Dec 11

Eight FT Nights: “Chanukah”, Rugrats

FT/6 comments • 1,028 views

Chag sameach! And so long to advent calendars and welcome to EIGHT FT NIGHTS of Hanukkah TV specials. Although your correspondent doubted eight Hanukkah-related TV episodes or specials existed in the whole of pop culture, having dredged the depths of 1980s cartoons and 1990s sitcoms it turns out there are at least TEN! But we’re not going to do ten.

Nickelodeon classic cartoon Rugrats features an interfaith Jewish-Christian family and more holiday specials than you can shake a baby at. The episode titled “Chanukah” features adventure, drama, triumph, grown-up Hebrew jokes and two bad puns around “Maccabee”:

The other one, for the record, is “To be or Maccabee”.

It also stands out among the other specials (probably) for having a relative lack of pointed counterculturalism. In the paradigm of the eponymous rugrats, Ashkenazi Jewish culture is normative. Unlike nearly all the other specials yet to come (ho ho ho) it is not overtly pushing back against the cultural Christian hegemony. Part of this is because Jews in the US control the media much more than we do in the UK (ho ho ho) and therefore in America secular cultural Christianity, if not earnest religious Christianity, is slightly less pervasive than it is in the UK. DOCTOR WHO I AM LOOKING AT YOU.

Noted antisemite The Doctor and his Aryan friends drive their panzer shark through the Christmas Reich

Yet even in a happy, well-adjusted mixed-faith family, subtle pressure to assimilate arises from Angelica Pickles, the domineering blonde toddler, who encourages the Jewish babies (her cousin Tommy Pickles and friend Chuckie Finster) to spurn their roots and buckle to the Christian cultural majority. Angelica’s first appearance in this episode comes as the children act out the story of Antiochus and Judah Maccabee, where she is an enthusiastic first adopter of enforced pagan worship. Angelica spends the rest of the story trying to gain access to a TV to watch a glitzy Christmas special (DO YOU SEE) while casually tromping on everything the kinderlach hold dear.

“What kind of bobohead makes pancakes out of potatoes?” she demands, spitting out her first (and only) bite of latke, before tripping up a giant man-dreidl who drops doughnuts all over the floor of the Beth Shalom Cultural Centre. Angelica: 3, Judaism: 0.

Fleeing the scene of her toddler hate crime, she stumbles up the aron ha-kodesh. She mistakes it for an entertainment centre (IT IS, ANGELICA, AN ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE OF THE SOUL) before running in horror from a kindly old rebbe who attempts to explain the history and meaning of Torah to her.

Would you like a blood libel with that?

Yet it is her position as a tool of the broader cultural hegemony that allows Angelica to save the day through her knowledge of genre norms. As the babies try to defeat the Meanie of Hanukkah, it is Angelica who realises how to neutralise adults, at least in all animated series aimed at children (spoiler: it involves comic snoring in front of a TV set). Having achieved this coup, she retires into the background with the rest of her mixed-faith family and allows klezmer, kippot and comic old men named Shlomo to take centre stage. Just like Antiochus did.

Full marks also given for the extremely accurate portrayal of the age-65+ “Women of Zion Senior Choir” every Jewish cultural centre is required to have in order to stay funded, as well as the inclusion of a steam-powered piston menorah that produces klezmer music and toy dancing shtetl-dwellers.

And although the episode implied the story of Jonah is in the Torah when any fule kno that it is in the Tanakh, this literacy gap is made up for by a joke in Hebrew about a mohel offering “cut rates”. A++++ cock joke in a kid’s cartoon, Nickelodeon. Well done you.

RATING: 7/8 miracle candles.


  1. 1
    Andrew Hickey on 20 Dec 2011 #

    “in America secular cultural Christianity, if not earnest religious Christianity, is slightly less pervasive than it is in the UK”

    *makes a hollow laughing sound*

    You’ve clearly never been to America at Christmas, have you? As someone married to a Merkin from deepest Minnesota, I have to go over there every year. Trust me, it really, really, isn’t.

  2. 2
    Kerry on 20 Dec 2011 #

    I grew up in America for 21 years! Secular Christmas is way bigger in the UK than it is in the US. US Religious Christmas is definitely huge, but non-religious people randomly observing Christian holidays is way more of a thing here than it is there.

  3. 3
    Andrew Hickey on 20 Dec 2011 #

    Whereabouts? Maybe it’s a coastal/Middle-America difference…

  4. 4
    Kerry on 20 Dec 2011 #

    Very possible – Portland, OR.

  5. 5
    Unlogged Mog on 21 Dec 2011 #

    Secular Christmas = bcuz we are all pagans and all our Christmas is pagan. Sometimes we pretend it is a Christian festival but Cromwell aside it is SOLID YULE.

  6. 6

    even cromwell was a secret wiccan: his WARTS are his FAMILIARS (and all)

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