Natalie Portman's Directorial Debut & Paper Towns' Nat WolffBy Gerri Miller
See how Portman is making her big splash in Israel and don't miss Paper Towns with Nat WolffGo To Pop Culture
Walt Disney Production's Pepper Ann, a cartoon about the daily antics of a hip pre-teen girl and her friends, has a holiday special about the dilemma faced by a child with interfaith parents. Due to air on December 18, 1999 on ABC, the show's title, "A Kosher Christmas," is very apt. Some things, no matter how hard you try, can't be made into something they aren't, and Christmas and Hanukkah can't really be combined. Being a child from an interfaith family is not necessarily easy.
Pepper Ann's class is asked by a teacher to pick the holiday they want to represent in their school's ever so politically correct and inclusive "Celebrating Diversity Medley." Kwanzaa, Ramadan and other roles are quickly taken. Pepper Ann, the child of a divorced interfaith marriage, decides to play the parts of both Hanukkah and Christmas. The teacher gasps. "Sorry, Pepper Ann, Hanukkah and Christmas are too much for one person to handle. You must pick one."
The stage has been set and Pepper Ann's previous relaxed acceptance of her family experience is suddenly challenged by others.
Pepper Ann begins to feel the pressure of two holidays as she studies her lines for the play. Nicky, a friend who decides that dedicating her life and possessions to charity is better than receiving anything herself, is unsympathetic to Pepper Ann's plight. "Why couldn't you be normal and settle on one like the rest of us?" Pepper Ann, like any child who is too cool to be twelve, decides that everything in her life is conspiring to make her miserable.
The scene cuts to Pepper Ann's giddy mother wearing a dreidel hat. As she dances absurdly around the living room singing "dreidel, dreidel, dreidel" and comments on how much she loves the holidays--the food, the decorations, the family--Pepper Ann's Jewish grandparents arrive, representing the extreme of negative stereotyping. They are demanding, pushy, unattractive, whiny, overly dramatic and annoying, complete with a Yiddish accent.
Pepper Ann's parents try to remain supportive of the holiday celebrations she is involved with. Her non-custodial father calls to wish her a happy Hanukkah. Her Jewish mother makes plans for Pepper Ann and her sister to spend Christmas with their father. Despite these obvious acts of caring and understanding, Pepper Ann is still a frantic, overwhelmed mess who manages, in her tender pre-teen mind, to destroy the "Celebrating Diversity Medley" and feel forced to make a choice between the holidays. May the best holiday win! Oy vey!
Despite some mistakes in the portrayal of Pepper Ann's celebration of Hanukkah (she lights the menorah the wrong way and is facing in the wrong direction; a dreidel lands on a "non-winning" Hebrew letter, but Grandpa still "wins,") the excitement and thrill of the ritual activities shine through.
Pepper Ann makes a list of the things she likes best in each holiday to help her decide which one to pick. Some presents are better than others and some food is better left off the table, but in the end, what really matters comes through.
Pepper Ann eventually makes her decision. A critical viewer might prefer to leave the TV off for "A Kosher Christmas," as the program is full of spoofing stereotypes of teachers celebrating diversity, whiny Jewish grandparents, and a frazzled experience. A discerning viewer, however, will see the best part--that the struggle many interfaith families face can and does often work out to create a stronger family connection.
The real significance of this cartoon might rest in Pepper Ann's friend Nicky. She completely loses her composure by the end of the show and demonstrates that everything in excess--even charity--can be toxic. Trying to make things things like Christmas kosher may not be realistic, but making family traditions and celebrations the heart of any holiday is very possible.