December column: The most wonderful time of the year

Lauren Grill, Arts & Entertainment Columnist

The most wonderful time of the year has never felt all that wonderful to me. Christmas lights going up the day after Thanksgiving and the beginning of “holiday countdowns” on network TV have always marked a month-long period of feeling strange and out of place for me. 

For years, I begged my mom for a Christmas tree, a stocking, anything that would give me a semblance of the Christmas spirit I was always hearing about on TV. All of my favorite characters celebrated the holiday. From Dora the Explorer to Charlie Brown to all the characters at Disney World, everyone I grew up watching had an episode celebrating the joy and magic of Christmas. Naturally, this was appealing to my seven-year-old self. Instead of baking cookies for Santa, I thought I was missing out on something by lighting my menorah for Hanukkah in early December. As the end of the year came around,  I always felt an annoyance creep into me, knowing it meant another month of watching television channels explode with joy for something I didn’t understand or relate to. 

This feeling of otherness has never truly gone away for me. I have come to find that the reason this month frustrates me so much is because I feel that Christmas is always being thrust at me through the entertainment I consume. Everytime I turn on the TV, I only see one religion and culture represented; this truth was the source of my confusion as a kid. I didn’t see any Jewish characters, and when I did, they seemed like the media’s last ditch attempt to sprinkle some diversity into what I was watching.  

This said, I don’t think Hallmark should start cranking out Hanukkah movies on the level they do for Christmas. Hanukkah isn’t a major Jewish holiday and is only played up to seem like a “Jewish Christmas” just because it’s around the same time. 

Yet, it’s still fun to imagine what a Hanukkah rom-com might be like. But when studios actually put the holiday on screen, they often fall flat. For example, Hallmarks most recent attempt, Love, Lights, Hanukkah!, follows a woman who takes a DNA test and learns she’s Jewish the week before Christmas. Their past movies with Jewish storylines have included characters pretending to be Christian to impress their significant others’ parents and commenting on the difficulty they have understanding the Jewish religion.

While networks may mean well in their attempts at inclusion, the best way to write media about Hanukkah is to not equate it to Christmas. They have very few similarities, and are different holidays all together. If Hallmark wants to hire Jewish writers to create a movie about the intensity of a game of dreidel, they can be my guests. But until that happens, studios should be working harder to create content that accurately depicts Jewish people year round, not just during a minor holiday that happens to be close to Christmas. Shows like Broad City and Crazy Ex- Girlfriend did a fantastic job of doing this during their runs and helped me let go of my childhood fantasies of converting to Christianity to fit in. These representations have helped me feel more comfortable as a Jewish person during the holiday season. 

Until that fateful day when I can watch a Hanukkah movie without cringing, I wish everyone who has felt like an outsider during the month of December a sense of peace, and a very wonderful time of the year.