About Christmas TV History

Friday, November 30, 2018

Rugrats Chanukah (1996)

Rugrats animated TV series began in 1991.

I've been re-watching quite a few of the classic Nickelodeon series again. Most of them stand the test of time, and I'm already feeling nostalgic about those 1990s original TV programs. You may have seen that I discussed the Rugrats 1992 Christmas episode "The Santa Experience" on the website a few weeks ago--HERE's that link again. And, a few years ago, I reflected on the 2001 Rugrats Kwanzaa episode too--HERE's that link as well. Since next week begins the Jewish celebration of the season, I thought this would be the ideal time to return to the 1996 episode "A Rugrats Chanukah."

Rugrats title card. "Chanukah" or "Hanukkah"--however you spell it, it means the same.

"A Maccababy's gotta do what a Maccababy's gotta do!"

The episode begins with Tommy's Grandma Minka reading the story of the first Chanukah to the babies. As she reads from the storybook about the Greek army's take over of the Jewish kingdom, the babies imagine themselves as the characters. Tommy sees himself as the leader Judah Maccabee--or Judah  Maccababy, as the young boy first learns about his culture. Grandma Minka is interrupted by her daughter Didi making potato latkes in the kitchen, and the babies overhear Tommy's Grandpa Boris jealously talking about his rivalry with Sholomo, the man playing the smaller role of king in the upcoming synagogue play but whose photo appears in the local newspaper about the event.

Lil doesn't like the taste of the clay dreidel while Tommy eats his fair share of chocolate coins.

What will happen if Angelica can't watch her favorite holiday TV special "A Very Cynthia Christmas?"

Tommy and his friends are trying to make sense of the world around them, while they play with a dreidel, eat chocolate coins, marvel at the menorah filled with candles, and talk about the gifts Tommy has been receiving for the past week. Angelica can't be bothered with the babies questions. Her attention is focused on watching holiday TV specials and especially "A Very Cynthia Christmas"--an animated special that features her favorite doll.

Stu's giant menorah features a spinning Star of David and flashing lights and whistles.

Tommy's father Stu is busy too. He's in the garage building a giant, mechanical menorah for the synagogue festival. Stu wants his son to be proud of his heritage, but Didi fears Stu's good intentions are creating a decorative nightmare that is in poor taste. The babies continue to hear Grandpa Boris complaining about Sholomo, and they mishear Boris saying "the meaning of Chanukah" as "the Meany of Chanukah." The babies fear Boris' conflict with a meany. The babies decide that Grandpa's meany needs to be put down for a nap--like they are when they grow irritable or cranky. Those sweet, adorable babies!

The sights and sounds of the Chanukah Fair.

Later that evening, the parents take the babies to the Chanukah Fair at the synagogue. The babies are in awe of the music, food, games, booths, and crowds at the fair. The highlight of the celebration is the seniors' Chanukah play so everyone takes their seats in the auditorium. Stu and his father haven't arrived yet--they are towing a trailer with the giant menorah and stuck in traffic. They're caught in the Christmas parade downtown!

There is little acting up on stage!

When the play begins, the audience is attentive during the stage production of the story of the first Chanukah, with Boris playing Judah Maccabee and Sholomo playing the Greek king. The two real-life rivals bring added tension to their roles and the characters wage battle on the stage. The babies don't understand the the context but they can sense the conflict, so they rush the stage to defend Tommy's Grandpa. Unable to control them, Didi places the babies in the nursery elsewhere in the synagogue. There, they find Angelica who also has been placed in the nursery because she was caught trying to follow the janitor into the men's room to watch his portable TV set to see "A Very Cynthia Christmas" special. Sholomo and Boris continue their fighting on stage until the curtain is dropped to allow the women's choir to perform.

Angelica knows just how to convince the babies to do what she wants them to do.

The men in conflict take their fight backstage.

Backstage, Sholomo and Boris, rivals since their childhoods in Russia before migrating to the United States, finally confront their feeling about each other. Boris admits he's jealous of Sholomo's business success, and Sholomo confesses that he focused on his business because he was never able to start a family and be blessed with children, like Boris was. The two old men admit they have been fools and promise to be friends.

The babies see Angelica crying as she being held by the Meany of Chanukah!

Mastermind Angelica recruits the babies to help her escape the nursery so she can continue her pursuit for a TV set. The babies are still set on finding the Meany of Chanukah and putting him down for a nap. After their escape, Angelica finds the janitor asleep in front of his portable TV set. Sholomo finds the babies unsupervised backstage and picks up Angelica before she hurts herself climbing towards the TV set. Angelica lets out a screaming wail and throws a tantrum. She is prevented from getting her way once more.

Sholomo continues the story of the first Chanukah.

The babies decide in the moment to confront the Meany by asking him to read them a story--this will surely calm him and put him to sleep. Boris too responds to Angelica's crying and he helps gather the babies around for Sholomo to read to them. The story picks up where Grandma Minka had left off--after Judah Maccabee defeated the Greek army, the Jews find that the temple's oil lamp which is supposed to be an eternal flame has a limited amount of oil remaining. There's only enough oil to burn for one day but it will take longer to acquire more. The miracle of the season is that the lamp burned for eight days, long enough for the oil to be renewed and keep the lamp burning.

The entire audience enjoys the story too.

Meanwhile, Stu sets up his flashing, spinning menorah before the audience and it ends up exploding into pieces, causing the stage curtain to collapse over the wreckage. As the elderly Sholomo continues his story of the first Chanukah with the babies, the curtain falls and the audience can now hear it as well. Everyone gets to enjoy "the meaning of Chanukah." An added bonus is that Boris and Sholomo have made their peace as well.

Sholomo is voiced by the great Fyvush Finkel.

If you haven't seen many Chanukah TV specials, I can tell you that most of them are aimed for young viewers, and nearly all of them share the religious story of the first Chanukah with a historical explanation for Judah Maccabee, and the miracle of the burning oil lamp that lasted eight days.

The rabbi directs the play. The character is voiced by Ron Leibman (who also plays Rachel's father on Friends.)

Why do I include Chanukah TV episodes, specials, and movies in my research and the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV? Because initially I found that there was quite a bit of overlap between some of the Christmas programs to acknowledge and honor Chanukah as well. For the stand-alone Chanukah programs, I saw that the focus was on the miracle of the season, family, traditions, and peace and love--just like the best of Christmas TV programs too. I decided to add Chanukah TV programs to the encyclopedia and my discussions here to honor the different religious meaning behind the season and to recognize the common respect and traditions both celebrations offer. I hope you find that the Chanukah TV programs listed in the encyclopedia add to your meaning of the season as well. The book Tis the Season TV also includes TV programs and movies about Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and New Year's celebrations too. Happy Chanukah!

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com

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