The 11 Best & Worst Pop Culture Nods To Hanukkah

Photo: Courtesy of Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions.
We'll be honest upfront: This isn't really a "best and worst" list. It's more like the "only" pop culture nods to Hanukkah out there (okay, we left out An American Tail, just because we could). Why, in an industry often said to be run by Jews, is the Festival of Lights so overshadowed by Christmas movies, songs, and TV specials? If you ask serious Jews, they'll say it's because the holiday isn't all that important to them. It's more of a thing that got elevated in modern times to make kids feel less left out by all the Yuletide hubbub. We'd also venture to guess that it's not really worth the effort to make something Hanukkah-specific when you could instead release non-holiday movies, music, and specials with mass appeal and keep those movie theaters open on Christmas Day so believers and nonbelievers alike can go see Star Wars.

Whatever the reason for the dearth of Hanukkah content, let's take this moment to enjoy what few gems and flops we have. Beyond Adam Sandler's two contributions, there are a couple of great songs by Matisyahu and The LeeVees. TV characters, from the Rugrats to Ross, have tried to explain the meaning of those eight little candles to children and goys alike. And we've got celebrations by some famous real and fictional half-Jews — including The O.C.'s Seth Cohen and The Vampire Diaries' Kat Graham — to keep us in the mixed-holiday spirit. Spread the joy over the next eight days or watch 'em all at once. We're pretty sure it won't give Hanukkah Harry a coronary.

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Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
"The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Christmas," Saturday Night Live (1989)

"On Moshe, on Herschel, on Shlomo," says Hanukkah Harry, "eight nights a year!" When a stomach flu grounds Santa (Phil Hartman), he calls on the only man with enough magic to fill in for him. Harry (Jon Lovitz) is much more lenient on the naughty kids, but his gifts for all the gentile boys and girls — socks, dreidels, slacks — teach them that the true meaning of Christmas is not to be jealous of their Jewish neighbors, 'cause they get such practical presents for eight nights instead of one night of Barbies and pellet guns. What a heartwarming tale of religious tolerance!

Watch the skit on
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"The Chanukah Song," Adam Sandler on Saturday Night Live (1994)

Before there was Wikipedia to tell us which celebrities were Jewish, there was Adam Sandler's song, which he first sang on "Weekend Update." Many had never before considered the fact that Paul Newman, Captain Kirk, and the Three Stooges were at least part Jewish. When he released it as a single from his comedy album, What the Hell Happened to Me?, in 1995, it eventually reached #80 on the Billboard Hot 100. More relevant names were since added to parts 2 to 4, the latest of which he sang in November of this year and includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elsa from Frozen, and David Beckham ("a quarter chosen").
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Photo: Courtesy of Nickelodeon.
"A Rugrats Chanukah," Rugrats (1996)

Almost 10 years later, this special episode of the Nickelodeon show remains one of the only complete explanations of the holiday in all of pop culture. A warning if you haven't watched Rugrats since you were one, those fake toddler voices are grating. But if you can get past that, you will learn all about why the Jews were fighting Syrian-Greek Emperor Antiochus, and also all about Grandpa Boris' feud with fellow amateur thespian Shlomo.

Watch Rugrats on Amazon.
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"The One with the Holiday Armadillo," Friends (2000)

When Ross has Ben home for the holidays (on episode 10 of season 7), he decides it's time to teach his son about Hanukkah. In the process, he pretty much illustrates why it's so hard for the holiday to gain any attraction if it has to compete with the likes of Santa and his flying reindeer. The armadillo certainly helps — a little.

Watch Friends on Netflix.
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Eight Crazy Nights (2002)

Adam Sandler probably should have quit while he was ahead. This animated movie about a mean, alcoholic loser and the old geezer who tries to reform him was as hated by critics as his "Chanukah Song" was beloved years earlier. Scatological humor was the main complaint, but we're also bummed out by the lame use of that well-worn trope of the person who hates X holiday because it was the day his parents died years before.

Watch Eight Crazy Nights on Netflix.
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"The Best Chrismukkah Ever," The O.C. (2003)

Seth Cohen solves the problem of many a half-Jewish, half-Christian family — not by compromising one holiday for another, but by blending them into "the greatest super-holiday known to mankind." Highlights include, "eight days of presents, followed by one day of many presents." Of course, this being The O.C., this particular holiday (season 1, episode 13) also includes Marissa shoplifting and then getting sloshed at her mom and stepdad's fancy party, Ryan brooding, Anna and Summer competing rather sexily for Seth's affections, and Kristin and Sandy foiling one of Caleb's plots.

Watch The O.C. on CW Seed.
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The Hebrew Hammer (2003)

Adam Goldberg (the titular private investigator), Judy Greer (as Esther Bloomenbergensteinenthal), and Melvin Van Peebles (as their Kwanzaa-celebrating ally, Mohammed Ali Paula Abdul Rahim) team up to prevent an evil Santa (Andy Dick) from destroying their holidays and making December exclusively about celebrating Christmas. This Comedy Central movie is a silly blaxploitation spoof that embraces all sorts of stereotypes for the sake of humor, so take it all with a grain of Kosher salt.

Watch The Hebrew Hammer on Netflix.
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"How Do You Spell Channukkahh," The LeeVees (2006)

Forget anything about the Maccabees or lighting candles, this is about another important element of the holiday that all of us face every year: the utter lack of consensus on how to spell it. Chanukah? Hanukkah? Januca? We get that it's in another alphabet, but if someone would just decide on one English version, it would make articles like these much easier to write. Anyway, this is a great, upbeat, indie-rock tune from the Hanukkah-focused side project of Guster frontman Adam Gardner. Plus, it has an adorable Sesame Street-esque video we can't stop watching.
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"Miracle," Matisyahu (2010)

Knocked out by a bully in a Santa suit, the Orthodox rapper dreams about squabbling with King Antioch (the villain of the Hanukkah story) and skating with his namesake, Jewish High Priest Matisyahu (who rebelled against Antioch's attempts to take over the Temple of Jerusalem). The video is cheesy as hell, but wow, can the guy skate. Also, this song is catchy enough to rival a Christmas carol and we're baffled as to why it's not being piped into stores as we speak.
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"Black and Jewish," Kat Graham & Kali Hawk (2011)

This Funny or Die parody of Wiz Khalifa's "Black and Yellow" is about all the holidays you get to celebrate if you're this particular mix of ethnicities, not just Hanukkah, and it's bound to strike jealousy in the hearts of those of us not celebrating this year stabbing our enemies with menorahs and "on the corner, shooting dreidels." Also, these girls could give Drake a run for his gelt.
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"Hanukkah, Oh, Hanukkah," Glee (2012)

In the season 4 installment "Glee, Actually" (episode 10), Puck convinces his half-brother, Jake, to come visit him in L.A., where he claims to be living large. The brothers tour the Paramount Lot while singing this old holiday tune — apparently this is the Barenaked Ladies' version of it, in case you were aware that such a thing existed. Glee kept things pretty Christmas-focused for most of its December episodes (even Rachel Berry was more into Yuletide joy than lighting candles), so this was a fun, if momentary, nod to the Jews.