everywhere, and where she will meet some unbelievably gorgeous and local vet, soldier, doctor, handyman, businessman, carpenter, who may or may not have an unbelievably gorgeous kid hanging around, dependent solely on if the child of the movie is introduced earlier as hers.

Half-hour-first hour. Our leading lady is continually thrown into ridiculous situations and inane coincidences with the hunky local. She keeps reminding him that she has an asshole of a boyfriend back home but that doesn't seem to deter the LL Bean model who is trudging through the fake snow to make Christmas cookies and sing carols with her. The kid is always there for ambience because what kind of Christmas movie doesn't have kids believing in the magic of Christmas and hoping beyond hope that Daddy will find the woman of his dreams who can ski down the mountain beside him in next year's catalogue.

First hour-hour and a half. The problem that was besetting our leading lady seems to be easily solvable and she discovers how much she loves the quaint little village where everybody is always Santa and Christmas is celebrated 24/7/365. But she realizes that she has a boyfriend and exactly at the ninety-minute mark, (it is really creepy how I can set my watch by this) she apologizes to the Christmas fling and heads home to her miserable Brooks Brothers clone. Sometimes, Mr. Wall Street makes the trek to Christmasville to interrupt what might be a chaste first kiss between leading lady and backwoods hunk, but there is always a fly in the ointment.

90 minutes-End. Asshole is dispatched, magic is reinstated, a quick kiss, a child's dream comes true, and Christmas in Hooterville is forever preserved.

So, why do I like these shitty excuses for entertainment?

I'm not entirely certain but it has something to do with the fact that they are total escapism. There is nothing political, controversial, nor even a hint of contention in these relationships. I like the familiarity of the themes and I like the quiet certainty of the endings.

But this year...Hallmark/Lifetime are doing something that I am sincerely wary of. They are introducing "Chanukah"-themed movies into their rotations. Oy! Here is the TV guide blurb for tonight's offering.

Mistletoe and Menorahs

Ambitious toy company executive Christy (did I mention that they always have holiday-themed names?) has an opportunity to land a career-making new account if she can learn basically everything there is to know about Chanukah and very quickly. Luckily, Jonathan, a friend of one of Christy's co-workers, has all the knowledge she needs, (read that: HE'S A JEW!!) plus he desperately needs someone who can turn his stale bachelor pad into an authentic Christmas wonderland, to score points with his girlfriend's dad.

In other words, this Chanukah movie is actually a Christmas movie wrapped up in gold-foiled gelt.


It isn't a secret that I loathe the false equivalency of anything comparing Christmas to Chanukah. Chanukah, merely by virtue of its seasonal placement on the calendar, is often thought of as the Jewish Christmas. Of course, that idea is really stupid and demeans the celebrations and observances of both holidays but if you are out and about anywhere in North America right now, you might think that Jews are celebrating Christmas in blue and white. There are ugly Chanukah-themed sweaters; gingerbread houses with Magen David on the door; Elf on a Shelf's stereotyped Jewish cousin, Mensch on a Bench; and the always dreadful Chanukah bushes. In response to this "Chrismification" of Chanukah, I wonder how our non-Chanukah observing cousins might react to a potato latke yule log or a deep-fried, jelly-filled nativity scene.

I understand the knee-jerk reaction to act in the name of inclusivity for all of us who are non-participants in the baby Jesus season but here's the thing: I have never once missed celebrating Christmas because I have never once celebrated Christmas. I don't feel neglected and I don't feel as though I am missing out. I find the season pretty and joyous and for those who are observant, it is a time for family and friends. In my younger days, I sang in Christmas choirs and I have been carolling. I have been invited to family tree-decorating parties and I have baked Christmas cookies with friends for their celebrations and have loved participating, but it is absolutely understood that I am a guest. I am not there to intermingle my holiday observances with theirs. I have even attended Christmas Eve mass so that I might keep a friend company. It was a beautiful experience but it wasn't my celebration. I have never once looked at Christmas and thought of it as a secular observance. It is religiously significant but not for me and therefore I don't do the stringing of lights or a tree because it simply isn't my holiday.

Chanukah is different than Christmas. It is a minor holiday that celebrates freedom and independence and is frankly a wee bit uncomfortable for me due to the fundamentalism the Maccabees represent in my otherwise pluralistic existence. We eat greasy, fried foods and we fill our homes with light at what is, for us in North America, the darkest time of the year. Gifts are NOT a requirement although many families choose otherwise. I understand that some families, due to the intertwining of faiths, have found ways to co-mingle the holidays. As somebody who has never had to deal with such dilemmas, I would never suggest that this is inappropriate, only that I would like to see the holidays stand on their own merits. We Jews don't need to adopt Christmas traditions any more than Christmas celebrators need Chanukah in order to feel as though they have satisfied their need for seasonal inclusivity. So, I would suggest avoiding the ugly blue sweaters laden with sparkling menorahs or the white tinsel bushes heavy with blue gelt ornaments. Find Chanukah traditions that aren't dependent on Christmas-themes and embrace those instead.

I will probably take a pass on tonight's Lifetime Chanukah-themed Christmas movie mostly because I think it might cause me some indigestion. I can handle Christmas as an outsider. It's really ok with me. Just don't pretend that Chanukah is its equivalent.


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