A reader poll chose two Hallmark holiday movies to watch. Here are my reactions

The lead characters in Hanukkah on Rye argue about lox in front of a bunch of Stars of David.


There was, however, one key part of the Hallmark holiday tradition very much at play in both: the beloved family business at risk.

Hanukkah on Rye is The Shop Around the Corner or You’ve Got Mail plus so many Jewish cliches and stereotypes. So. Freaking. Many. Molly and Jacob each come from families that have run Jewish delis since coming to the United States in the early 20th century. Molly’s family’s deli on the Lower East Side of Manhattan is extremely traditional. Jacob’s family deli in Los Angeles is wildly untraditional, incorporating dishes from basically every immigrant group they’ve come across. But! Jacob’s family wants to expand by opening a deli on the Lower East Side, right near Molly’s family business. Jacob ends up renting an apartment in the building Molly’s family has lived in from the beginning. Sparks fly … but at the same time, they’re writing anonymously to each other thanks to their grandmothers having coincidentally hired the same matchmaker. And Molly doesn’t know that Jacob is there to compete with her family business.

All of this proceeds with about 1 million references to latkes, egg creams, Fiddler on the Roof, menorahs, and meeting a nice Jewish girl/boy, plus the occasional character seemingly existing just to inject some Borscht Belt flavor.

Sample lines: “Our menu is the American melting pot—with a side of pickles.” 

Or: “You really are like two peas in a pod.” 

“More like two matzo balls in a bowl.”

This movie is very Jewish, guys.

It is refreshing that Hallmark didn’t even try to introduce anything resembling a small town into the picture—the whole claim that the truly authentic life happens in a small town is so tired and politically retrograde—but how much of that is a failure to imagine the possibility of a Jewish person outside a city?

Christmas at the Golden Dragon opens by presenting New York City as the home of holiday cheer—the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the decorated store windows. That view is expressed by Romy Chen, who, questioned about her Christmases as a child, explains that her family’s Chinese restaurant in Wichita, Kansas, was one of the only restaurants open on Christmas so it was a busy time for her family. Cut to the restaurant, which we immediately see is a center of the community, where the staff know everyone’s allergies and their dietary instructions from their doctors and their griefs and their troubled relationships with family.

Romy is expecting to spend Christmas in the restaurant for its busiest day of the year, but her parents, Jim and Sue, tell her to go ahead and spend Christmas with her boyfriend visiting his family in a classic Hallmark Christmas movie location: Vermont. Then, without telling her, they announce to their staff that they’re closing the Golden Dragon and moving to Flagstaff, news that comes as a particular shock to their son Rick, who secretly wants to be a chef. (Jim and Sue give all their staff a month of severance and the promise of help finding new jobs, a moment that I suspect would be greeted with bitter laughter by most people who’ve ever worked at a restaurant that closed.)

Romy arrives in Vermont thrilled to have her first real Christmas, with a mental image of the holiday and of Vermont that’s built, very obviously and semi-hilariously, on Hallmark Christmas movies—only to find that it’s not quite what she had imagined. She wants to build gingerbread houses and go caroling and revel in nostalgia over her boyfriend’s childhood, and his family has an artificial Christmas tree and wants to watch football, though they do their best to accommodate their guest.

Meanwhile, the closing of the Golden Dragon is rocking not just Romy and Rick but a cast of the restaurant’s regular customers, each dealing with their own Christmastime struggles. There’s no central romance, though romance percolates through more than one of the little subplots.

Interestingly, both movies center on immigrant families who own restaurants, having seen that as their path forward in the United States albeit at two different moments in history. And, accordingly, neither has the traditional Hallmark small-town setting and plot.

Both are about preserving important things about the past while being willing to change, with more emphasis on the change part than you often see in Hallmark nostalgia-fests. Taken with the rise of TV holiday movies with LGBTQ characters and standing as part of the simultaneous rise of TV movies with more racially and ethnically diverse characters (in addition to the Chinese family at the center of Christmas at the Golden Dragon, key characters include a Latino teen who works at the restaurant and a Jewish college student who previously worked there), Hanukkah on Rye and Christmas at the Golden Dragon show that the relentless cheer, family focus, and neatly wrapped up complications of Hallmark and Lifetime holiday movies and the ever-expanding roster of networks and streaming services producing movies in the same tradition can remain intact even as some of the genre’s central tropes get a significant tweak.

But really, next year’s Hanukkah movie needs to dial it back a little.

RELATED STORY: Turns out, putting LGBTQ characters in a Hallmark holiday movie gives you a Hallmark holiday movie



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