Photo Credit: Nickelodeon
While there are more televised Christmas specials for kids than holiday lights on Snoopy's doghouse, Hanukkah inspires only two at the most: Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah in 1995 (with guests Alan Thicke and Pat Morita!) and A Rugrats Chanukah in 1996. (For the curious, Hanukkah can be spelled either way.)
To be clear, nobody's crying over their latkes about a paucity of Hanukkah specials. Some write it off as indicative of America's religious demographics. Others point out that Hanukkah is hardly the most important of Jewish holidays (though I'm still waiting for A SpongeBob Yom Kippur).
I personally think it's Christmas' joyous cultural traditions -- trees, Christmas lights, A Christmas Carol, and that jolly Christmas pitchman, Santa Claus -- that make it so ripe, and right, for TV specials. The closest thing we have to Santa is Neil Diamond, and he even sings Christmas carols.
Even though I couldn’t find many Hanukkah specials in TV history, there are a number of confirmed Jewish characters scattered about the kids' TV landscape if you look hard enough. Here’s an incomplete, although possibly complete, list (heads up, Adam Sandler):
Harold Berman from Hey Arnold! (Perhaps the first and last Jewish bully in kids TV)
Francine Frensky from Arthur
Bridge Carson from Power Rangers: S.P.D. (He couldn't have been Bridge Goldstein?)
David "Gordo" Gordon from Lizzie McGuire
Diane "Didi" Kerpackter-Pickles and her parents Boris and Minka, from Rugrats
Tommy Pickles, the star of Rugrats, and Didi's son. In traditional Judaism, this would mean Tommy is Jewish as well.
A Rugrats Chanukah probably went further than any other kids show to share the story of Hanukkah (without the vital assistance of Pat Morita). In their 66th episode, the babies go to a synagogue along with their grandpa Boris, where they learn Hanukkah's origins and -- as they do best -- imagine themselves as the holiday's main heroic and villainous characters.
The episode was generally well-received, though the Anti-Defamation League found its depictions of Boris and Minka alarmingly similar to anti-Semitic illustrations of Jews in years past.
But more significantly than telling the Hanukkah story correctly, A Rugrats Chanukah does its audience a strong service by showing an interfaith family equally reverent to both heritages. With due respect to Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop’s popularity, it may be the first time some children are exposed to Jewish tradition -- not just as an otherworldly practice, but one deeply ingrained in American culture.
And for that, I give A Rugrats Chanukah five gelt.