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The Peculiar Case Of Jewish Christmas Movies

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It starts out like so many prototypical made-for-television Christmas movies do: with a beautiful woman in a tailored, red peacoat

She walks into a store bedazzled in Christmas cheer. Her eyes open widely in joy as she purchases not one, not two, not three, but FOUR holly-covered wreaths. It’s the one she likes, the one she always buys for the windows of her Italian restaurant in Cleveland. This is, as she explains to a colleague who walks into a low-key culinary Santa’s workshop outpost, her first Christmas without her mother. Decorating with an abundance of tinsel garlands is just how she cheers herself up.

A discerning viewer might assume they know where this is going. She’ll meet a man who has not yet accepted the Christmas spirit into his heart, perhaps in a town in rural Ohio. They will face off, then connect. They’ll kiss under the mistletoe. She’ll find the family comfort she lost with her mother with this new love interest, and it will all be because of Christmas. 

But about seven minutes in, this particular Hallmark film takes a left turn. You see, our fair Christmas heroine, Christina, was adopted. And after her adoptive mother died, she sent her DNA off to a 23andMe dupe to learn more about her biological roots. The computer pings, she opens her email and — surprise! — Christmas-obsessed Christina learns that she is 50% European Jewish. This is where the Hanukkah portion of “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” which premiered on the Hallmark Channel earlier this month, comes in. 

“Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” joins a smattering of other Jewish-themed Christmas movies, three of which came out in 2019: “Double Holiday” and “Holiday Date,” both Hallmark offerings, and “Mistletoe and Menorahs,” which aired last year on Lifetime. These movies all take on the curious challenge of integrating Judaism and Jewish people into the hyperspecific genre of made-for-TV holiday (read: Christmas) movies, and do so with varying degrees of sensitivity and success. (“Holiday Date” specifically fueled a good deal of backlash in 2019.)

Ultimately, the trend is an assimilationist project which tests the meaning of the increasingly buzzword-y, amorphous concepts of “diversity” and “inclusion.” Do Jews really want or need to see themselves in Christmas Movie World? And who are these movies really for — Jewish viewers or a Christian audience looking to be comforted by the idea that Jewish Americans really aren’t so different from them after all? The answers are complicated.



Kelley Jakle and Jake Epstein in “Mistletoe and Menorahs.”

Hallmark and Lifetime’s Jewish Christmas movies share three major defining features, all of which speak to the ideology guiding these movies: 

1. A central character who is an outsider to Judaism. In “Mistletoe and Menorahs” and “Holiday Date,” blonde shiksas who are thrown together by circumstance with Nice Jewish Boys — who are equally ignorant about Christmas — fill the “outsider” role. In “Double Holiday,” the outsider is the Jewish female lead’s Christian work rival. In “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” arguably the most deft of the four, despite its inherently problematic-sounding genetics-based premise, Christina is both outsider and insider, learning about Judaism because she is personally invested in doing so.

2. An outsize focus on Hanukkah as a Christmas equivalent. Never have I ever seen so many dreidel decorations, and blue string lights, and blue and white ornament-covered wreaths!

3. The suggestion that love can triumph over any cultural or religious differences. The only one of the four movies I watched that technically features two Jews falling in love is “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” and as previously mentioned, Christina only learns that she has Jewish heritage and family members at the beginning of the movie.

“Depictions of Jews in American popular culture are often categorized by whether they emphasize universality (we’re just like you!) or particularity (we have unique experiences!),” Grace Overbeke, an assistant professor of comedy studies at Columbia College, told HuffPost. If these are the two poles, Hallmark and Lifetime Jewish Christmas movies fall decidedly into the universality camp.

These Jewish Christmas movies also fit into a long tradition of Jews being present, albeit often subtly, in Christmas-focused pop culture. All four of Lifetime and Hallmark’s Jewish Christmas movies appear to have been written by Jewish screenwriters, and Jewish actors like Mia Kirshner, Ben Savage, Jake Epstein and Matt Cohen star in them. 

“There has been a Jewish presence and sensibility in Christmas entertainment going back close to a century,” said Henry Bial, a professor of theater at the University of Kansas and author of “Acting Jewish: Negotiating Ethnicity on the American Stage and Screen.” 

He cited the classic 1954 Christmas film “White Christmas,” which was based around a song written by Irving Berlin, a Jewish composer, and starred Danny Kaye, a Jewish actor. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”? Also created by a Jew. 

A scene from "Love, Lights, Hanukkah!" starring Mia Kirshner and Ben Savage.



A scene from “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” starring Mia Kirshner and Ben Savage.

In America, Christmas has become less of a religious holiday than a stand-in for an entire season of hyperconsumerism. This allows made-for-TV Christmas movies to focus on the holiday without really focusing on religion or Jesus. Religiously, Hanukkah is a far less important holiday than Christmas. But because of its proximity on the calendar to Christmas, it became more of a focal point for American Jews. 

“Historically, part of becoming ‘American’ meant that Jews had to give our religion a bit of a makeover so that it would resemble Protestant worship — to be more legible as a ‘religion’ deserving of the American ideal of religious freedom,” Overbeke told HuffPost. Thus “Judaism became ‘rebranded’ in some ways as another version of Christianity. Synagogue became reimagined as a Jewish version of church; Hanukkah became the Jewish version of Christmas.” 

In other words, Hanukkah became a vehicle for American Jewish assimilation. (In a twist of irony, the story of Hanukkah centers on the Maccabees, a Jewish tribe who were, as Overbeke put it, “militantly opposed to assimilation.”)

Given this very American reality, it is wholly unsurprising that Christmas movies trying to integrate Jewish themes and characters into the holiday spirit would end up relying on Hanukkah as a touchpoint.

After all, pop culture can be a powerful tool of cultural absorption, something that many Jewish-American immigrants have historically desperately desired. Overbeke pointed to turn of the 20th century “assimilationist romances,” like the Israel Zangwill play “The Melting Pot” (1908) and Anne Nichols’ play-turned movie “Abie’s Irish Rose” (1922), both of which focus on Jewish men who fall in love with non-Jewish women. And in both plays, the couples’ interfaith love serves as a vehicle for the melting away of ethnic bigotry. Hallmark and Lifetime’s TV movies can be seen as the lowbrow thematic descendants of these plays. None of the movies explicitly address bigotry, but they do use love as a vehicle for collapsing difference and doing away with ignorance. 

Kristoffer Polaha and Carly Pope make latkes in "Double Holiday."



Kristoffer Polaha and Carly Pope make latkes in “Double Holiday.”

All of the Jewish Christmas movies in the Lifetime/Hallmark universe contain an element of inviting in through cultural exchange. Christina’s newly discovered family members teach her about the Jewish foods, like latkes, they serve at the deli they own, and in “Mistletoe and Menorahs,” Jonathan (the Jew) teaches Brooke (the Christian) about Hanukkah so that she can be culturally competent enough to land a big account from a Jewish client. In turn, Brooke helps Jonathan learn about Christmas to impress his girlfriend’s Christian father, and Christina invites her family to her restaurant’s big Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner on Christmas Eve. 

At times, the idea that the Jewish characters are so ignorant about certain Christmas traditions — Rebecca (“Double Holiday”) and Jonathan (“Mistletoe and Menorahs”) are both flummoxed by Christmas decorations, Joel (“Holiday Date”) has no idea what the words are to “Deck The Halls” — strains credulity. Whereas it is completely believable to me, a Jew who grew up around a whole lot of Catholics, that many Christian families might not even know what a menorah is, the vast majority of American Jews learn about Christmas songs and decor and traditions by osmosis. Christmas is everywhere. Hanukkah is not. Christian ignorance of Judaism exists, quite simply, because it easily can. And to pretend that this ignorance cuts equally both ways, as several of these movies suggest, is to ignore the reality that Jews continue to be othered in this country in a way that Christians do not.

“I think that often, particularly with Hanukkah, there is an attempt to use it as an occasion to say, ’We’re not really so different, me and you,’” Bial told HuffPost. “And that is in some ways a lovely sentiment, and in other ways, I could see why some Jews would push back and say, ‘Actually, we are different.’” 

All four movies still adopt the unmistakable made-for-TV holiday movie aesthetic. Christmas decorations abound, and when we get a peek inside Jewish homes, the featured Jews simply swap multicolored string lights for white twinkly ones, and red and green wreaths for blue and white wreaths. (In a particularly egregious visual, Christina’s birth family’s Jewish home in “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” is draped in many green boughs.)

Assimilation and the blending of faiths are also present in the costuming. “Double Holiday” follows Rebecca (the Jew) and Chris (the Christian), work colleagues who have to plan their company’s Christmas party as they are competing for a promotion, and the planning process happens to intersect with Hanukkah celebrations. When the movie begins, Rebecca can often be found wearing a blue button-up or a blue apron. Chris wears green sweaters and a red apron. As Chris learns more about Hanukkah, and as he and Rebecca grow closer, their wardrobes get a switch-up: Chris ends up in blue and Rebecca in red. At the very end, they both wear blue to the Christmas party, but Chris doesn’t forget his red pocket square. (As if a Hallmark film would ever deal in subtlety.) 

Perhaps this is why some critics bristled last year at the promise of Hanukkah movies only to be served up stories in which “Hanukkah and the characters who celebrate it exist only in relation to Christmas,” as Nancy Coleman wrote in The New York Times. “Holiday Date,” which features Jewish actor Joel accompanying blonde Brooke home for Christmas to pretend to be her very Christian boyfriend even elicited some cries of anti-Semitism for its use of the “trope of the sneaky, untrustworthy Jew,” as Britni de la Cretaz wrote in The Washington Post. (“He seems nice enough, but there’s just something that just isn’t right,” Brooke’s father says at one point in the film. “He’s a bit of an odd duck.”)

A scene from Hallmark's "Holiday Date," in which Joel is attempting to turn on the Christmas lights.



A scene from Hallmark’s “Holiday Date,” in which Joel is attempting to turn on the Christmas lights.

When I first heard about “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” I was sure that it would be worse than any of its predecessors. (Jews are apt to bristle at any mention of genetically identifying and sorting us.) But oddly enough, it was an improvement. Instead of centering so much around Christmas or a Christian family, the vast majority of characters — including the Christian Outsider lead — are, in fact, Jewish. They may do things like throw the phrase “shayna punim” out in casual conversation and obsessively collect dreidels, but at least the exploration of Judaism at the center of the story does not hinge on a deception or a desperation to get ahead at work. Instead, it’s about Christina’s personal exploration of faith and heritage.

Bial sees movies like “Double Holiday,” “Mistletoe and Menorahs,” “Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” and even the much-maligned “Holiday Date,” as relatively harmless, if not outright positive. If viewers are frustrated with an oversimplification of Jewish tradition depicted in Hallmark and Lifetime offerings, perhaps it’s the form itself — mass-produced, simplistic holiday fairy tales — which must bear the blame.

“Generally speaking, inclusion is a good thing,” he said. “There is a value for Jews in seeing ourselves included, [seeing] that we have a place in some of these stories.” 

Towards the end of “Double Holiday,” one character states: “We may celebrate differently, but we’re all in this together.” What “this” is — The holiday season? The hellscape of American late-stage capitalism? — remains a mystery, but at least we can rest assured that it is a shared experience. 

As Bial remarked: “Why miss an opportunity to sell Hanukkah cards as long as we are selling Christmas cards?”





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Angela Yee Officially Leaves ‘The Breakfast Club’ After 12 Years On Radio Show

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Radio show host Angela Yee has bid farewell to Power 105.1′s nationally syndicated show, “The Breakfast Club,” after 12 years.

On Friday, Yee appeared on her final episode of the show, which she hosted with Charlamagne tha God and DJ Envy. Her co-hosts each gave tributes celebrating the media personality’s influence on the radio.

“Job well done,” Charlamagne tha God said on-air. “They can never take away what we built. We’ve all made history together as a radio show.”

“I’m gonna miss my sister,” DJ Envy chimed in.

Yee, Charlamagne tha God and DJ Envy hosted the first episode of “The Breakfast Club” when the show launched in December 2010. The trio interviewed countless notable guests, musicians, actors, and politicians. The show has faced controversy for some of its segments and has had many successes.

In 2020, “The Breakfast Club” was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. President Joe Biden appeared on the show months before he was elected to office that same year.

DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God at the Barclays Center on November 2, 2013 in Brooklyn, New York.

Michael Stewart via Getty Images

Yee announced her plans to leave the show on Twitter in August, writing, “The Breakfast Club as you know it is officially over.”

She’s launching her nationally syndicated show on iHeartMedia called “Way Up With Angela Yee” at the beginning of 2023, she told Variety in an article published Friday. She also co-hosts a podcast called “Lip Service.”

Yee said that she hopes her new role will allow her to support and mentor other Black women breaking into the media industry.

“I think about who is going to be following me and who is next, who I can help mentor, and all of those things are exciting to me,” she told Variety. “I hope later on in life there are a bunch of other Black women radio personalities who can say, ‘Angela gave me my shot,’ or ‘Angela helped me do this,’ or ‘Angela plugged me with this person.’”

She continued, “I think that’s what really means a lot, not just what you did for yourself but for other people, also how you spread the love.”





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Jim Parsons And Ben Aldridge Reflect On The Real-Life Love Story Behind ‘Spoiler Alert’

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After appearing in the seminal queer dramas “The Normal Heart” and “The Boys in the Band,” Jim Parsons was eager to play a character who wasn’t “suffering at the hands of his homosexuality.”

The “Big Bang Theory” star found the role he was looking for in “Spoiler Alert,” the movie adaptation of Michael Ausiello’s 2017 memoir. The romantic drama opened in select cities Friday ahead of a nationwide release next week.

“I’m playing a guy who — in the thrust of love, excitement and romance — is on an incredible journey he can’t believe he’s there for, and then, with tragedy, is again on an incredible journey,” Parsons told HuffPost. “It’s a deep-dive journey that these two souls go on together. I felt very hungry to get the chance to portray that as best I could.”

Watch the trailer for “Spoiler Alert” above.

Jim Parsons (left) and Ben Aldridge in “Spoiler Alert.”

Linda Kallerus/Focus Features

Directed by Michael Showalter, “Spoiler Alert” follows Ausiello (played by Parsons), an endearingly nerdy journalist who falls for an aspiring photographer, Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge), after a dance floor meet-cute. Before long, the two men are living together and hosting dinner parties in their chic New York apartment. Their 13-year relationship is sadly tested, however, when Cowan is diagnosed with a rare form of neuroendocrine cancer.

The real-life Cowan died in 2015 at age 43, and as a love story, “Spoiler Alert” is first and foremost a tearjerker. Still, the movie offers plenty of humor and heart, most notably in scenes that recall the early days of Ausiello and Cowan’s romance. It also boasts a stellar supporting cast, including Sally Field and Bill Irwin as Cowan’s parents, Bob and Marilyn.

Ausiello, who is the founder and editorial director of the entertainment outlet TVLine, began writing “Spoiler Alert” at the suggestion of an editor at the Simon & Schuster book publishing company who had taken note of his Facebook statuses throughout Cowan’s illness.

Writer Michael Ausiello (left) with Parsons and Aldridge.
Writer Michael Ausiello (left) with Parsons and Aldridge.

Kimberly White via Getty Images

A week after the book was published in 2017, Parsons and his husband, Todd Spiewak, approached him at a Q&A in San Francisco to tell him they wanted to adapt the book as a movie.

When it came to translating his story, the writer had just one stipulation for screenwriters David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage.

“I didn’t want the movie to portray Kit as a victim,” Ausiello, also an executive producer on the film, said. “He wasn’t a victim, he didn’t see himself as a victim and never acted like a victim. I also wanted to depict the fact that his parents showed up for their son when he got sick. They didn’t shy away from the hard stuff. They were there for their son.”

In keeping with Ausiello’s advice, Aldridge plays up Kit’s debonair charm even as his body succumbs to cancer. The actor, whose credits include “Fleabag” and “Pennyworth,” described the experience as “very life-affirming and exhilarating.”

“It’s important to risk rejection and risk heartbreak to live your fullest life,” said Parsons (right, with co-star Sally Field).
“It’s important to risk rejection and risk heartbreak to live your fullest life,” said Parsons (right, with co-star Sally Field).

Linda Kallerus/Focus Features

Though “Spoiler Alert” isn’t an overtly political film, its stars are conscious of the fact that it’s being released at a challenging time for the queer community. The Supreme Court’s ultraconservative rulings on abortion and gun control as of late have sparked justifiable concerns among many Americans that LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage, could soon be rolled back at the federal level.

“If it changed minds, that would be incredible — I couldn’t ask for more,” Aldridge said. “But we just saw a chance to tell a story that felt real to us. Love is love, and this film is real proof of that.”

As for Parsons, his biggest takeaway from “Spoiler Alert” is personal.

“As we were filming, I realized that one of the most painful things in my life is something I do to myself, which is not telling other people when I love them or when I care about them for fear of rejection or for fear of looking sentimental or caring more than might be cool,” he said. “It’s important to risk rejection and risk heartbreak to live your fullest life.”





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Broadway Actor Quentin Oliver Lee Dead At 34

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Broadway actor Quentin Oliver Lee, best known for playing the title role in the national tour of “Phantom of the Opera,” has died at the age of 34.

“I saw his last breaths, held his hand tight, and felt his heartbeat slowly drift away,” she wrote. “He had a smile on his face, and was surrounded by those he loves. It was peaceful, and perfect.”

She described her late husband as an “incredible man, husband, father, son, brother, friend, singer, actor, and disciple of Christ with great faith in his Father in Heaven.”

The “Phantom of the Opera” show paid tribute to Lee, writing on Instagram it was “saddened to hear of the passing” of Lee who’d “brilliantly lead our North American tour in 2018.”





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Angela Bassett’s Reaction To Keke Palmer’s Popular Impression Of Her Is Priceless

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Keke Palmer finally performed her well-known impression of Angela Bassett in front of none other than the veteran actor herself.

During a conversation in a Vanity Fair video published on Friday, Bassett asked to see Palmer’s impersonation in person, after seeing clips of Palmer imitating her online.

“I’ve seen you online imitating me,” Bassett said with a laugh. “You do a great job.”

Palmer replied that the impression is one of her “most notable” ones. She explained that Queen Latifah would ask her to imitate Bassett whenever she and Palmer worked on projects together.

The “Nope” actor then carried out her impression of a scene that Bassett performed when she portrayed Katherine Jackson in the 1992 miniseries “The Jacksons: An American Dream.”

Bassett hilariously joined Palmer to recite one of the lines. She then revealed that she’d improvised that bit of dialogue, to which Palmer responded: “Now let’s get into it!”

During a video interview with Wired in July ― where she (of course) did the impression ― Palmer said she often gets told she resembles Bassett.

Palmer and Bassett memorably played a mother and daughter duo in the 2006 film “Akeelah and the Bee.”

Bassett told Palmer in the conversation for Vanity Fair that she was impressed with how “present” Palmer was when she played Akeelah at the young age of 11.

“I’ve worked with a few kids here, and child actors are very serious if they get into it at all,” Bassett said. “But you were always very present, but also just so bubbly, and full of life and energy and spirit.”





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Kate Middleton Makes Bold Fashion Statement In $91 Rented Gown

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Royals! They’re just like us. At least ― this one time.

Kate Middleton showed up to the 2022 Earthshot Awards on Friday in a rental dress from the rental platform HURR.

Attendees of awards were asked to focus on sustainability or wear something recycled or vintage for their red carpet looks, and the Princess of Wales was right on theme.

Kate’s gown was from the designer Solace London. You can rent the Sabina dress, too, as it retails from $91 to $238.

She paired the dress with a necklace from the collection of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Earlier in the day, the Prince of Wales wrote an exclusive essay for HuffPost about why he was “thrilled to bring The Earthshot Prize to U.S.” ― and why he remains a “stubborn optimist” about the planet’s future.

“I believe in the power of human ingenuity, and I’m thrilled to bring The Earthshot Prize to the U.S.,” he wrote. “This week, in Boston, we want to demonstrate what we can all do to help put the world on a path toward a stable climate where communities, nature and oceans thrive in harmony.”

The prince added, “In this critical decade, I invite you all to be optimistic, to support the game-changers, and to believe in the power of human ingenuity.”

See more photos of the royals’ visit to Boston below:





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‘Orange Is The New Black’ Actor Brad William Henke Dies At 56

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Brad William Henke, the former NFL player known for his role as corrections officer Desi Piscatella in “Orange Is the New Black,” died Tuesday at age 56, a representative of the actor told Variety.

“Brad was an incredibly kind man of joyous energy. A very talented actor, he loved being a part of this community…. and we loved him back. Our thoughts are with his wife and family,” his manager, Matt DelPiano, said in a statement to TMZ.

The cause of death was not disclosed.

Henke began a career in acting after injuries forced him to retire from professional football in 1994. Over his career, he appeared in dozens of TV series, including “Law & Order,” “Life on Mars,” “Shameless,” “Criminal Minds,” Bones,” “Lost” and and “The Office.”

His movie appearances included “Pacific Rim” and “World Trade Center.”

He played college football at the University of Arizona before he was drafted in 1989 by the New York Giants. He went on to play for the Denver Broncos and in 1990 played on their defensive line in Super Bowl XXIV against the San Francisco 49ers.





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A Resurfaced ‘Drew Barrymore Show’ Clip Has Twitter Users In Shock

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A clip of a couple’s interaction on “The Drew Barrymore Show” didn’t sit right with Twitter users this week, but the full clip clears up the pair’s complicated love story.

The clip, which depicts part of a “Drew’s News” segment that aired during the show’s last season, shows a woman telling the man sitting next to her in the audience that he’d “ruined everything,” then the woman explains what the man had ruined in their relationship.

The couple were shown in the audience when Barrymore and Ross Matthews asked audience members to respond to a question about what they’d do if they didn’t like a friend’s partner.

Barrymore called on a couple that had been “giggling.” The man in the couple told her that you “have to be honest and also not ruin everything” ― but then the woman chimed in to say that he had “ruined everything.”

The woman then told Barrymore that he had just spoiled her attempt to propose to him while they were on the Brooklyn Bridge.

“He said to me, ‘Oh, no, it’s embarrassing. Get up,’” said the woman, who left Barrymore and the audience in shock.

You can watch the clip below.

“What does this have to do with a friend?” Drew asked the couple.

“Nothing,” they both said.

“I had to do this,” the woman then said to the man.

Twitter users called for the viral clip to receive an “Emmy immediately” while others appeared to celebrate the woman’s on-air comment.

The Twitter clip, however, left out a “happy ending” to the couple’s story.

“I wanted to do it myself, later. Not today,” the man said of the proposal as he received a mix of awww’s and — later — laughter.





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