Friday, December 11, 2009

Miscellany: Best Pop Culture Hannukah Appearances

All this month, Shangrila Towers will be serving up various Christmas-themed posts. Today, we'll look at one of the other December holidays - Hanukkah, the festival of lights.

Growing up in south Florida, I got the distinct impression from a number of my Jewish friends that Hanukkah was a slight embarrassment. In terms of religious significance, the Festival of Lights pales in comparison to lesser-known but more important holidays like Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, Passover, or even Purim. It's a pretty transparent way to make sure Jewish kids don't feel left out when parents (including secular ones) celebrate Christmas by handing out the loot on the 25th.

Still, it seems like a harmless enough celebration, and there are plenty of Jewish people who have proudly integrated a "strong Hanukkah" into the winter holidays. Here are some of the most memorable entries in the pop-culture Hanukkah lexicon:

Rugrats, "A Rugrats Chanukah"

The Nickelodeon cartoon "Rugrats" ran a phenomenally successful Passover special (one of the best half-hour explorations of the holiday ever made), so it made sense that they'd follow it up with a Hanukkah special. As in the Passover episode, Tommy Pickles and his baby friends imagine themselves as the characters in the story, juxtaposing the Maccabees' epic victory with cute diaper humor. Meanwhile, Tommy's Grandpa Boris tangles with his old rival from Russia, Schlomo.

Curiously enough, the Anti-Defamation league objected to the portrayal of Tommy's grandparents in this episode, claiming that they resembled stereotypical anti-Semitic drawings. Given that many of the people who produced the episode were Jewish (including one of the writers and the president of Nickelodeon), the criticism was a little strange.

Adam Sandler, "The Hanukkah Song"

This is probably the only Hanukkah song most people will hear on mainstream radio, though it's more of a listing of famous Jews than a song. Even though it isn't much musically, there's a certain brash confidence in the piece that should perk up the spirits of any Jewish kid who feels left out in the Christmas hullaballoo. At least this worked better than Sandler's other major foray into holiday entertainment, the first and only(!) Hannukah-based feature film. I forgive you for "Eight Crazy Nights," Mr. Sandler. Barely.

South Park, "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo"

Deftly mixing disgusting toilet humor with a message about religious tolerance (in some cases, quite literally mixing the two), this seminal "South Park" story lampoons the sometimes overly-PC response to Christmas celebrations. In terms of Hanukkah, the entire Jewish kid community is represented in Kyle's titanic ballad, "A Lonely Jew on Christmas":


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