Is Chanukah a sentimental, romantic holiday? Do Jews tend to get melancholy and nostalgic when singing “I Have a Little Dreidel“?
Also, do Jewish people need to come to terms with their feelings and attitudes about Chanukah and fully embrace the Festival of Lights before they can truly fall in love? And what exactly does an idyllic, small-town Chanukah look like?
We’ll find out next year. Crown Media, parent company of the Hallmark Channel, announced recently that it is developing a pair of Chanukah movies. They will be shown on Crown’s flagship Hallmark Channel and its spin-off, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
This year, the channels combined are showing close to 40 newly produced movies as part of their 10-week, 24-hour Christmas programming. The decision to add a couple of Chanukah-themed films next year may be in response to frequent criticism that these movies rarely feature anything resembling any sort of diversity.
The Hallmark Christmas movies – with wholesome titles like “Jingle Around the Clock,” “A Midnight Kiss” and “The National Tree” — have become a cultural phenomenon, something that newspaper features departments assign stories about, and comedians and hip writers create Tumblr accounts and podcasts to lovingly document.
Even people who have never watched a Hallmark movie in their lives are aware they exist. They know that the movies are all very similar. Usually, a former ’90s TV star (think Candace Cameron-Bure, Jodie Sweetin or Danica McKellar) or a Canadian B-lister (ah, so many cheerful Canadians!) plays a high-powered female executive who gets waylaid in a quaint, picturesque hamlet and learns how to slow down and savor the Christmas season, all while falling madly for a no-nonsense, blue-collar hunk in town.
These movies really are all identical and formulaic. I have seen Hallmark movies, I promise you, where it was the woman who has a humble occupation in a rustic burg, and the man has a soul-crushing, big-city job. And although it’s a Hallmark thing that the “Big Kiss” comes at the very last minute, I have actually seen a Hallmark Christmas movie where the man and woman kissed at the 90-minute mark. (What animals!)
There was one movie this season, and I know you’ll think I’m making this up, in which the man and woman were already dating at the beginning of the movie. Weird, right?
The one thing that all of the movies have in common is this: One of the romantic leads loves, loves, loves Christmas and the other lead is having some kind of existential crisis with the holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. This character is like, “Nope, not this year, Christmas.” That is, until this woman or man comes to grips with the holiday and fully accepts its essence and spirit. Otherwise, the couple can’t be together.
What is it that prevents our hero or heroine from adoring Christmas? Typically, it’s the association of the Yuletide season with a painful life episode. Perhaps a loving parent who made the holiday special has died. Or the spouse who filled the house with good cheer and tidings has moved away. Sometimes, the reason is a little more creative — a father who was never around for Christmas because he was always playing Santa in the town pageant.
But the gripe with Christmas is never that the holiday is bunk, or wrong, or oppressive, or any of the other things people who hate Christmas in reality say about it. No one in a Hallmark movie ever says that they plain despise Christmas. That would mean that the character is beyond help and not worth caring about.
No, the difficulty with Christmas is a temporary thing, a slight closing of the heart, and as our heroine or hero learns to embrace the holiday again, only then is she or he ready to fully accept love in their life — and it almost always happens just in time for the big Christmas Ball. (BTW, when’s the last time you were invited to a Christmas Ball?)
All of this is very appealing (and Dickensian), this idea of Christmas as something that can pave a path for love or redemption. This is the Christmas of lights and music, sleigh bells, cookies, gingerbread, skating, special presents, indoor greenery, neighborhood parties and random acts of kindness. It is not a particularly Christian Christmas, mind you. Seldom, if ever, will someone deliver a lecture about the true meaning of Christmas, and the J-man is never mentioned.
The Christmas of Hallmark movies is the “Xmas” that many American Jews are comfortable with, attracted to and even get a little envious or excited about — the one with twinkly lights and cheerful music, tasty eggnog, presents and wild office parties.
It’s also the one — as the Hallmark folks know oh so well — that makes the cash register ring. It’s, you know, Christmas.
For this year’s Hallmark Christmas movies schedule, go to hallmarkchannel.com/Christmas
For more Hallmark movie fun, check out Baltimore Improv Group’s Hallmark Movie Spectacular Dec. 22, 8-9 p.m.
For suggestions on Hallmark movie-related podcasts, go to player.fm