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Dec 13, 2022

Learning About Chanukah on the Small Screen

It’s that time of year when Christmas ads, decorations, and songs bombard us from all sides, including TV.

Chanukah is overlooked, and films focusing on this Jewish holiday are few and far between.

Once in a while, Hallmark will bring out a movie with a nod to Chanukah, but they are rare. The following TV episodes all have one thing in common -– they are educational stories focusing on the Jewish holiday.

When it comes to the “Festival of Lights,” aka Chanukah, sometimes spelled Hanukkah, occasionally there is a gem.

History With the Rugrats

A Rugrats Chanukah, originally broadcast in 1996, was the first children’s show that brought the holiday to the attention of young viewers. This story had the Rugrats kids reenacting the story of Chanukah, from the perspective of toddlers.

Tommy Pickles and his friends learn about the origin of the holiday, when the Jews were taken over by the Greeks yet the Jewish army known as the Maccabees, (Maccababies in this show) were victorious in defeating their conquerors.

They also learn that when the Jews gained access to their Temple, the light, which is always lit in Jewish temples and synagogues, had been extinguished.

They found one jar of oil, which they used to relight it. Although it was supposed to last only one day, it lasted eight, thereby being the inspiration for the Menorah. It has 9 candles, one for each day the light was glowing in the Temple, with one candle used to light the others.

The holiday celebrates the rededication of the Temple. The Hebrew word "Chanukah" means dedication. The Rugrats is streaming on Paramount+ and Hulu.


Learning Traditions With Arthur

Another animated series, Arthur, also included a holiday special.

In this episode, Francine must miss her friend Muffy’s Christmas party to spend Chanukah with her family. Muffy ultimately gets a lesson about Chanukah, the food, the songs, and the traditions from Francine.

She discovers that even though Francine does not celebrate Christmas, her holiday of Chanukah is just as important to Francine as Christmas is to Muffy. Arthur is available to watch on Prime Video.


A Jewish Disney Princess

Disney’s first Jewish princess, Rebecca of Galonia, made her debut in the animated series Elena of Avalor. After a shipwreck, Rebecca, her brother Ari, and their grandmother are stranded in Avalor during Chanukah.

With no other family present, Elena helps them with their Chanukah celebration and learns about the holiday and the culture.

While the Chanukah dreidel, chocolates, and the menorah are new to Elena and her family, soon they are schooled in all aspects of the Jewish holiday. The two royal families then celebrate together.

While Princess Rebecca is touted as the first Jewish Disney princess, many would argue that Vanellope from the 2012 film Wreck it Ralph was the first, although she was not overtly Jewish so viewers are not sure about her heritage.

Rebecca, on the other hand, is definitely Jewish and celebrates the holidays and her heritage. Elena of Avalor is available on Disney+.


Friends and the One With the Armadillo

A popular sitcom that included a nod to Chanukah was Friends. Ross and Monica Geller were Jewish, so when Ross’ son Ben was celebrating Christmas (his mother was not Jewish), Ross wanted Ben to also learn about his Jewish heritage.

Santa has become one of the symbols of the Christmas season, however there is no one to showcase for Chanukah. Wanting desperately to bring some Jewishness into Ben’s life, Ross went to the costume store, only to discover the only costume left was an armadillo.

So what did he do? Wacky Ross dressed up in the costume and pretended to be the “Holiday Armadillo” to teach Ben about Chanukah. All episodes of Friends are available to stream on HBO Max.


A Holiday Miracle on The Nanny

The popular sitcom The Nanny also had a Chanukah episode.

In 1998, nanny Fran (Fran Drescher), now married to her former boss Maxwell (Charles Shaughnessy), are about to spend their first holiday together as a married couple.

Fran always loved Chanukah and was eager to share it with her new family. But when Maxwell is stranded in the snow far away from Fran, things start to go south. With enough gas in the car to keep the motor running for about an hour to keep him and the car’s occupants, well, you know the drill.

It’s Chanukah, when miracles do happen. One hour turned into eight. Sound familiar? All episodes of The Nanny are available to stream on HBO Max.


Image: Shutterstock

Francine Brokaw is a longtime journalist, covering entertainment, product reviews and travel, and is the host of Beyond the Red Carpet on Village Television and YouTube.

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