After suffering through Hallmark Channel’s Eight Gifts of Hanukkah, I would like to take back everything I’ve ever said about wanting holiday movies for my people. I’ll just stick to watching that one episode of The Nanny, thank you very much. Look: I get that Hallmark movies are supposed to be super formulaic and predictable—and aren’t exactly Oscar contenders? But this was…something else.
Unlike Hallmark’s last attempt at a Hanukkah movie, Eight Gifts of Hanukkah is at least…actually a Hanukkah movie. The previous abominations were, as Lewis Black recently put it on The Daily Show, some mess about a Jewish person being dropped into a Christmas film and—golly, gee! Oy gevalt!—not knowing what was going on. Because, you know, we aren’t bombarded with all things Christmas from roughly November 1 to January 1 or anything…
Yes, this particular movie does actually center around Hanukkah, with a Nice Jewish Girl™ named Sara Levin (Inbar Lavi), who’s trying to get back into the whole dating thing a few months after a bad breakup, at the heart of the story. Lifelong BFF and boy next door, Daniel (Jake Epstein) sends her a special gift each night of Hanukkah to woo her while showing how well he knows her. So, of course, Sara’s completely oblivious and looking for her one true love in about 50 of the wrong places. (I honestly lost track.)
Epstein is easily one of the best things this movie has going for it, and that makes my usual on-brand “lol that’s Craig from Degrassi” or “Omg Brian Altman from Suits!” jokes kind of impossible to make here. Which, to be honest, takes all the fun out of this movie…outside of finding as many creative ways to say, “Hanukkah both threw up all over this story and was really not at all depicted in any way I ever want to see in my life” as possible, of course.
So, first of all, they really, really, really wanted us to know that Eight Gifts of Hanukkah was a Hanukkah movie when they chose the wardrobe and set decorations. Sure, there was Christmas stuff all over town, but that’s pretty normal. Everywhere you didn’t see the typical Christmas red and green, though, there was an obsession with blue and silver. Because this is totally how we show Jewish people that they are seen! At one point, Sara even describes her “Mazel Ball” (yeah, we’ll deal with that mess in a bit) dress as “royal blue, and navy, and I guess you’d call it Hanukkah blues,” which is not a thing. It’s just…WTF?
There are also about 100 billion latkes consumed during this movie, which like…Ok. I’m kind of jealous? But also, I don’t know of any extended family that can really come together and make fresh latkes, kugel, rugelach, brisket, and a bazillion other traditional foods every single night—unless they’re loaded and don’t have to worry about their work schedules, of course. Which. Uh. In typical, stereotypical (and frankly, antisemitic) fashion, all the Jewish™ folks in this Hallmark Hanukkah movie are lawyers, doctors, judges, and CPAs…except Daniel from the broken home, of course.
Y’all know we have poor Jewish people who…I don’t know…run the synagogue office, or teach in grossly underfunded schools, or whatever, too, right? No? Cool.
But ok. Let’s go back to how Sara’s family lights their chanukiyot (Hanukkah—or Chanukah, as I’d typically spell it—menorahs) together every night. Love that family aspect, even if it also is a glaring example of privilege…But also? If Sara, a single, has (seemingly) enough menorahs for every single Jewish person who bothered to tune in to watch Eight Gifts of Hanukkah…Why does the entire family only have one to light together??? Usually, when I see that many chanukiyot in one place, it’s because of a large family where everyone gets their own to light.
Then again, two Jews usually have at least three (thousand) opinions on how to do Jewish between them. So, eh. If someone feels seen by that, go off.
Of course, after having increasingly judgmental thoughts every time I saw Sara’s collection, I then felt my stereotypical Jewish guilt kick in when I found out they were her Bubbe Rose’s (z’l) collection. That guilt didn’t last long when I was irritated as hell to find out that from Daniel, the boy who knew both Bubbe Rose and Sara so well, his fifth night of Hanukkah gift to his beshert is…an Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) style of chanukiah with all the candles at different heights. Which, like, any Good Jewish Boy™ would know better—especially if he’d grown up with Bubbe Rose.
Then, there’s the issue of the JCC’s (Jewish Community Center, if you’re wordy) “Hanukkah Hunt,” which is one of those things where…I’m going to say it’s a no from me. Apparently, some folks have started doing this thing where Jewish kids hunt for Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins, do recommend) as if it’s a collection of Easter eggs or something. Buuuuuuut that’s not exactly such a strong tradition that, if we’re trying to give the average viewer an idea of what Hanukkah actually is after those offensives, awful (and offensively awful) “pop a token Jew in the Christmas movie” Hallmark movies, we need to include.
It’s also not the best look to have a bunch of Jewish children running around, frantic for gold coins, chocolate, or otherwise, just before randomly giving them a ton of toys. Especially since that isn’t the original point.
…which brings me back to my promised complaint about a “Mazel Ball.” There’s even someone on Sara’s JCC committee who flat out asks if they’re really calling the fundraiser that. She says it’s totally fine because “mazel” means luck, which is technically correct. But we don’t use it that way???? Not to mention, “Luck Ball”? The fuck. “Mitzvah Ball” was right there. Or—bright idea here—don’t try so hard to throw as many “totally Jewish!” words in the movie as possible, to the point where they all become meaningless word soup? That’s probably too hard.
There’s a huge difference between Jewish “in” jokes, a la how Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas made a very good attempt at showing Max Richman was totally our beloved Jewish boy in their Christmas film and…the over-the-top nonsensery here. It’s a fine balance, but even if there’s a “wow, I feel seen by not being terribly seen” element to Zoey’s, what happened in Eight Gifts of Hanukkah was just hilariously bad and trying way too hard to course correct from very real and valid criticism of Hallmark Channel’s last attempt at Hanukkah movies.
The music box that played Maoz Tzur was actually a truly sweet gift, especially when it turned out truly iconic Bubbe Rose loved the song. But…that was given less time than some roses and chocolates, which are not remotely unique or related to the holiday, so???? I swear to God, if I heard about a rose being such a way for Daniel to know Sara one more time, I was going to burn something. (‘Tis the supposed “Hanukkah season,” after all. Which, of course…is also not a thing.)
So, as happens with just about any Hallmark movie, there was some tension before everything worked out for a happily ever after. And while the end came pretty abruptly after Daniel gave Sara her Bubbe Rose’s promise ring, I can’t exactly say as I was upset to see Eight Gifts of Hanukkah go. Because, truly…wtf.
More random parts of Eight Gifts of Hanukkah to burn down…
- “Ready, set, gelt!” Ok but like…ready, set, money? That’s simultaneously corny and dangerously close to that whole “Jews and money” antisemitic trope. Hard pass, boss.
- Bubbe Rose was a shipper. Seriously the best character in this whole film, except for maybe Daniel.
- Yeah, we love Daniel because we love Craig from Degrassi/Brian from Suits.
- And for as cold and non-existent as the chemistry was here, we know it’s not on Jake Epstein because, uh, Brian and Katrina. That is all.
- The Mazeve stans are going to come for me for that, but whatever.
- Not sure how Howie Day’s “Collide” became the song to use here, but I cackled over it?
- …and then I wondered why they didn’t go hard on Jake Epstein’s past (like I would) and just do something from Taking Back Sunday. Because Craig from Degrassi.
- While we’re at it, Daniel’s buddy was apparently named Jimmy? Was Aubrey Graham not available?
- You probably know that Jewish guy mentioned above better as “Drake” and/or Jimmy from Degrassi…
- I think what I’m saying here is Degrassi is probably more Jewish than Eight Gifts of Hanukkah at this point. And I’d definitely rather have watched that tonight.
- And your two token Black sidekicks could’ve been Jewish, Hallmark. Jewish people of color exist.
- “There’s a lot I didn’t realize until those gifts started showing up at my doorstep…” Sweetheart, you still didn’t realize shit when they did show up???
- Daniel’s confession would’ve made me emo…if there was any chemistry, whatsoever.
- The teddy bear with the “Happy Hanukkah” voice sounded like he was going to “ho ho ho” right over to Santa’s workshop. This movie is totally a comedy, right? Right.
- Points for all the Jewish food, though, to be honest. Especially the sufganiyot. Yas.
- “One day, I looked up, the pigtails were gone, and she was a woman.” This was creepy.
- Sara’s favorite thing about Hanukkah? “Every night, a little more light comes into our lives.” That is…actually a good one. More of this, less use of so much blue, I almost never want to see the color ever again, please.
- The second Nigel mentioned doing anything other than frying falafel, especially on the Jewish holiday of deep-frying and lighting fires, he should’ve been in the trash.
- The empty picture frame? Also hilarious AF.
- …a whole chat with Daniel about chosen family, then going off to Judge Mom about only wanting to fill the frame with her husband and kids, though? Tacky.
- Zoey was clearly old enough to know when the menorah gets lit but ok.
- …and where was the community gift drive sponsored by Jewish Family Services, with mostly practical things, to offset the ton of toys from Tech. Dude? Right. We didn’t Google that.
- Don’t get me started on the Guy Who Wants Sara #2983743 saying he was “both.” That is not a thing. Can folks do Christmas with the Christian side of the family and Hanukkah with the Jewish side? Yes. Hi. It’s me. Am I both Christian and Jewish? No. You can not both believe Jesus is the messiah and be a Jew. It’s…That’s not how any of this works.
- “I think I’m just profoundly confused.” That…that sums up Hallmark Channel’s entire Hanukkah mood, huh?