Tag Archives: #christmas

A Hallmark Hanukkah: Why I Still Like Cheesy Christmas Movies So Much!

Even though the pandemic has altered our world, my husband Larry and I will still maintain many of our traditions this Hanukkah. Eating latkes with applesauce. Lighting candles each night. “Betting” on which candle lasts the longest. Watching Hallmark Christmas movies.

Wait! Hallmark Christmas movies? When did that become a tradition?

For as long as I can remember, I have watched Hallmark movies. For many years, the famous card company aired shows specific to the holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and of course Valentine’s Day. Each two-hour made-for-television episode touched my heart. Many were based on classic novels, such as The Secret Garden or Sarah Plain and Tall, while others were originals. And as much as I loved the shows themselves, I especially enjoyed the tear-jerking commercials. (Did you know you can Google them? Watch them with a box of Kleenex next to you!)

In 2001, after the major networks dropped the specials, the company launched The Hallmark Channel. Building on its many fans during the holidays, the channel has churned out 136 Christmas shows to date. That means a great deal of “Deck the Halls” and “Jingle Bells,” their favorite seasonal songs, as the movies are touted to be about the spirit of the season, not any one religion in particular.

The plots of their Christmas movies fall into two categories. If you have watched only one or two of the productions, you have pretty much seen them all. 

Plot one: A high-powered business dynamo needs to learn the real meaning of life, which can only be found in a small, idyllic town inhabited by incredibly cheerful people who, despite their low-paying occupations (favorite include cupcake bakers, store clerks, and staff at a huge inn with no guests in sight except the small cast), can still afford enough Christmas decorations to cover EPCOT. 

Plot two: A kind, hard-working woman finds out that the incredibly handsome mystery man she’s dating is actually the king of a tiny but wealthy country named after a countertop (Cambria) or china pattern (Winshire). Twenty minutes before the movie ends, a conflict erupts based on a misunderstanding – but no worries! It will be resolved with a kiss one minute before the snow starts and two minutes before the credits roll.

Up until this past year, Hallmark was all about white, heterosexual Christians. People of Color were seen only as the best friend or the minister who marries the happy couple; LGBTQ+ characters were never seen at all. This policy was upended last year, when the channel pulled an advertisement that featured two women kissing at the altar. Soon after, scriptwriters began churning out stories that highlighted more diverse romances, including LGBTQ+ couples and interracial relationships.

What’s still largely missing, though, are stories about Jewish couples. Loving Leah (2009) was the closest to a true Jewish romance, featuring a non-observant Jewish bachelor who feels compelled to marry his rabbi brother’s widow to honor him via the ancient Jewish law of yibbum (levirate marriage). 

For me, though, the channel’s attempts at celebrating Hanukkah have been major fails. 

Holiday Date told the story of Joel, a nice Jewish boy who agrees to pretend to be the boyfriend of Brittany, who is headed back to her small Pennsylvania hometown to celebrate Christmas with her family. Hilarity allegedly ensues when Joel (who grew up in New York City, certainly surrounded by at least one or two Christians) has no idea how to decorate a tree or make a gingerbread house or sing “Deck the Halls.” Moments after the ruse is uncovered, Brittany’s mother comes out of the kitchen holding a tray of potato latkes and wearing an “Oy vey” apron. Of course, the two end up together, promising to observe both Christmas and Hanukkah. 

The plots of the other two 2019 Hallmark Hanukkah movies, both involving interfaith romances, made Holiday Date look like Casablanca. This year, Hallmark tried again. Love, Lights, Hanukkah!, which first  aired on December 14. recounted  the story of Christina, who was raised Italian Catholic by her  adoptive mother, discovers through genetic testing that she is 50% Jewish. Over the next eight days, she finds her family and romance. While I loved the acting, (both Mia Kirshner and Ben Savage are Jewish!) and some very authentic Jewish moments, especially those that involved singing the prayer when lighting the menorah, I still wished in the end that somehow Christina would change her name to Channah and completely embrace her Yiddishkeit roots. Oh well! Maybe next year  Hallmark will make a movie about two Jews who fall in love over dreidels and potato latkes without a Christmas tree in sight! 

So why do I – along with many others who likely keep mum about their penchant for Hallmark movies – love these films? Simple. They’re mindless, sweet, non-political, non-violent, and always guaranteed to result in a happy ending. I still cry every time King Maximillian and Allie embrace at the end of A Crown for Christmas. (Take that, you wicked Countess!) 

These feelings hold even truer in 2020: I need a break from COVID-19 and the elections and the transition. So grab the dreidel-shaped sugar cookies and hot chocolate: I’ll yet again be indulging in the holiday season with Hallmark Christmas movies!

Published on ReformJudaism.orgwebsite December 24, 2020 and in the (Capital Region New York) Jewish World on December 10, 2020.

The Holiday Card: Connecting with Others and Sharing Our Love

The holidays are over. The greeting cards we find in our mailbox are slowing down to a dribble.Yet,  I totally understand if they arrive even mid-January. I’ve had numerous years where good intentions to get all my cards signed, sealed and delivered before the first night of Chanukah or before Christmas Eve have failed.

We were fortunate to receive many lovely holiday cards from across the country throughout the past month.  Most were simple but attractive ones from Hallmark or American Greetings. The two handmade cards, beautifully crafted pieces of art, will get saved in my memory box to enjoy again and again. Many greetings were in the form of photo cards: a picture of my great niece and nephew with their labradoodle,; a three-generation photo from a childhood friend; a picture of two friends, Santa, and their “children”-two rescue dogs.

BRINGING US CLOSER

I especially appreciated cards that included a holiday newsletter that recapped the senders’ year and shared what their family had been up to in 2016.  Reading about relatives, friends, and their loved ones, especially those that live far away from us, brought us closer together despite the miles between us.

Happily, this year, we did not receive any form of the ‘Dreaded Holiday Letter.’ You know the kind I mean. Happy Holidays! We just bought a little present for ourselves. The red Ferrari is parked in the four-car garage next to the Lexus, the Maserati, and the Tesla.  Of course we have to find the time to drive it  as we will be working around our upcoming trip to the French Riviera and our two month cruise to South America on our yacht. 

EDITS BY FAMILY

Embarrassingly, I may have been guilty of putting a little too much enthusiasm in past holiday letters. The Shapiro Year in Review was contained in a single-spaced letter with a border of dreydels or menorahs. Before I mailed it out, I would ask Larry, my husband,  and our children, Adam and Julie, to review it. Being much more private people than me, they would eliminate many of what I considered news-worthy items. “Too much information!” they would comment. The edited letters were shorter and considerably less, well, Pollyannaish.

Last year, I decided I wanted to go the photo card route. I created my masterpiece in a very short time at the Walgreens kiosk with three pictures representing our  year. One showed  Larry and me posing with Phineas and Ferb at Disney World. Another was a picture of Julie, her husband Sam, and their month-old daughter Sylvie Rose in their backyard. The third was a picture of Uncle Adam holding Sylvie.

I didn’t get them started by Chanukah, which started in early December, so I aimed for December 24. And then New Year’s. And then Martin Luther King’s Birthday. By the end of January, I purchased cute little heart stickers to add to the photo with the intention of mailing them out by Valentine’s Day. By April, I ruled out Easter egg stickers, and the ten plague stickersI found on the internet seemed a little depressing.

Sylvie was now nine months old and looked nothing like the infant in the pictures. The photo cards went into the trash, and the odd-sized envelopes are being used to pay bills that require a check and a stamp.

A NEW IDEA

Friends in England introduced us to the Jacquie Lawson website, and since then we have sent out its beautiful animated greeting cards for all occasions—birthdays, anniversaries, get well wishes, the winter holidays— to family members and friends.

I wasn’t going to repeat the photo card disaster. This year, Larry and I decided to send e-cards for the holidays. The Chanukah card, choreographed to Chanukah Oh  Chanukah, showed a lovely tree transformed into a brightly lit menorah. Our non-Jewish friends received a card set to a medley of Christmas songs that showed a sleigh making its way through a picture-perfect English village and surrounding countryside.

WELL RECEIVED

The first night of Chanukah fell on Christmas Eve, so it gave us more time to get them ready to send out. Of course we procrastinated until December 24th. Larry worked from his computer in the office getting out the Christmas cards while I worked from my laptop in the kitchen sending out Chanukah wishes to all our Jewish friends. By the time we left for the Chanukah party at our synagogue that evening, we had sent over one hundred cards with short personal notes to friends and family across the country and world.

I was a little concerned that the recipients would not bother to open them or, if they did, they would be bored with the ninety seconds of animation. We were therefore happy to receive thank you notes back from most the recipients within hours—sometimes minutes—after we clicked the send button. The e-cards were a success!

Recently, I saw the following quote in a friend’s kitchen: “Though time and miles may separate us, we have built a bridge of lovely memories to span the distance.” No matter how we share our good wishes for the holidays, and no matter when those good wishes arrive,  they all are sent and received with love and happiness.