Updated: Jul 10
“When I was a little girl, all I wanted to see was me in the media.
Someone fat like me, Black like me.”
Christmas Movies are definitely a thing. Year after year, I hear about how excited so many people are to watch the romance and feel that Christmas cheer. Christmas taking over the universe and Christmas movies are a part of life, even for those of us who do not celebrate Christmas.
I’ve only seen a couple of Christmas movies in my lifetime. Love, Actually and The Holiday come to mind, and so does that one with Cary Elwes (swoon!), but honestly, Christmas romance movies really aren’t my thing. Not only do I not celebrate Christmas, but I’m more of a sci-fi and fantasy type of girl.
Mid-December, my mom suggested that I watch a Chanukkah movie called Love, Lights, Hanukkah! on the Hallmark Channel. She was excited because it was a Chanukkah movie instead of a Christmas movie, and said it was super cute. Mind you, I had never watched a movie on the Hallmark channel in my life, especially a holiday Hallmark movie, but because Mom said so, I gave it a shot one day when I was hanging out with my outlaw’s at their place. What would a Hallmark Chanukkah movie be like, I wondered. I was kind of excited to find out.
We set up in the living room with moviegoing basics: cheese, crackers, salsa, chips, and margaritas. We got comfy with pillows and blankets. Their dog–my niece–Bailey snuggled up next to me.
Love, Lights, Hanukkah! is about a woman who went looking for her biological family after her mother passed and found out that she was Jewish on her birth mother’s side. She meets and fits right in with them, getting to know her half brother and sister, and even her birth mother. The big conflict is how can she still enjoy Christmas when she’s genetically Jewish (spoiler: she can have both!). The other conflict is, of course, the romance with the cute Jewish food critic played by Ben Savage from Boy Meets World, who once gave her Italian restaurant a not-so-great review.
Apparently, it’s very typical for a Hallmark movie.
But what wasn’t typical for me was the representation of Jewish people. They were …regular Jewish people. Not Chasidim who dress strangely and shun secular society. Not money-handling goblins with pointy noses and sour dispositions. Real people. People who laughed with their families, had menorahs on their mantles in December, and who worked regular jobs. Relatable people who just happened to be Jewish.
It could have been my family making the inside jokes about latkes and lighting candles. I had never experienced anything like this before. Me. My life. Reflected on the screen. It never occurred to me how little real Jewish people are portrayed on screen before watching that movie.
I felt so…seen. Included, even.
I remarked on this to my outlaws–who are way more into their Jewishness than I am–and they agreed with me that seeing ourselves reflected on the screen felt really… well, good. It felt really good.
Once home, I immediately called Bear and made her watch it. She’s Jew-Witchy just like me, and she enjoyed the movie, too–for all the same reasons. The movie inspired a deep conversation between us about how delightful it was to see Jewish people who were actually like us on the screen.
Love, Lights, Hanukkah! is not a great movie, that’s for sure. I don’t know if any holiday movies are besides Love, Actually. But Mom was right–it’s cute. And it sure made me feel included in the December holiday celebration, and perhaps made Jewish people seem, well, normal, to non-Jewish people.
This is the power of representation in the media.
It’s January, 2023. The world has been pushing the core concept of representation on us for the last few years. More than ever, People of Color, people who are differently abled, people with different body types are showing up on TV and in commercials, movies and books. I have always agreed it was important to show the diversity of humanity in all things, but being a white woman, I never realized what it was like to see yourself on the screen. Or not see yourself on screen. Since most people portrayed are white, I always sort of identified in a not really sort of way. It never occurred to me to wonder why.
According to the AFMI, the definition of representation in the media is “how media, such as television, film and books, portray certain types of people or communities. There are a number of groups who are underrepresented in most Western media. They include women, people of color, LBGTQA+ people, people with a range of body shapes and types, people of non-Christian religions, and differently-abled people. There has been a steady increase of diversity in media, but progress has been long and slow.”
I love the Marvel Universe, so a few months ago I binge-watched Ms. Marvel, a mini series on Disney+ about Kamala Khan, a highschool girl with super powers who tries to figure out dating while battling bad guys. Her family is from India, Muslim, and super traditional while Kamala herself is a very American comic-book obsessed teen. This dichotomy lends another layer of conflict to the show.
The other day, I walked into a Victoria’s Secret store. As I made my purchase, I saw women of all shapes and sizes and ethnicities represented on the screens behind the register, and seeing them made me feel like I belonged there. Some of the women were thinner than me, and some were thicker–and all of them made my underwear-buying event easier because I didn’t feel like my own body was at all different from that of the models displayed. Victoria’s Secret has been problematic as far as body sizes go in the past, so this was delightful to me. I would not have made my purchase had I not seen those models, as I would not have been comfortable supporting a company who favors, as Jax sings, “skin and bones and big boobs.”
One of my friends mentioned to me that the representation has even changed in Christmas movies over the last couple of years; apparently there is a lot more diversity in the casting and the story lines, although the tropes are still all the same.
I have a new awareness and appreciation for representation and why it matters, and I’m super happy to see a rise in this trend; it normalizes people who were previously othered, making them cherished friends –like Kamala Khan. How powerful for young girls, for Muslims, for SouthEast Asians, for any immigrants to see her and her family on screen. And, because of the sizes of the women depicted on the monitor in Victoria's Secret I didn't feel like I had to be a size 2 with 36C chest in order to be in the store.
Representation makes us comfortable with people who are different from us and, at the same time, it makes people who don’t normally see themselves reflected anywhere feel like they are an important part of society.
It’s totally a win-win situation.