The Real Stories Behind Hallmark’s New Interfaith Holiday Movies

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Double Holiday
Carly Pope & Kristoffer Polaha. Credit: Hallmark Channel

In a season full of Christmas movies, Hallmark Channel is aiming for more inclusivity this year with Double Holiday (December 22) and Holiday Date (December 14), both celebrating Hanukkah as well as Christmas. Double Holiday writer Nina Weinman, who has 21 Hallmark movies to her credit since 2009, is Jewish and jumped at the chance to incorporate the traditions she grew up with in the script: making latkes, lighting the menorah and playing a competitive game of dreidel. The story takes place over the eight days of Hanukkah leading up to Christmas and involves a pair of rival co-workers—she’s Jewish, he’s Christian—who fall in love as he experiences Hanukkah with her family. Kristoffer Polaha and Carly Pope star.

Weinman has her own interfaith story. She and her husband, who is Christian, are raising their children, ages 7 and 9, with both religious traditions. “We want them to understand we’re both saying the same thing but just calling it by a different name. At the end of the day it’s all about giving back and being kind to others, appreciating what you have and being thankful for the gifts that have been bestowed on us.” For Hanukkah, her kids get a gift on the first night, and choose a charity to donate to on the others. She put that giving element in her script as well. “It tied a lot of the story together. It makes these two characters see each other and appreciate each other through this charitable thing that they do.”

Brittany Bristow & Matt Cohen
Brittany Bristow & Matt Cohen. Credit: Hallmark Channel

Holiday Date is about a woman who is dateless at Christmas and hires an actor she can show off to her family as the perfect holiday date. When she finds out he’s Jewish, they end up celebrating Hanukkah, too. It stars Matt Cohen (General Hospital) who is Jewish, and Brittany Bristow, who is not. “It celebrates uniquely, kindly and honestly both of these holidays and what it means to celebrate both, with the family and community coming together,” says Cohen, who related to and connected with his role: He’s married to actress (and GH co-star) Mandy Musgraves, who isn’t Jewish. They’re raising their son Macklin, 4, with both traditions. “He’s at the age where he’s understanding more and I can talk to him about the holidays. We can watch this very family-friendly movie together and talk about it.”

Holiday Date producer Joey Plager is also Jewish, and married to a woman who grew up celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah. “The first four years of our marriage I fought off the notion of having a Christmas tree in our house, but I’ve relented,” he says. He believes showing interfaith relationships in these movies is a wonderful step.

“As we know Hanukkah isn’t to Judaism what Christmas is to Christianity. But there’s a line in the movie that says you can enjoy the things about the holiday without them having to be religious, the subtext being that people of all religions can come together and enjoy the holiday spirit. That’s what’s in common between Hanukkah and Christmas: acknowledging the holiday spirit at that time of year, goodwill toward all and the celebration of family. That’s what this movie is all about.”

Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge
Sharone Hakman, Duff Goldman & Molly Yeh. Credit: Food Network

Food Network celebrates the festival of lights this year as well, with several Hanukkah specials. On December 21, four chefs take on Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge, putting their own twists on latkes, brisket and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). Chefs Duff Goldman and Sharone Hakman, who are both Jewish, judge the contest. Molly Yeh (Girl Meets Farm), who is from an interfaith family and combines her Jewish and Chinese heritages in her cooking, is the host. On Good Eats, Alton Brown delves into the history and preparation of potato pancakes in the “Whole Latke Love” episode, which premieres December 15.

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About Gerri Miller

Gerri Miller writes and reports from Los Angeles about celebrities, entertainment and lifestyle for The Jewish Journal, FromtheGrapevine.com, Brain World, HeathCentral.com, and others. A New York native, she spent a summer working at Kibbutz Giv'at Brenner in Israel and attends High Holy Day services at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood every year.