In previous holiday seasons, Hallmark’s Hanukkah movies have mainly focused on the holiday in relation to Christmas. Eight Gifts of Hanukkah was billed as the first movie to focus exclusively on Hanukkah.
Eight Gifts of Hanukkah stars Inbar Lavi as Sara, an optometrist coming out of a breakup. When she begins receiving gifts each night of Hanukkah, she makes it her mission to discover the identity of the anonymous secret admirer. As the movie’s description says, her one true love might be someone she never expected. Throw in a massive Hanukkah Ball, and you have all of the trappings of a classic Hallmark movie.
Lavi led this cast of characters as a quintessential Hallmark heroine looking for love. She gave such heart to a woman trying to live up to her Bubbe Rose’s legacy. Clearly, Hallmark paid attention to at least some of the notes they’ve been given after previous holiday installments where Hanukkah has been portrayed. In this character specifically, they allowed her to be Jewish and to celebrate her holiday without the reliance on Christmas in spite of it happening all around her.
Fans of Degrassi: The Next Generation will recognize Canadian actor Jake Epstein, who played the unforgettable Craig Manning. In Eight Gifts of Hanukkah, we got to see him playing Sara’s childhood friend Daniel. Those who love the childhood friends to lovers trope may well enjoy watching this romance unfold. Epstein plays a perfectly lovable role here, and it was great to see him playing a Jewish character after a previous role in a Hallmark Christmas movie.
Viewers got a parade of classically good looking men in the running for secret admirer. Tom (Amitai Marmorstein) was the classic former boyfriend realizing his mistake in letting Sara go. Nigel (Oliver Rice) was the charming Michelin-star chef from a dating app. Finally Adam (Andrew Zachar) was every parents’ classic villain, playing an inventor of technology that adds sound to toys.
The real star of Eight Nights of Hanukkah was Alice Rose as Zoey Levin. Her aspirations to be both a Rabbi and an astronaut are near and dear to my heart. A Rabbi Astronaut is exactly what our world needs today. It was heartwarming to see the representation of a young woman wanting to become a religious leader. The Jewish community would only be strengthened by having real-life intelligent, passionate future leaders leading the way into the future.
The movie was definitely not without its problems. It was an odd choice for Hallmark to choose to air this Hanukkah movie on a Friday night. Many in the Jewish community keep Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. Shabbat runs from sundown on Friday night to sundown Saturday night. It would have made more sense for Hallmark to premiere their feature Hanukkah movie on a Saturday or Sunday night so those who observe Shabbat could have watched the premiere as well.
Hallmark still wasn’t able to get so much of the actual Hanukkah celebrations totally right. This has come up in previous Hanukkah Hallmark movies, but wreaths are not at all Jewish decorations. The fact that “Maoz Tzur” was sung before the lighting of the candles was also a no-no. Also, a gelt (chocolate coin) hunt is definitely not a thing, and seemed analogous to an Easter egg hunt. I’ve seen gelt thrown for guests to gather up, but a hunt is definitely unique only to the Hallmark cinematic universe.
It was also fairly problematic that the main character’s attraction to her secret admirer was through gifts themselves. It made an otherwise relatable character with a lot of depth seem very shallow and materialistic. It may also be time to retire the lack of communication trope. Relationships in the real world rely on healthy communication and it’s just such an odd choice that romance movies continue to perpetuate. There’s no reason Hallmark can’t make a movie featuring that communication, even if they only have a runtime of 85 minutes to work with.
Ultimately, while flawed, Eight Nights of Hanukkah was definitely a step in the right direction in terms of representing a winter holiday that isn’t Christmas. Perhaps next year, we can get a Hanukkah movie with characters fully embracing their Jewishness. It’s clear that Hallmark has taken the notes they’ve been given regarding the fiascos that have been previous holiday movies that have tried to incorporate Hanukkah.